Education, recognition, support boost retention

Programs increase job satisfaction

[Editor's note: This is the second of a two-part series that examines strategies for employee retention. Last month we looked at the importance of patient satisfaction surveys and exit interviews. This month, we look at specific programs that enhance retention.]

Being named one of Modern Healthcare's Best Places to Work in 2010 was quite an honor for Rainbow Hospice and Palliative Care in Park Ridge, IL, but the most incredible part of the story is that the employee surveys that resulted in the honor were completed during a year that included a reduction in force, frozen salaries, and increased workloads.

"I was amazed that 87% of our employees responded to the survey and responded positively," says Pat Ahern, chief executive officer of the hospice. "We are in a very competitive market, with 32 hospices in our county, and we don't pay the highest salaries in the area."

The high level of employee satisfaction can be attributed to several initiatives put into place at the hospice, she says.

The first step is to hire well by making sure people not only have the experience and skills necessary for the job, but that they also have the emotional and social strength to handle the job, Ahern says. This strength is especially necessary for non-professional staff who might have to answer a call from a crying woman whose husband just died, for example, she points out. After ensuring that you've hired the best people possible, the hospice offers the following suggested programs:

• Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

"We contract with a psychologist to provide counseling and support to our employees who may be need help dealing with grief, stress, and concerns about their job," says Ahern.

Although hospice social workers and managers or supervisors are available and willing to talk with employees about these issues, the "outside" person provides a safe environment for people who may be unwilling to discuss some issues with people at work, she explains.

• Leadership development programs.

In addition to typical inservice programs that enhance skills needed for specific jobs, the hospice also provides programs to help supervisors, service leaders, and managers enhance the skills they need to manage employees, says Ahern. "The initial class for people in any type of leadership position provides guidance on how to lead during times of change and other general management skills," she says. "We also provide information on to conduct a performance appraisal including how to work with employees so the appraisal does not contain any negative surprises for the employee."

Another program is geared toward potential future leaders, says Ahern. "This is our version of succession planning," she says. "We want to identify these people early and let them know that we see potential advancement for them within our hospice."

Although the purpose of this program is to keep good, potential leaders in the agency, it doesn't always work, Ahern admits. "Sometimes we can't keep them because other opportunities open up for them in other hospices before we have something, but it does improve morale among all employees because the program is proof that we want our employees to succeed," she says.

• Tuition reimbursement.

In addition to offering in-house educational programs, the hospice reimburses tuition for full-time employees who are working toward an academic degree that is relevant to their position within the hospice, says Ahern. "For example, we have a nursing aide who is attending nursing school and a vice president who is pursuing an MBA," she says.

Providing educational opportunities is an important part of making employees feel valued and appreciated, points out John Edson, RN, MS, director of the hospice program at MetroWest HomeCare & Hospice in Framingham, MA. "Whenever there is a conference that offers educational opportunity for an employee, the hospice will make money available for registration," Edson says. When there is a local healthcare conference, schedules are arranged so that all hospice employees can go to one or two days of the conference, he adds.

"We also set up inservices anytime we get a new piece of equipment, pain pump, or other clinical item," says Edson. With a small staff of six RNs, two chaplains, one social worker, and a volunteer coordinator, it is easy to get everyone together, but the real value is the continuing education, he adds.

MetroWest's management team also focuses on employee engagement and recognition, says Jane Pike Benton, executive director of the agency. Not only are new employees greeted with a red carpet and a welcome sign with their photograph on their first day, but Pike Benton meets with employees during their third week to touch base and ask how everything is going. "Everyone has a voice in the organization, and I think it's important for him or her to hear that from me as well as his or her own supervisors or managers," she says.

Recognition programs include "Bright Ideas," which give all employees a chance to submit ideas for changes within the agency. The suggestions are submitted to a team of employees who oversee the agency's service excellence activities. "If the idea is reviewed and implemented, the employee gets a "High Five" card along with a gift card to Dunkin' Donuts," Pike Benton says. "If the idea is not implemented, the employee receives the 'High Five' card along with our thanks for being creative and thinking of ways for the agency to improve."

Ideas that have been implemented include providing field staff with double laptop batteries so their computers last longer when visiting patients and ending all phone calls with "is there anything more I can do for you?"