Addressing management issues

May 1, 2011

Edited by C. Anne Pontius, MBA, CMPE, MT(ASCP)

Keep new staff from jumping ship


What can we do to make sure we retain our newly hired employees. We have had several instances where we hire a new employee, and she leaves before the end of the 90-day probationary period — usually with little or no explanation. Hiring and breaking in new staff is time-consuming and takes away from our productivity. Our department is actually a great place to work; some of us have been here for many years. What can we do to get our new hires to stick with us?


Employees quitting within the first few months is a real problem, although not uncommon. Check with your human resources (HR) department to help you understand why new-employee turnover has been high in your department. The HR department often conducts exit interviews to gain insight into these matters.

Recruiting and hiring new staff is not only time-consuming, it is expensive. According to a study by the Wynhurst Group, 22% of staff turnover occurs in the first 45 days of employment, and the cost of losing an employee in the first year is estimated to be at least three times salary.1 There are costs associated with recruiting, interviewing, hiring, orientation, training, compensation and benefits while training, lost productivity, lost expertise, reduced turnaround times, customer dissatisfaction, administrative costs, and exit costs.

One solution is to prepare new employees to be successful at their jobs, which most facilities fail to do. Familiarizing new employees with their workplaces and their jobs is one of the most neglected employee-retention functions. A thick employee handbook and piles of paperwork leave the new employee feeling as if she has been left to sink or swim. The result is often a confused, unproductive staff member who is not likely to stick around for long.

One effective tool for new-employee retention is an enhanced orientation program called onboarding. Onboarding is more than an orientation, and it is not just an HR program to make sure new employees fill out all the right paperwork. Onboarding is about retaining talent. It helps provide the tools and knowledge necessary for the new employee to succeed in the job, and it is a process that continues for at least six months after the employee is hired.

Onboarding starts with announcing to the rest of the staff that you have hired a new team member — and let them know when to expect her. A new co-worker should not come as a surprise to the rest of the staff.

Have the new employee’s workspace ready when she arrives on her first day. She should not arrive to find the previous employee’s papers, photos, and coffee mug still sitting on the desk. Take the time to give her a full tour of the facility and introduce her to co-workers and management. She should be welcomed as part of the team. Assign her a “go-to” person — someone she can go to with questions and to seek advice. New employees are often reluctant to ask managers too many questions; they do not want you to think that you hired the wrong person for the job!

Do not make new employees learn things the hard way. On the first day, review job responsibilities, competencies, and expectations. Let her know what is expected during her first week, first month, and first 90 days on the job. Then follow up — check in with her on a regular basis. From management’s perspective, this process can help avoid misunderstandings, which are often the cause of a new employee’s sudden departure.

There is a multitude of information to go through with the new employee. Make sure to discuss company and departmental policies, job expectations, required procedures, and administrative and housekeeping items. There are checklists for onboarding programs available on the Internet to make sure you complete all of the important tasks.

Information given verbally during orientation sessions is easily forgotten, especially on a new hire’s nerve-wracking first day. Post policies and procedures in writing somewhere convenient for new staff members to refer to later. The company intranet is a good choice, as paper copies can be easily misplaced.

Make sure new hires are given the instructions, tools, and equipment they need to do their jobs. Do not make your new employees go on a search to find the basic tools they need. They should know where to obtain the necessary consumable supplies as well. Employee turnover increases as employees are put in positions where they feel they cannot do their jobs.

Things that seem like “old hat” to current staff are often overlooked during orientation, but new hires need to know the “small stuff” — when and where to go to lunch, where to park (or, more importantly, where not to park), bathroom locations, how the phone system works, who to call about safety issues, how to schedule time off or call in sick, and who is who. Knowing these things helps reduce the new employee’s anxiety. The less time they spend on these mundane worries, the more time they can spend being productive in their jobs.

A good way to learn what knowledge needs to be passed on to new staff is to ask current staff members what they wish they had been told or what would have helped them adjust when they were the new employees.

Employees who have gone through an onboarding program are more likely to stay with the company.1 These programs help create a sense of belonging, which can lead to higher job satisfaction, better job performance, greater organizational commitment, more employee engagement and, most importantly, reduced staff turnover.

Once new employees have gone through the onboarding process, get feedback from them. Ask what worked well, what did not work, and what information would have been helpful. Make adjustments to the onboarding process if necessary.

I recommend the following books to help you get started: Onboarding: How to Get Your New Employees Up to Speed in Half the Time by George B. Bradt and Mary Vonnegut, and Creative Onboarding Programs: Tools for Energizing Your Orientation Program by Doris Sims.

—Leslie Graham
Healthcare recruiting consultant
Arlington, VA


  1. The Wynhurst Group. Get ‘Em Started Right – Enhancing Performance and Retention through Effective On-Boarding. December 2007. The Wynhurst Group. Accessed April 7, 2011.


Many companies have found that a mentoring program helps new staff members settle into their jobs, and also contributes to a lower turnover rate. A mentoring program matches an experienced employee with a new employee to help develop the skills the new employee needs to succeed in her job. A mentor is typically a co-worker who will serve as a guide or coach, offering advice from basic information about everyday routines to long-term goals and career plans.

Mentors encourage growth and success; help build confidence and motivation, and are a friendly resource where new staff members can receive guidance. With a mentor, new employees feel like they are part of the team, not the “new guy.” Mentored employees become more connected to the job, the department, and the company as they learn from someone who has been there.

Mentors should be provided with training for coaching skills. Mentors should be prepared to share information about training and development opportunities and be available for consultation on problems.

Mentors also should be chosen carefully. Mentoring is a voluntary role, but a mentor should be someone who has a positive attitude; is a positive role model in her position or department; is able to encourage and motivate others; is willing to share her knowledge; avoids spreading or receiving rumors; and is a good listener.

Ultimately, everyone involved in the mentoring program helps develop a sense of community — making new employees less likely to leave.

Effective mentoring programs require careful planning, so do some research on the subject. Talk to the HR department about mentoring. Ask other facilities or departments about their experiences with mentoring programs.

In the long run, mentoring is a beneficial experience for the mentor, the new employee, and the employer.

—Terry Callahan
Director, CHR Employment Solutions
Toronto, ON, Canada

Bottom line: The cost of training and losing employees is high, and, if not managed appropriately, it can wreck budget projections. Our experts offer some good suggestions to improve the chances of successfully retaining new hires. But, even before the new employee gets to your facility, strive to hire the right person. This means job advertisements have to be accurate to attract the right candidates, and the interview process must weed out those that are likely to bolt.

C. Anne Pontius is a senior medical practice consultant with State Volunteer Mutual Insurance Co. in Brentwood, TN, and president of CLMA. Send questions to Ms. Pontius at [email protected].