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Urgent message: An urgent care operation’s success is determined greatly by the quality of its workforce. Consequently, in increasingly competitive labor markets, urgent care operators need to invest in their strongest employees to get them to stay.

Alan A. Ayers, MBA, MAcc is Chief Executive Officer of Velocity Urgent Care and is Practice Management Editor of The Journal of Urgent Care Medicine.

While we often point to location, marketing, systems, and other “success factors” in urgent care, it’s no secret that your employees play an outsized role in how well your urgent care center performs. In fact, having competent and collaborative team members will make or break your business. And your best employees—the ones you’ve recruited, on-boarded, nurtured, and helped flourish—are by far your most valuable assets.

For sure, your best employees are your “keepers.” They’re the ones who make everything work, smooth out the rough spots, and demonstrate their value on a daily basis. They’re also the folks competitors covet, and who have the most options in an ever-competitive healthcare labor market.

Indeed, rising demand for healthcare services resulting in greater job prospects and shifting workplace demographics (especially among retiring doctors and nurses) are giving top-performing workers options aplenty, and opening the door for the competition to poach your best assets. So, not only could you potentially lose a valued employee and team member, but the cost of recruiting, hiring, and on-boarding their replacement, combined with the loss of productivity in the interim, can easily approach 150% of that position’s annual salary. And when good employees exit, along with them goes your accumulated intellectual capital—the processes, systems, and management philosophies that differentiate your business.

So, given the cost to your center, financially and otherwise, when losing a valued employee, how can you set your organization apart from the competition with an eye toward retaining your best and brightest?

Here are several tips your center can employ that will allow your keepers to develop a connection to your practice and stay put rather than seek greener pastures:

  • First, emphasize employee engagement. In a competitive labor market, it’s simply not enough to just offer a paycheck in hopes of retaining your best employees; you need to engage them in their jobs. Indeed, a report from Gallup Organization asserts that out of roughly 100 million full-time employees in the U.S., a mere one-third can be considered engaged—defined as loving their jobs and actively working to improve their organization. That leaves the other two-thirds disengaged to varying degrees—a sobering realization for workplace leaders.

Hence, employee retention must start with engagement. Experts and strategies on employee engagement abound, but most are in consensus that culture, recognition, ownership, accountability, and infrastructure lay the foundation for an effective employee engagement initiative. By having a clear vision and mission, listening to your employees, soliciting their feedback, being generous with recognition, and giving them the tools they need to succeed, you can energize your workers toward that shared mission, and reduce the likelihood that they develop a wandering eye.

  • Second, mind the bottom line. When it comes to keeping your employees happy, sometimes it simply comes down to plain ole’ dollars and cents. More often than not, in fact, offering a competitive salary and benefits package can make all the difference. Thus, your job as operator/administrator is to stay abreast of the median salary benchmarks in your area, and ensure that your salaries are on par—because you can be sure your employees know where they stand salary-wise.

If raising salaries isn’t feasible, a competitive benefits package alongside continuing education reimbursements can keep your employees learning, growing, and remaining on board. Perks like frequent team lunches, gym or spa memberships, and employee assistance programs also serve the same goal: showing your employees you value them through compensation.

Even better, engage your employees in the key performance indicators that drive profitability—such as total volume, turnaround times, coding documentation, and patient satisfaction scores—and pay periodic bonuses or incentives based on improvements in the metrics attributable to employee activities.

  • Third, provide opportunities for growth. Even if your keepers are loyal to your center, they still desire to remain up-to-date in their skills and stay marketable to the larger industry. Placing an emphasis on, and investing in, lifelong learning signals to your keepers that you will offer every available pathway to their continued professional development.

Be it through CME, specialization, cross-training, or additional licensure, see to it that your healthcare organization promotes and facilitates a career course for advancement on whatever scale is manageable. When your organization actively espouses an ethos of “never stop learning and developing,” employees will be hesitant leave you to look elsewhere. 

  • Fourth, give “stay” interviews. You’re probably familiar with the concept of exit interviews that debrief an employee’s experiences with an organization when they exit. A stay interview can prevent an employee from wanting to exit. Be prepared to encounter many pleasantly surprised employees when you begin implementing stay interviews. In most cases, a stay interview is simply a formal meeting with your keepers that reaffirms how much you value them, while inquiring about the daily challenges of their position and soliciting their earnest feedback on how you could improve as a manager/operator/administrator.

While it may be somewhat awkward at first, the feedback you receive is sure to be a treasure trove of actionable insights and suggestions you can leverage toward building the culture you desire. Additionally, this novel way of connecting with and engaging your providers and staff helps energize the entire team and strengthens your working relationships.

While it’s simply not possible to retain every single one of your most talented employees, every effort should be made to keep as many as possible. Whether through engagement, compensation and benefits, or career advancement, building a culture of retention can keep the cream of the crop at your practice for many years, with all parties benefiting handsomely in the long run.

Retaining and Developing Your Best Employees

Alan A. Ayers, MBA, MAcc

President of Experity Consulting and is Practice Management Editor of The Journal of Urgent Care Medicine