Management tip: Open windows in work-life walls

As much as I love the comfort of working from my home and the freedom to set my own hours, there've been moments over my past three years as a freelancer I've missed the office environment. There's just something about the water cooler chats and even the stench of burnt popcorn emanating from a community microwave that remind you, even on the crummiest of days, that you are part of something larger than yourself.

As a manager, you have the power to leverage this camaraderie, to support employees to reach their personal potential and optimize your staff's loyalty and devotion to the practice. But doing so is not an easy feat.

Because of circumstances largely beyond your control, your employees may not only be earning less than they desire but also pulling the weight of former employees you haven't replaced. A recent survey from, for example, found that 34 percent of healthcare employers currently have open positions for which they can't find qualified candidates. Among larger organizations, with 50 or more employees, that number is 43 percent.

Thus, it's of little surprise that 46 percent of the organizations surveyed said they've experienced negative consequences related to extended job vacancies. Even more troubling, however, is that 34 percent of the employees surveyed are looking to flee their current posts this year. What's more, 45 percent said they plan to look for a new job over the next two years, while 82 percent said they would consider a new position if the right opportunity came along.

Even though these results stretch beyond physician practices into all types of healthcare settings, those are some scary statistics.

To keep these employees, you have to do more than tell them that the singed popcorn will smell just as bad on the other side. According to some experts, you have to invest the time in taking an interest in their success outside of your practice, even at the risk of helping to build some individuals up to one day pursue opportunities that your organization may not provide. One of our top stories from last week touched on the importance of this mentorship role in creating strong relationships between employees and managers.

If you can make this unselfish connection with your people, the appreciation they feel for you and your practice will be longlasting. These are the people who won't think twice about recommending your office to others, including potential patients as well as employees.

Another seemingly counterintuitive aspect of engaging employees, according to a recent post from the Harvard Business Review, is softening the boundaries between staff members' work and personal lives.

"For years, many managers have believed that a mark of a competent, committed employee is that he or she is able to leave family and personal life at the office door and, while 'on the clock,' focus 100 percent on work," wrote Monique Valcour, a professor of management at EDHEC Business School in France. "This assumption is powerful; it shapes expectations about what it takes to succeed in a career, how companies assess their employees' value and performance, and the way managers behave."

But that notion, she said, was a myth then and is a myth now. "Human beings can't completely segment their lives; expecting them to do so both increases strain and diminishes the gains that can be realized by deliberately seeking wins across multiple areas of life," Valcour wrote.

Does this mean that managers should demolish all of the walls creating personal and professional boundaries? Become their employees' best friend and confidante? No.

As Valcour explained it, the idea is to simply acknowledge that work and life are not completely siloed, and when appropriate, be open about your own challenges in integrating both worlds.

The way I see it, it's not so much about taking down walls as it is adding a few windows.

If you suspect your employees are spending the balance of their effort gazing outside of your practice for brighter opportunities, take an interest in what they're looking for as people. Until you raise the question, they may not even know. Maybe this person is ready for a newer challenge within your practice. Or perhaps he or she is struggling, at work or personally, and could benefit from being paired with a colleague--someone you regard as a strong role model or mentor--on a special project.

As Valcour advised, be willing to experiment. After all, changing the status quo in almost any capacity is better than attempting to operate a practice missing a fraction of its ideal staff while many of the remaining employees are gearing up to leave. - Deb (@PracticeMgt)

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