Staff retention

In a meeting yesterday with an aged care CEO and talking about the challenges of recruiting and retaining qualified nursing staff in the sector as remuneration levels begin to increase in response to labour shortages. In this instance there was a $10 per hour difference between their best offer and some of their competitors.

It caused me to reflect upon some of the classic responses to labour shortages such as focussing upon those non monetary factors that remain attractive to a candidate or employee. And we talked about these. This facility assists nurses to gain higher qualifications, believing that professional development is a key attractor – only to find that as soon as they qualify they accept a better paying offer from a facility that doesnt bother assisting with professional development.

What are some of the non-monetary attractions to staff? In addition to subsidised and customised professional development, there is opportunities for increased responsibility (though these attract an increase in revenue), opportunities to engage in activities outside of traditional work scope, flexible working hours, subsidised travel, subsidised child care, additional hours or work, subsidised housing, career planning and development, flexibility of work activities to engage in a project, maybe a research project or something similar. While the list is endless, it is also different for each individual. Understanding what it is that an individual needs means someone has to take the time to have a conversation, to explore needs, wants and desires. In many instances the conversation never actually takes place.

Make no mistake, whatever is offered there will be a cost attached to the organisation. It’s about prioritising and deciding what is important.

Many employers take a short term perspective in regards to workplace development and employment. They react to someone resigning rather than take a more proactive approach to working out how to retain their best people. In some instances such forward planning never takes place because, especially in smaller organisations there isn’t anyone with specific responsibility for either workplace planning or people development. These things tend to emerge in an unplanned and ad hoc mannner.

Such questions could be asked as a part of a performance review. For this to occur managers conducting reviews would need development in what questions to ask and how to react to something they didnt personally agree with. Senior management would need to have in place a process for collecting and analysing data and using that data to inform workplace development.

When there are more workers than jobs such short term thinking carries minimal risk. As the supply of labour tightens and the cost of labour increases, then short term thinking becomes prohibitively expensive, especially for smaller organisations.

The true costs of poor workplace development are not only reflected in labour costs. Much of the real cost is hidden beneath the surface and may only emerge later and in a manner that increases costs even further. Take for example, a shortage of qualified nursing staff. This increases work pressure upon existing nurses. Their stress levels increase, as do levels of burnout. Other roles begin to look more attractive. Stressful nurses are challenged to respond to issues in a positvie manner. This impacts upon other staff, creating conflicts often leading to increased workplace stress and absenteeism. This doesnt even consider the impact upon patients, how the level of care or safety may be compromised or how word gets out that a particular facility is to challenging to work at.

What can my colleague do? Well that is advice he paid for so he gets to keep it to himself. What I would suggest is that those management teams that fail to take a long term perspective, that fail to develop their workplace, that fail to have conversations about needs, wants and desires will continue to experience high levels of staff turnover, difficulties recruiting high quality staff and increasing costs that are likely greater than the cost of any increase in remuneration.

Those are my thoughts for the day.
John Coxon


About John Coxon

Principal consultant for John Coxon & Associates, a management consultancy working with boards and management teams in healthcare, aged care and not for profit organisations to develop effective strategic planning processes and social enterprise business plans
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