October 29, 2018
Know How

Retain employees in a turnover industry

Allison Beckler is medical director at behavorial health nonprofit YOU, Inc. in Worcester, Baldwinsville and Gardner. Reach her at BecklerA@youinc.org.

When I first accepted the job as medical director of YOU,Inc., I had many big ideas about growth and change within the medical department. I wanted to implement my ideas as quickly as possible, but soon realized listening to my staff was a more valuable long-term investment.

Workers in the behavioral health sector – particularly those deal with child psychiatry – have notoriously high burnout rates. Yet, in my first year at YOU, my department had zero turnover. Here's what I found was important to creating a stable staff.

Be authentic. My entire life I have tried to present myself authentically – the good and the not so good. My staff quickly connected with me and appreciated my authenticity. This led to more open and honest communication.

Be humble. As a young and fairly new medical director, many days I do not have the answers to the questions my staff ask. I set my pride aside and answer them honestly with, "I don't know, but I will work hard to find out." This fosters an open dialogue, respect and trust.

Reflect on the mission. In nonprofit work, it is easy be become bogged down by the everyday challenges: staffing issues, funding issues, insurance issues and facilities in desperate need of maintenance. Instead of getting stuck in a negative thought loop, I take time to reflect on the reasons I chose this work: to helpi foster resilient kids and families. I then bring this reflection to my team.

Shut off the phone and stop looking at your email. For the first several months as medical director, I was "on" 24/7, worried I would miss something. I soon realized this pace was not sustainable for my personal or professional life. I realized I had a very capable and intelligent team who did not need me available 24/7. I was able to unplug and spend time with my husband, young daughter and two dogs and take time to realize I did not need to be in control at all times.

Treat your staff as you would want to be treated. This sounds like something we all learned in first grade, but it carries forward into our adult professional lives.

Keep/get a mentor. Having mentors to bounce ideas off, ask advice and learn from their experiences.

Take care of your personal health and encourage your team to do the same. We cannot care for others or stay true to the mission if we first do not fill our own physical and mental energy tanks. I often work hard each week to carve out some time to exercise and time for pleasure reading. I encourage my staff to do the same, especially since we work in an emotionally exhausting field.

Have difficult and honest conversations. I am a people-pleaser by nature and having honest conversations about performance issues has never been easy. I would rather spend my time encouraging my team rather than discussing performance issues. When having these conversations I first acknowledge my own discomfort to myself and sometimes to my team member. I find acknowledging my own areas of growth allows for a more open dialogue.

Never stop exploring. I remember in college I bought a pair of flip flops (or rather my parents bought them) from The North Face which said "Never Stop Exploring." I always loved when I put my sandal on and took them off because it reminded me to stay curious and explore the world around me. When working and managing a medical staff in the nonprofit field, it is important to stay curious. Stay curious about your staff, your business/agency, and your own life.

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