As a consultant, I am contacted frequently by programs concerned about high turnover rates and also by clinicians who jump from one program to another without finding a good fit.
There is no one way to ensure that a program will have low turnover or that you will find THE job that is a perfect fit for you, but there are many things that can be considered and tweaked as needed to improve the chances of success. It helps to not be defensive and to maintain an open mind.
Years ago, I interviewed for a supervisory position at a larger program in my home state. They asked me the typical questions such as where I saw myself in five years (finishing my doctorate, getting published and working in a program I felt was making an impact on our clients), what my supervisory style was (aligned with the current data suggesting that a Rogerian approach to supervision often leads to happier, more efficient and more productive workers) and so on.
Toward the end of the interview, after telling me about the program and what it would entail, they asked if I had any questions for them. I avoided some of the more common questions and instead delved into ones that would help me best determine if this program might be a good fit for me. I asked what the average turnover rate was (it was 40-60 percent, although some employees had been there for more than a decade). I asked what, if anything, they were doing to try to lower that rate because it appeared we would be in a constant state of training and looking for new employees (they thought they were giving too much to employees after their first year of service, so they were going to start making employees wait two to five years to receive the full range of employee benefits). I then asked how giving less to employees when they were hired and making them wait as long as five years for full benefits would be an effective policy for addressing turnover given that new employees typically weren’t making it past the first year (their answer: We feel it will work).
At that moment, I knew this wasn’t a place that I needed to be because it appeared that our philosophies and their math did not align. It’s better to not join a program when you sense that the relationship will end in failure than it is to ignore the red flags and hope for the best.
What follows are some potential red flags to explore further, whether you are an employer or a potential employee.
Pay well but respect little: We all know of programs that resemble Walmart in that they are huge and seem to have a presence all over the area. As giant programs, they have many state and federal contracts and thus have the ability to pay salaries that beat smaller programs. New clinicians flock to these places, typically amazed at the starting pay, yet they tend to last a matter of months or, at best, maybe a year or two before running out the door to work “anywhere but here.”
When I conduct exit interviews or consult with these “running employees,” I often find that they didn’t feel respected or heard by their employer. They often mention feeling as if they “sold their soul” or “were treated like a slave.” They sometimes talk about being trained to do their notes and related paperwork during groups and sessions because there was no other time to do it. They discuss how this prevented them from offering high-quality care and how they felt forced to leave to regain a sense of self and integrity.
It is important to remember that clinical professionals chose this field for a reason, and that reason is typically not money or prestige. Allowing them to do their work to the best of their abilities in an atmosphere of respect increases the likelihood of retention and satisfaction.
Have huge employee turnover: If your company has a high turnover rate, there is no question that you have a problem. Before panic sets in and you go to extremes, there are things to consider: Are there some positions that have more turnover than others? If so, what are the likely causes? If these are mostly entry-level positions that folks typically leave for higher positions, that’s shouldn’t necessarily be a surprise. But if the high turnover positions are midlevel or higher, it would serve you well to explore the possible reasons behind it. It wouldn’t hurt to ask outgoing employees why they felt the need to leave and what, if anything, could have changed their minds.
As a potential employee, you would do well to learn about the turnover rates of the programs you are considering and the possible causes to determine if this is a place you can feel comfortable working. Unless you are desperate for a job, you may want to reconsider joining a program that has a high turnover rate, especially if you are looking for a long-term situation.
Fail to work well with others: How well does the program work with other programs? Is it friendly and willing to cooperate, or does it have a reputation for only referring within itself? If the program has a reputation for being closed off or unfriendly, this often is a sign of much bigger systemic issues. These issues may lead to higher turnover rates or less people applying for employment.
Just another number\no room to grow professionally: Does the program take pride in knowing each worker’s strengths and weaknesses? Does the program help to address and shore up those weaknesses while providing assignments that focus on the worker’s strengths? Does the program attempt to promote from within, or does it have a tendency to ignore internal resources and focus on outside sources to fill its openings? How you answer these questions can make a lot of difference as you consider job opportunities.
A cookie-cutter approach to counseling: One of the biggest criticisms I hear, both from clinicians and from clients, is that many programs expect the client to fit the programming instead of having the programming fit the client. Sometimes this approach is unavoidable, such as in cases where the government or another outside agency is funding the therapy and dictates that it must follow a particular approach or design. This may be because the program design is part of a large study measuring the overall effectiveness of the design, so there is no way to alter it and maintain the funding.
If this is the case, however, both clients and clinicians should be advised prior to becoming part of the programming so they can make an educated decision about whether to participate. Sadly, many programs skip this very important step.
Interviewing the potential employer\is this program right for you? As an employer, be cautious of hiring someone who fails to “interview the interviewer” to some extent. You want to see that potential employees are interested in the program, are curious about how it works and what it does, and desire to know how they can make a positive impact if they become part of it.
I make it a practice to ask potential employers how I’ll be empowered to do my job to the best of my ability, whether they will allow me to make changes or if I will be expected to maintain the status quo, and what my target goals and objectives might be. How they answer these questions often tells me enough to know whether I want to work for them. If I don’t, it’s far easier to end the relationship here than it is to leave after a short period of employment.
As a potential employee, remember to be polite but also assertive enough to ensure that you leave the interview with as clear a picture as possible of what your job would be and what the employer’s expectations are. Although it is true that the employer is interviewing you, you are interviewing the employer as well — or at least you should be. After all, you potentially will spend a great deal of your time and your life with this company or organization, so you owe it to yourself to do the best job you can ensuring that this program is the right fit for you.
Many other factors can make an impact in this area, so be sure to do your homework. This article is meant simply as a quick introduction. But with a little work and some forethought, it is well within your reach to reduce turnover, whether you are an employer or an employee.
“Doc Warren” Corson III is a counselor, educator, writer and the founder, developer, and clinical and executive director of Community Counseling Centers of Central CT Inc. (www.docwarren.org) and Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm (www.pillwillop.org). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.