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ASHHRA: 'Jerk Bosses' Derail Nurse Retention Strategies

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, September 13, 2011

The best nurse recruiting and retention plans on the planet are no match for a "jerk boss."

"Jerk bosses have one common quality --people don't trust them," says Dick Finnegan, CEO of C-Suite Analytics, and the author of Retention Rethinking.

"If you can't close that gap, you are on an island trying to make these programs work. How many times have you heard an employee say 'I don't like it here, but if I can just hold on until employee appreciation week'?,'" Finnegan told a full room at the 47th annual convention of the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration in Phoenix, AZ.

For recruiting and retention plans to succeed, Finnegan says, so-called jerk bosses must be identified and they must be held directly accountable for the turnover of people under them. He suggests that HR set specific retention goals for supervisors, and conduct exit interviews with those supervisors every time they lose an employee.

Job turnover is a tremendous cost driver in healthcare. There is a 27% turnover rate for first-year nurses. That can be reduced, Finnegan says, if employers understand what motivates workers to stay. It's not a fear of the recession or unemployment because the unemployment rate for college graduates is about 4.5%, and nurses are in particularly high demand.

What gets workers to stay, he says, is not more money but a belief that they are getting something "unique" from an organization, that they are well-matched with their jobs, and that their supervisors have built a trusting relationship that fosters retention."

Finnegan offered seven steps to improve retention.

1. Get the C-suite on your side by quantifying the cost of turnover in dollars, not percentages. Make sure that the CEO and the CFO understand the direct and indirect costs of turnover." Once you have a number they can back, they get it," Finnegan says.

2. Provide monthly reports on retention and name names. Identify the supervisors who are not making retention goals, and make sure they understand the costs of not meeting those goals.

3. Change the hiring process. Make sure that your supervisors conduct structured, competency-based interviews. "HR is highly structured but interviewing managers aren't," Finnegan says. "Teach them to probe based on the answers they get. Don't let lousy hiring managers make lousy hiring decisions."

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2 comments on "ASHHRA: 'Jerk Bosses' Derail Nurse Retention Strategies"


Beth Boynton, RN, MS (9/19/2011 at 5:17 PM)
Leadership needs to support nurse managers with resources to hire enough qualified staff and listen to the ones they hire. THIS will improve middle manager's retention stats and trust. Beth

Phyllis Kritek (9/15/2011 at 7:21 PM)
As a registered nurse, I was startled to read this report of a presentation that used the demeaning term "jerk" in reference to nurse supervisors, then disturbed to see that the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration had provided the speaker, Dick Finnegan, with an opportunity to do so. Reading the report, I then found a reference to "lousy hiring managers". Apparently Mr. Finnegan, CEO of C-Suite Analytics, has divined the path to certitude about the limitations of others and ways to describe these others with dismissive language. I would hope the human resource professionals present would have noted that Mr. Finnegan's approach contradicted one of their own operational principles, to deal with problematic behavior and practices rather than attack and demean persons. In a era in health care where emphasis is continually placed on partnerships, collaboration and alignment, his comments support the opposite and do so with derogatory terms. He does not note that many HR professionals are evaluated on their retention numbers and hence have a less than unbiased motive. In my work with nurse managers as a conflict engagement consultant, one of the most troublesome and frequently described conflicts they face is HR's blocking of their efforts to fire nurses they feel are not meeting standards of care. This side of the issue is never identified. Mr. Finnegan posits that HR professionals should manage nurse supervisors,at least covertly, by creating C-suite coalitions. The Chief Nursing Officer is part of the C-suite, and actually the one who manages nurse supervisors. He seems to suggest that the CNO be circumvented, with HR setting retention goals. He recommends an implicit threat: "name names" which encourages the blame/shame culture healthcare is working so hard to reverse. He also suggests that in hiring new nurse graduates one should "smack their senses". There is a sizable body of research demonstrating that the best approach to new nurse retention is well-implemented nurse intern and resident programs and competent and committed preceptors to work with the new grads. One wonders what the basis for "smacking their sense" was. Would this be recommended as an ideal message to any new employee anywhere? In spite of Mr. Finnegan's remarkably unprofessional choice of words, and the tenor of his remarks, the most amazing of his recommendations is to "develop manager relationships that foster trust"! I have to assume Mr. Finnegan apparent low opinion of nurses extends to his assumptions about our intuition and intelligence. I encourage any health professionals who have read this article to memorize the speaker's name and company and add it to your "do not hire" list.