Six ways to find—and keep—quality IT staffers

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As everyone involved with Health IT knows, one of the big challenges facing executives is the significant shortage of health IT workers. Not only is it tough to find qualified staff, it’s getting increasingly tough to keep them.

Richard Paula, MD, recently joined the Shriners Hospitals for Children in Tampa, Fla., as CMIO. Before that he served as CMIO and vice president at Tampa General Hospital , which, during his time there, was able to reduce its employee attrition rate from about 20 percent to less than 10. Here are some of his suggestions for ways in which health IT organizations can attract—and keep—quality employees.

Screen hires carefully

One of the initiatives implemented at Paula’s previous organization was to use an employee-screening tool—in this case a “talent assessment partner” called Talent Plus—with the idea, Paula said, of “improving the hiring process on the front end so that we were less likely to lose those employee later.”

Companies like Talent Plus work with organizations to interview and assess prospective employees in order to help screen them more effectively before a hiring decision is made. “It may not improve your recruiting ability or your exposure to prospective employees, but it does improve your ability to find the right fit before you hire someone,” Paula said.

Paula thinks that tools like these are going to be widely used by healthcare organizations' regarding their IT staff because of the high employee turnover the industry is experiencing. “It’s expensive to recruit and hire, but it’s even more expensive to replace people,” he said. “It’s better to go a few months longer with an unfilled position rather than to hire someone who is at a greater risk of leaving the organization after a short period of time.”

Use social networking

“You should be using social networking sites like LinkedIn for recruiting purposes,” said Paula, who pointed out that these kinds of sites provide employers with an efficient way to find and screen prospective employees.

The numbers bear out. According to Staff.com, 92 percent of companies use social media for recruitment, while 45 percent of Fortune 500 firms include links to social media on their career pages.

Don’t micromanage

Most employees want some flexibility in their work lives, said Paula, whether it involves the hours or the way they work. “You don’t want to micromanage your employees,” he said. “If you provide employees with a goal-driven environment and give them the tools to succeed in their jobs, then there is certainly merit in the idea that you can allow a certain amount of flexibility as long as you get results.”

Encourage career and personal development

IT departments are always working towards organizational and team goals, Paula said, but employees should have personal and professional goals as well. “It could be anything from pursuing a professional goal like getting a master’s degree, or achieving a personal goal like losing weight,” he said. “And it’s really helpful when teams can work together to help reach these goals. I had two employees who went back to school and got master’s degrees in medical informatics and I think they really appreciated the encouragement they received because it involved a lot of work. Something like that is important to the individuals and the team.”

Increase employee engagement

Working on the next project is just the nature of health IT, Paula pointed out, and there’s something to be said for giving employees ownership of individual projects. “Sometimes the word ‘accountability’ can have negative connotations,” he said. “But you can make employees accountable in a positive way by ensuring that they understand a project’s success depends on them. When you give them ownership it encourages them to care more and increases their engagement—and that’s a good thing.”

Pay attention

An end of the year holiday party may be nice, but if that’s the only time you pay attention to your employees “then it's just window dressing,” Paula said. Even worse, it may just present them with an opportunity to get together and gripe. He suggested that things like going to lunch with your employees every so often and paying attention to some important—but not overly intrusive—details like family graduations or illnesses can go a long way towards forging important personal connections.