Replacing a valued health care employee can cost up to 250 percent of the employee’s salary when you figure in downtime from the loss of productivity, remaining staff picking up additional work, buy-out of vacation days, and recruiting fees, according to Steven Bennett, vice president at recruiting firm Kirby Partners, which  specializes in health information technology hiring.

“When you lose a nurse that has been in I.T. for 10 years and knows everything, you soon learn the degree of the loss,” he notes. An information technology project with millions of dollars in investments can be put at risk when an important member of the team leaves, adds Timothy Stettheimer, Ph.D., regional CIO for Ascension Health and senior vice president/CIO at St. Vincent’s Health System in Birmingham, Ala.

Stettheimer and Bennett will host an educational session during HIMSS13 in New Orleans on strategies to retain valued employees regardless of where they work. There are many reasons why employees leave, ranging from a spouse having to move, thinking about retirement, or getting picked off by another organization, particularly the most talented pharmacists, nurses, and I.T. professionals, Stettheimer says.

And a lot of hospital people are recruited by technical organizations outside of health care, who would rather hire a professional still in the trenches than someone who has been out of the workforce for 18 months. And within health care, there is always a big demand for people with exceptional skills with certain information technologies, particularly electronic health records.

The housing market in many areas of the nation has not significantly improved and that has kept many from moving on, as they would have to sell their home at a loss to get a coveted position elsewhere, Bennett says. Now that is changing to a degree, as many employees release the tight housing market is the new norm in some regions. And many employers have enriched their relocation packages, making moves easier.

Consequently, hospitals and other health organization must have employee retention strategies that attack on three fronts, according to Stettheimer:

Compensation: Make sure your pay and benefits are market competitive. They don’t have to be at the 90 percentile level, but at least at the 50 percentile.

The Individual Layer: Consider what is important to individuals in getting them to stay, such as telecommuting, flexible hours, and praise, and try to meet it. Never discount the value of simple praise and recognition of jobs done well.

Community Retention: Employees are more likely to stay if they can get plugged into good teams with good relationships. “It sounds old fashion, but teambuilding is important.” Also, develop mentorship programs to help employees progress in the organization, offer management or technical education, or put them on exciting projects.

Individuals often don’t realize how important they are to an organization until a recruiter calls them because others know of their importance, and these individuals start to look around. Leaders sometimes don’t understand how important an employee is, or do understand but don’t do anything about it. And these are key elements that the hosts will focus on, Stettheimer says. “Have you checked recently who’s going out your door?”

The hosts hope to leave two lasting impressions on the audience. A lot of managers don’t realize how big the Baby Boom bulge is--a lot of people are getting older, thinking about retirement, and there aren’t the numbers in the younger workforce to replace them, Bennett says. Adds Stettheimer: “We want people to have a fire lit under them about how big a deal this is, not just now but in the future.”

Education session 176, “Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em: Retention as an Employment Strategy,” is scheduled at 11:15 a.m. on March 7.


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