The Workplace

What to say to your staffer who has one foot out the door

Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on Feb. 12 2019.

By Craig Pirner, Managing Director, Talent Development

Your health care staff have more opportunities than ever: They could work for health systems, insurance plans, retail clinics, and more. And social media channels make "passive recruitment"—that is, capturing someone's attention about a new job even when they aren't actively looking—more prevalent than ever.

Given these factors, it's a safe bet that at least one of your team members is thinking about leaving your organization—or soon will be.

Read on to learn the right way to approach these staffers, then visit our "One-stop shop for reducing early turnover" to learn more best practices to retain the staff you need.

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Whatever you do, don't just 'wait and see'

Even though turnover is so common in health care, we've found the majority of managers take a "wait-and-see" approach: When they spot uncharacteristic behaviors that suggest someone is thinking about a job change, they often wait to receive direct notice of resignation before having a conversation with the employee.

This "wait-and-see" approach is understandable. Many managers fear that directly discussing a team member's possible intention to leave will inadvertently make a team member who wasn't planning to leave start to think about doing so. Other managers assume they can't do anything to change a team member's mind, or that any conversation on the topic will come across as a performance intervention.

But in reality, "waiting and seeing" isn't your only—or best—option! We recommend a more proactive approach where managers engage in a series of conversations to stop turnover.

Recently, we featured one type of these conversations, "stay interviews," that occur throughout the employment lifecycle, including a list of questions to get you started.

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Today, we discuss another: conversations that deliberately address behaviors that raise a retention "red flag."

How to spot a 'red flag'

While some turnover is a true surprise, often team members will give signals they're thinking about leaving. Some are obvious: For example, a team member who is almost finished with a master's degree might mention how excited he or she is to explore new opportunities.

But most retention red flags are subtle. Many present as negative shifts: Perhaps a highly productive employee is suddenly accomplishing less. Paradoxically, others present as positive shifts: A team member may be uncharacteristically productive as they wrap up everything before they give you their notice.

Keep an eye out in particular for uncharacteristic shifts in:

  • performance;
  • attendance;
  • interest level in role;
  • quality of relationships;
  • attitude; and
  • comments from peers.

You might also consider recent work disappointments—for example, an unexpected result in a performance review, or a shift in scheduling practice that negatively affected the team member—and life events.

Whenever you see a red flag suggestive of future turnover, we recommend you start a direct conversation with your team member. In the best case, you will uncover a fixable frustration that you can resolve. (And if one of your team members is experiencing that frustration, chances are that others are feeling the same thing!)

And even if you learn the team member is indeed going to leave and there is nothing you can do to change their mind, that scenario is still better than "wait and see." You'll be able to start planning for covering responsibilities and backfilling the role sooner.

The 3 ways to start a 'red flag check-in'

The hardest part about a "red flag check-in" is getting the conversation started.

First and foremost, make clear that the purpose of the conversation is exploratory and open-ended. The purpose of the conversation is not to directly address the red flag; rather, the red flag is a prompt for you to have a discussion in which a team member has an opportunity to open up about what they are thinking about their current role.

Here are three approaches we've seen work well to kick off these conversations:

  1. The "management" approach: This is an all-purpose approach that requires less rapport than the other two. To start, you can say "I wanted to set aside some time to see what's exciting you and, perhaps, frustrating you these days…"
  2. The "personal" approach: This approach works well when you have a strong personal relationship with the team member. You can start by saying something such as: "I'll be honest. I sense you have been quieter in meetings lately, and I miss your contributions. I wanted to check-in to see what might be driving that."
  3. The "career pathing" approach: If the red flag is about a change in the team member's life or the organization, you might start the conversation using language such as: "When I've gone through times like these, I've found myself wondering what my next move might be…"

To increase your odds of success, try writing down your opening lines and getting some feedback from a peer.

Regardless of the approach you choose, the most important thing is starting the conversation in a way that encourages your team member to open up, rather than get defensive. That's how you'll get an early heads-up that someone is thinking about leaving—and get started on ideas about how you might keep them.

Your one-stop shop for reducing early turnover

Nationally, more than a quarter of all hospital turnover is attributed to staff with less than one year of tenure. Follow these six steps to ensure you connect with these employees and stop early turnover.

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