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Solutions That Work for Finding and Keeping Top Dietary Staff

Clint Maun, CSP

Many health care facilities are spending time trying to figure out what is wrong with recruitment, selection and retention of top-notch staff. We hear stories about the staffing shortage, what are we doing wrong, why can’t we keep anybody and why are our wages and benefits so low? Are our shifts being operated correctly? What is going on inside our facility that causes people not to want to work there? Do we have a negative image in the community?

Some of this discussion is necessary and certainly vital to understanding the problems that exist with recruitment, selection and retention. However, overdoing that kind of discussion or mental framework is a sure way to fail in finding and keeping top-notch staff.

Look at the Positive

In our research and implementation with health care organizations across the country, it has become apparent that providers need to spend time looking at the positive things going on within the organization. In the midst of the challenges and problems associated with the organization or dietary group there are quality people who continue to do a fine job. They have high attendance rates, their punctuality is excellent, they come in during bad weather from long distances, work weekends and change shifts, perform quality work, pitch in and help, and their quantity and rate of work is excellent. In other words, they enjoy their work.

Celebrate your quality employees with recognition events. Give them actual data as to what makes them good employees, not subjective opinions, but actual, real-world information about why they are good and why they have been chosen to be part of this celebration. Then you can tell them, “I don’t say this often enough to you who are good employees, but I mean it and need to ask you one question: In the midst of all our concerns about shortages, staffing, and so forth, why do you folks continue to work for this organization?”

These top-notch employees will tell you amazing things. For example, they will tell you about the work they enjoy doing, the supervisors they have, the fact that they get to “fuss” over favorite residents. Your employees will relate stories from the past when your organization went to bat for them during tough personal times. They will tell you about their commuting to and from work, the shifts they work, the opportunities for education, and their feelings about wages and benefits.

Advertising Campaigns

The long and short of it is your employees will give you a host of reasons why they are quality dietary staff and why they continue to work for your organization. In turn, you need to tell them that you want to use their information in targeted marketing/advertising campaigns. No more ads that read, “We need people; we need them for all shifts.” That type of generic ad is not going to appeal to top-notch individuals because it reads like every other employment ad. It tells prospective employees that you must need a lot of help; why would they want to work for you?

Instead, your targeted marketing ads should emphasize the profile of a successful employee in your organization. Copy could read: “Mary is an excellent dietitian who has worked for us X amount time. Mary works here for the following reasons…If you meet Mary’s qualifications and interests; we want to talk with you.”

As an employer, you adapt a selective approach to the kind of people you want to hire. Diversify your ads – use different names in them, profiling various job responsibilities, but make sure they all focus upon why these employees choose to work in your organization. You might even put Mary’s and other top-notch employees’ photos in the newspaper. This will serve not only as a motivational tool for individuals already employed by your organization, it will signal to the community that you believe in your staff and want to hire workers like them. Don’t hire just anybody.

Quality Interviews

Take this same positive approach when asking your quality employees who else they know who might want to work for you. Encourage them to focus on the responsibilities of the particular dietary position; you want your top-notch people to look only for other top-notch people. During the selection process, behavioral interviewing needs to incorporate positive, well structured, but lean questions. These questions should tap into past behavior in tough situations. Past quality individuals want quality interviews. For more information on Sample Behavioral Interview Questions, click here.

Retention is the third part of a quality program and must be focused on your good employees. In addition to finding out what keeps them working in your facility, listen to their concerns. A survey should be conducted at least every 18 months to ensure their input. They need to know their opinions count. They are the focus group for helping you to develop orientation programs, recruitment programs, ongoing education, selection procedures, and marketing advertisements. For more information go to Employee Opinion Surveys.

Use of Audio/Videotape

Put their feedback on both audio and videotape to use at career days and recruitment fairs. Prospective employees can pick up a copy of an audiotape and listen to why “Mary” and her colleagues work for your organization. Rather than getting bogged down in negatives, you now can focus on the positive aspects of your organization and dietary positions. Concentrate on what can be done to make it even better.

In all three areas of recruitment, selection and retention, it soon becomes apparent that your group of quality dietary employees is the key to the development of comprehensive efforts to find, select and keep other quality staff. This strategy will work when based on a positive attitude, rather than the more common “worry wart” approach of what are we going to do, how are we going to do it, and what is going to hit us next in this area.

For more information on our Recruitment, Selection and Retention Workforce 21 program, click here.