Effective Employee Retention Strategies with Suzanne Schell & Raelynn Douglas

At Caring Support we are all about connecting healthcare employers with talented and experienced candidates as a way to alleviate the healthcare HR crisis. However, we are also open to learning about other potential solutions to this issue, like employee retention as a way to guarantee an organization's return on investment (ROI), which is the main topic of this interesting interview with entrepreneurs Suzanne Schell and Raelynn Douglas. This is what they told us:

Effective Employee Retention Strategies To Ease the Healthcare HR Crisis with Suzanne Schell & Raelynn Douglas

CARING SUPPORT: Why do you think retention is so important to solve the healthcare HR crisis?

SUZANNE SCHELL & RAELYNN DOUGLAS: If you look at an organization of 15,000 staff, they could be wasting $250 million every year on churn. If you got that money from the government, we'd all be celebrating and increasing wages, but yet we're losing it and no one's calculating it. So that's where we thought, we really need to focus attention on retention and not just on attraction and recruitment, which is important, but if we can teach leaders to learn these skills and make the best decisions with taxpayers' dollars, then we'd all be better off.

Most organizations we talk to aren't talking about retention. They're not talking about turnover rate, they're talking about culture, and burnout, and stress... And once we alert to them there is a measure, it's called turnover, then we can start talking real, real dollars. So that's where we say, OK, we start to pay attention to turnover rate and that might be the take-home for everyone who's listening here. Go find out what it is and then try to figure out the cost of replacement. Some people say it's one and a half to two times a salary. We have a CEO leader that spoke to us recently who said that she's going to spend $250,000 on leadership training because that's the cost of replacing one leader. So that's a leader who gets it, who understands how expensive this is. But most people haven't even turned their attention to it. So we have to focus that attention and then build a program that has an impact on that.


CS: How do you help organizations meet their retention and return of investment (ROI) goals?

SS & RD: Very simply, we train leaders, so we go in with an organization working one on one with individuals or with a team and a lot of virtual workshops. We train leaders on how to retain their staff with tangible, practical tools and techniques that they can implement right away. But we build that capability within the organization. It's not just a report that we put on the shelf and say "thanks very much... please deliver our cheque." We want to transfer knowledge, we want to build capability. We want to roll up our sleeves and show people how so that they can train others in the organization.

This isn't just one problem that one organization is dealing with. We're dealing with this across Canada, across North America, across the world. So we all need to get busy working on solutions and we love to help transfer that knowledge.

We want to work with organizations that want to either invest time and resources into people's strategies, awesome retention strategies, and how to get to the right answer. But we also want them to be able to say that it worked. We want to see the impact financially, intangibles. If you can reduce turnover and increase retention, you got a high ROI. We want to work with organizations that want to do that, build that evaluation into it so that we just don't go in and do something and leave. We want to follow it up and show the results.

We like to use the term "we want to help them cross the finish line" because you invest in a leader, you design a workshop, you have people come, you count the number of people in the seats, they had a good lunch, they rate the instructor, okay did it have an impact? It's very common. That's what we do. So what we want to do is train people to ask more. To design your programs so that you know exactly what you're trying to achieve. You achieve it, you cross the finish line... because our resources are so scarce and we have to make the best use of them.

CS: Could you describe your methodology and share some of your retention strategies?

SS & RD: We work through workshops primarily, depending on what an organization needs. Sometimes they say "come in and talk for an hour" and you can't get a lot done in an hour, but we've got two days, three hours of various sessions where we dive deep into the problem, share that "aha" moment about churn and how the best golden egg you've got is retaining your staff.

You have to attract you need to fill those spots. But if you're losing those people, that's huge dollars going out the door... So what can we do to have leaders understand? They need to have the conversations. They need to be empathetic. We need to build a culture of psychological safety and resilience. These things take time. So sometimes it would require going in and working with leaders, you know, over a series of weeks to build those leadership capabilities. So depending on how ready organizations are to receive this information and to do something about the culture, we can have an impact at lots of different levels.

We have a workshop that we've done with the National Institute of Health Care Informatics, and it was a two-hour workshop, but they left with tangible techniques for employee retention, employee engagement surveys, how to do a stay interview, how to brainstorm local solutions with your team because maybe person over in Barrie might want a Tim Horton's card, but a person in Mississauga might want to hear "thank you." So it's very individual. You have to talk to your staff. And we need leaders within organizations who say "Yes, I understand, I'll be a champion for this." We need direction from the CEO down, but we need leaders across the organization helping to support that good culture. That's how you retain your staff.

