Breeding Loyalty

November 1, 2005

Companies in service industries are busy trying to please their customers, but do they pay the same attention to their own employees? A resounding "yes" is the answer from health plans, many of which claim they spend time and energy on attracting and retaining their employees. In a labor market where available jobs outnumber potential employees, healthcare organizations and other companies are vying for top-notch people.

Although it may be easy to put employee retention on the back burner in healthcare, consultants emphasize that employees are the company's brand ambassadors and that investing in them is worth every penny.

Two-way communication, understanding the corporate culture, job content and a positive relationship with supervisors are key to retention, according to a consensus of workforce consulting and executive recruiting firms. "The efforts have to start at the top," says Beth Hallisy, a partner with Marcus Thomas LLC in Cleveland, a marketing communications company. "Top management has to make the point that employees are valued.

According to a 2003 survey conducted by Watson Wyatt, a human resources consulting firm, engaged employees are more than twice as likely to want to stay with a company and invest their discretionary effort.

Hallisy recommends that employees be "re-recruited"often by recognizing their contributions and providing a clear path for advancement.

FULFILLING A WORTHWHILE MISSION

"By virtue of what we do as a Medicaid managed care plan, our employees feel they are on a mission to provide quality healthcare to underserved populations," says Georganne Chapin, president and CEO of Hudson Health Plan, a Medicaid managed care plan based in Terrytown, N.Y. "We are a mission-driven, not-for-profit organization whose core values are tied to recruitment and retention. Money is not the only motivator; recognition makes employees feel good about working here."

Among Hudson's recognition programs is an opportunity for employees to contribute innovative ideas to the organization, earning them $50 if the recommendations are implemented.

"Employees are encouraged to be innovative, and we listen. We take suggestions seriously; giving validity to programs and activities is our daily way of doing business," says Kevin Nelson, executive vice president, chief operating officer who is responsible for motivation and recognition programs. "A lot of innovative products have been the result, saving the company 10%, and we provide the resources to develop them. Our electronic application process, which has revolutionized enrollment, is one example, along with a laptop program for collecting HEDIS data."

Hudson tries to promote from within and when not possible, rewards employees with $500 for referring a candidate if he or she stays at least three months. Nelson says turnover of Hudson's 230 employees is extremely low.

As part of retention, after a three-month probation period, new employees and their supervisors provide feedback to human resources about job satisfaction to circumvent any problems and to build morale.

Hudson participated in a compliance benchmark survey, asking employees to rank the organization regarding job satisfaction; quality of services and products; management, human resources and financial management practices; compliance with laws and regulations; and employee communication. In both 2003 and 2004, the health plan outperformed the national Health Care Compliance Index in every domain.

A GOOD REPUTATION HELPS

As part of the University of Michigan Health System, M-Care in Ann Arbor is in an enviable position to attract employees. "We are committed to selling ourselves as a good employer by leveraging our quality, reputation and financial stability and by differentiating ourselves as an employer," says Judith Hallberg, director of human resources. The health plan's ability to create challenging positions is also a big selling point, she adds.