University of Michigan trims employee turnover without breaking the bank

NEW ORLEANS - The radiologic technologist shortage has led to a certain lack of subtlety in recruitment efforts. Promises of double-digit signing bonuses, relocation reimbursement -- even monetary prizes for just sticking around -- litter the RT job boards.

But is emptying their wallets the only hope imaging facilities have of hiring RTs? Not necessarily, as long as administrators rely on creative recruitment and retention strategies. In a presentation Monday at the American Healthcare Radiology Administrators (AHRA) meeting, Rod Zapolski shared the recruitment strategy pursued by the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor.

"We don’t have a goal of compensating better than everyone else. We developed programs that focus on the employees and how we can get them to stay, as well as bring in new staff. As a result, our turnover and vacancy rates have been consistently low," said Zapolski, who is an assistant director in the department of radiology.


Zapolski and his colleagues play up the university’s reputation as a top-rated academic center. They proved the effectiveness of this approach when they revived a clinical practice-site program that had fallen apart a few years earlier. The program not only gives RT students at nearby colleges an opportunity to gain hands-on experience, but the department now has direct access to potential employees.

"Obviously, they are a captive audience to hire," he said. "We also find that if we train someone, it’s much easier to place him on the job." Working at a clinical site gives current employees a boost too, with opportunities to teach, mentor, and gain management experience.

The department also sponsors "Bring your Child to Work" days, and sends staff to lecture at local high schools, all with the intention of "getting them while they are young," Zapolski said. This past year, five students who had first heard about a radiology career in their high school entered local community college allied health programs, he added.

Implementing flexible staff scheduling also makes the department more attractive. Offering extra pay for working weekends (at his department, it’s 40 hours' pay for 32 hours of work) has proven popular with younger staff, who are looking for more experience, and with senior staff who are happy to skip weekend shifts.

The staff also has the option of picking and choosing from various scheduling plans, whether it’s seven days on/seven days off, or shifts that range from 8-12 hours.

On the money front, the department puts greater emphasis on starting salaries in order to remain minimally competitive; offers bonuses to existing staff who recruit; and gives out performance awards. However, Zapolski advocated going beyond handing out piles of cash. For instance, new arrivals are greeted with a card signed by the entire department. If an employee chooses to leave, the department sends flowers to him or her as a congratulatory gesture.

"It’s well worth it to spend that $25 (on flowers) because it has a huge impact," he explained. "It lets them know that we value them and that we would welcome their return. It also gives them an opportunity to reconsider their decision to leave."


One of the primary retention tools Zapolski uses is keeping the staff up-to-date and involved in how the department is run. At regular meetings with management and employees, he encourages staff to offer up new ideas or improvements.

"What I’m looking for is to get the little things that bother them," he said. "We document all of these thoughts and ideas. We implement the good ideas, and what I can’t implement, I let them know why."

When it come to new hires, Zapolski meets with them 90 days after their start date, and encourages them to assess their experience thus far.

In order to encourage employee interaction, the department sponsors theme days and parties, such as a fall festival fete or a holiday shindig. These parties generally last for a few hours so that staff can work them in around their shift schedules, he explained.

"Loyalty to colleagues is often stronger than to the employer, so we’d really like to get people interacting socially," he said.

Again, rather than offering a straight bonus, the awards program includes coupons to nearby eateries or gift certificates that can be used in the hospital.

Twice a year, a Web-based employee opinion survey is administered. "We utilize this to improve management practice. It gives the staff a chance to give us anonymous feedback," he said.

According to the most recent results, nearly 70% of the department's staff said that they would recommend the department to someone who is on the job market. Sixty-nine percent said that they enjoyed working with their immediate supervisor, a crucial figure, according to Zapolski.

"In my experience, talking with people during exit interviews, is that people leave because they couldn’t get along with their manager or supervisor," he said. "We’ve only had a small number of people say that they’ve left because of money."

As good managers are critical to retention, the department encourages management growth as well by inviting human-resources consultants to lecture, and by hosting quarterly four-hour workshops for lead technologists.

"These strategies can be scaled up or down to meet your institution’s needs," Zapolski concluded. "It’s a lot cheaper to (implement this plan) than it is to recruit new employees."

Shalmali Pal staff writer
August 1, 2002

Copyright © 2002

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