How we help organizations and leaders learn how to retain employees is through workshops that we deliver and we deliver awesome workshops, if we do say so. But the biggest bullet, the silver bullet or the gold bullet that an organization can do is to say "I need you in an organization to help our leaders and customize something for our group based on what we know about why people are leaving and help them." That way, The workshops give tangible takeaways that people can implement. But to get a real, if you're going to make a difference in this you've got to fight it and go for it and not just invest a couple of hours. So that's the big push is to get organizations to wake up and say, we got to really pay attention to this and do something significant.

Our methodology is a 12 step process starting with "why are we doing this?" "What do we want out of it?" "What does success look like?" "How are we going to collect the data?" "How are we going to show the ROI and communicate the success story?" ...12 steps that we incorporate into any program or initiative.

CS: How do you usually measure the effectiveness of your strategies?

SS & RD: Let's put an example together: If an organization has a retention problem, it's a crisis. Maybe they want to find the solution to improve retention. Let's say their turnover rate is 25%, which is really high, could be 30%. That's the problem they need to solve. They need to reduce that down to maybe 10%, but maybe not right away. But over time, down to 10%, the intervention comes into play. We ensure that we have good learning, we have good understanding, we have good application of new skills, etcetera. We then start to see retention increasing, turnover coming down. In six months that rate is maybe down to 15%. OK, there is a big fat measure but the work that goes into that measurement to be credible is how much of that reduction in turnover was attributable to our retention strategies. We work to do that credibly so that we have a good, credible piece of the pie.

If it went down 10%, how much of that 10% is us? So that's how we put the evaluation using the ROI methodology in place and if we see a reduction of 10%, let's convert that to a monetary value. It's a huge number. I mean, we talk about the cost of turnover. It's a huge number compared to the cost of prevention and we've got a nice ROI.

CS: What do you want healthcare organizations to know about retention and ROI to ease the healthcare HR crisis?

SS & RD: So organizations, you have it within yourselves to save the money with retention strategies and reinvest what you're keeping because you're not replacing staff constantly... Also, there is a fear in organizations of exposing maybe a toxic organization or bad leaders, et cetera. Let's get over that and let's just find a way to make the environment and health care for our amazing healthcare professionals to stay and want to work and deliver great, great work.

We want organizations to know that we don't blame, we recognize that everyone's been through this huge marathon and sprint at all levels of the organization, and everyone can change. You can start to be a more empathetic leader tomorrow by making eye contact by saying thank you. And that doesn't cost any money.

This is a very unique opportunity for people to have an amazing impact on the healthcare workforce. And we're really excited about this. When you start to talk to people about being part of the solution, you see smiles on their faces, positive energy, some life brought back into their work. And we think so many people have left their jobs because they're despondent, they're burnt out. They don't see the purpose. They feel like they have been rejected by people in government and others and patients even. So let's help leaders create amazing cultures where people love to work and attract back that amazing workforce that's left and put them in great places where they can thrive and grow a career. So that's what gets me excited is the energy from it.

Read More: Assess The Cost Of Living Before Accepting A PSW Job


About the interviewees:

Suzanne Schell, CRP, is the CEO of ROI Institute Canada; a partner since 2010 of the ROI Institute. Suzanne teaches the ROI Methodology and ROI Certification to many healthcare audiences. She is involved in numerous healthcare program evaluation projects in Canadian healthcare organizations.  

Raelynn Douglas, MBA, is the CEO of Raesoleil Consulting, and has had an extensive career with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Finance and within the Ontario healthcare system. Her management consulting focuses on leadership training, to build resilient leaders and create great cultures that offer exemplary employee experiences.  Her attention has turned to the Health Human Resource shortage to offer solutions for employee retention, so we can put more resources back into the system and co-design the workplaces of tomorrow.

The pair met in January of 2020 when Raelynn took a course with Suzanne while she was doing her MBA at Rotman. They joined forces after understanding that their skills and strategies were "absolutely the right thing for health care leaders." "After we met and had some time apart in isolation, we came back together last summer to design some programs that really have an impact on the health human resource crisis. And we're really excited to be offering solutions instead of just talking about the problem," they say.


To watch or listen to the extended version of this interview, visit our YouTube channel or our Podcast page.

And if you want to learn more about retention and ROI in relation to the healthcare HR crisis, you can be a part of the event "Health HR Shortage: Retention strategies and ROI", which will happen on Wednesday, May 11th.

Thanks for reading!

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