Keep 'Em Coming Back

Molly Rowe, Senior Editor, Leadership , November 2, 2007

Press Ganey released one of its annual Hospital Check-Up Reports last week, this one on nurse and employee satisfaction. According to Press Ganey's report, the happiest nurses are those who've been at an organization for less than two years. This isn't particularly surprising. Haven't we all experienced the employment honeymoon--that short span of time early in a job after you've learned enough to contribute and operate the coffee machine but before you know the ugly secrets of operational inefficiencies, hostility disguised as friendship, and mismanaged meetings? In healthcare, employees have it worse: When the honeymoon ends, so does the tuition reimbursement and the signing bonus.

Hospital leaders face a big challenge: How do you keep people happy when the monetary incentive to stay is gone? How do you motivate people when they know their annual pay increase is more or less predetermined by a union contract?

Employee happiness is (or should be) on the radar of every senior leader, but most CEOs spend more time dealing with problem employees than re-recruiting good ones. Sure, some leaders reward employees--but this usually means an occasional coffee card and an employee lunch. Your best employees want more than free food; they want your time. And they want to know you care about making their jobs better, easier, even more fun. When's the last time you sat down with your high performers? Do you know what drives them? What frustrates them? What challenges they face? For every one-on-one that you have with a low performer, you should have two with your best employees.

This is not to discount staff-wide recognition, but the best leaders know it takes more than a handshake and a gift certificate to keep good employees. For example, in October's HealthLeaders magazine, I wrote about North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System's annual President's Award in which 18 nominees and one final winner receive more than $200,000 in cash and prizes including a cruise, dinner, and tickets to Broadway.

Earlier this year, North Mississippi Medical Center CEO Chuck Stokes rewarded the efforts of his emergency department employees with a steak dinner-116 steaks cooked to order by Stokes himself. Nothing rewards hard work better than seeing your boss sweat to make you happy.

As a senior leader, how do you ensure that you're keeping the best people "on the bus"? How do you keep nurses happy for more than two years? And what makes good workers stay at your organization rather than the hospital down the street? I'd love to hear from you.

Molly Rowe is leadership editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at

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