For medical laboratories, attracting and retaining top talent is essential for providing quality patient care and achieving organizational success. Employee turnover, especially due to retirements and the aging workforce, has become one of the most significant hurdles labs face as the industry works to bolster the overall recruitment pipeline. In the interim, it is crucial for lab leaders to implement innovative strategies that show a true investment in their employees to foster a loyal and engaged workforce.
During a July 27, 2023, webinar, Lighthouse President Jon Harol and VP of Lab Director Services Tara Luellen outlined several steps and action items labs can implement to improve overall employee satisfaction and retention. While most would agree compensation increases are a primary factor, this blog will explore less-utilized strategies labs should work to implement.
Create clear growth paths
Establishing a well-defined growth path for employees in your medical lab is vital in retaining top talent and ensuring they feel like a part of your organization’s future, Luellen said. This can be done by:
- Outlining Promotion Criteria: Clearly outline the criteria for promotions to various roles within the lab. For example, achieving specific performance targets or obtaining new certifications may be goals on career ladders you create for your employees.
- Non-CLIA Designated Roles: Develop supervisor or manager positions that offer advancement opportunities beyond just CLIA-designated roles. Luellen says this is key to making employees feel they have something to progress toward instead of being stuck on a hamster wheel with little hope of advancement.
“CLIA-designated roles (testing personnel, general supervisor, technical supervisor, clinical consultant, lab director) offer their own built-in career path,” Luellen said. “But you can get creative in terms of supervisor positions or manager positions that aren’t CLIA-designated roles to help hammer out a path for your employees.”
Invest in professional development and training
Promoting employee growth and development is essential for their career progression and overall engagement. By investing in skill training, employees can grow alongside your lab and take on new responsibilities. This can be achieved through:
- Mentorship Programs: Create a mentorship program within the lab where experienced managers and supervisors can train newer employees and facilitate their skill development.
- Industry-Wide Welcome: Welcome individuals from non-traditional pathways into the industry and offer training in specialized areas to enhance their skill set.
Harol noted that many new techs joined the industry during the pandemic through pathways that didn’t involve graduating from two- or four-year laboratory-centric programs. While their knowledge may be specialized in certain lines of testing, these individuals also should be viewed as a boon to the workforce who can be retrained to remain in the industry long term.
“Roll out the red carpet to make sure new employees want to stay in the industry,” Luellen suggested. “Investing in them will show that you care about their growth, and they’ll return that to you in terms of staying and valuing you as an employer.”
Stay competitive in the job market
Labs should regularly evaluate and adjust compensation, benefits, and growth opportunities to remain competitive with other employers. Consider the following:
- Market Analysis: Examine what competitors offer in terms of salary, benefits, and professional development opportunities to stay competitive.
- Internal Review: Continuously assess the benefits package for current employees to ensure it remains attractive compared to external offers. You can also survey employees to gain a better understanding of their perception of your lab’s benefits and compensation.
“You have to stay competitive, or you will see your top talent jump to competitors,” Luellen noted.
Prioritize employee engagement
Engaged employees outperform their disengaged counterparts by as much as 28%, Luellen noted, making employee engagement a priority. Lab managers and leadership should:
- Be Present and Listen: Regularly engage with employees, attend to their concerns, and actively listen to their feedback to make them feel valued.
- Provide Transparent Leadership: Keep employees informed about the company’s performance, goals, and plans to instill a sense of investment in the organization’s future.
“Part-time Lab Directors who are only required to be on-site occasionally are a great example,” Luellen said. “When they come on-site, they need to make an effort to engage employees and hear their feedback. Talk to them and don’t just do the competency evaluations!”
Improve shift differentials
Typically, most labs and hospitals offer an increased pay rate, or shift differential, for employees working evening or night shifts. Our 2023 wage and morale survey of medical lab professionals found the average differential rate to be $3.65. However, many respondents noted shift differentials for evening shifts sometimes don’t begin until 7 p.m., despite the shift beginning earlier. Labs should consider:
- Early Shift Differentials: Start shift differentials earlier for second-shift workers to boost morale and encourage retention.
- Competitive Rates: Offer shift differentials that are competitive or better than the market average to attract and retain experienced techs for non-day shift roles.
Harol also noted that a lab’s seasoned techs are often the first to claim day shift roles, meaning new openings for outside hires often cover second or third shift. This in turn can make it challenging to recruit senior techs. Better compensation for your late-night roles may make those options appealing to internal candidates.
“By making shift differentials competitive, you may be able to fill some of those non-day shift roles internally, which in turn creates more day-shift openings for outside candidates,” Harol said.
Attract talent through innovation
Emphasizing innovation can help attract and retain candidates interested in engaging roles. Harol noted most lab scientists he speaks to don’t like to flex their cognitive muscles and don’t want to be placed in “button-pushing” roles.
- Invest in Training: For innovative practices, invest in training and mentorship to develop qualified and skilled personnel.
- Stratify Skillsets: Consider different skill levels required for various tasks, allowing experienced techs to perform more complex tests, while rerouting some lower-complexity training to newer employees who could gain valuable experience. Harol wondered if there could potentially be a bridge role in the future that fills the gap between phlebotomists and accessioners and traditional science techs.
“A one-year trade school that allows these individuals to run low-complexity testing could create a new pathway for their careers,” Harol said.
Improving employee medical laboratory retention and engagement requires a multi-faceted approach. Creating clear growth paths, staying competitive in the job market, investing in professional development, prioritizing employee engagement, improving shift differentials, and embracing innovation are key strategies to foster a motivated and loyal workforce. By implementing these measures, medical laboratories can strengthen their teams, enhance patient care, and thrive in an increasingly competitive industry.