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Those Were the Days

Thought Leadership: From the CEO’s Desk – Richard Leaver, CEO

One of my first jobs after graduating as a Physiotherapist was working in an occupational health clinic at a large car assembly plant in the United Kingdom. There were over 10,000 employees working at the assembly plant when I arrived, many having spent their entire working life employed by the company and at the same location.    

When I met the employees, I would regularly ask how long they had worked at the assembly plant. I was constantly amazed at the longevity of employment by so many of the employees. There were a significant number of workers who had worked in excess of 25 years, still engaged in jobs that had changed little over time. I even came across a couple of employees who had worked 50 years plus. Truly remarkable.   

In stark contrast, I recently had the privilege to be sat in a room full of Executives who were responsible for leading many of the largest and most respected out-patient physical therapy companies in the USA. The conversation turned to clinician turnover rates and how successful, or rather unsuccessful, they were at being able to retain talent. It was not uncommon to have clinicians change employer after only a couple of years. 

When I reflect on these two very different experiences I wonder why it is no longer the norm for employees to stay for an extended period of time with one employer. We seem to celebrate employees who have reached 5 years of tenure as if this was a significant amount of time to remain at one place of employment. 

Why has the labor force become disconnected from their employers? Where has the loyalty shown by employees and employers gone? As a society, I would argue that we no longer tend to admire or respect employees who have considerable longevity with a company.  In fact, for career development, there seems a positive perception towards applicants who have experienced a number of employers. Personally, I have changed jobs a number of times since originally graduating with my first degree almost thirty years ago. When I describe my career with multiple employers, people seem very accepting of the regularity of change, even being perceived as a positive attribute.  

I understand there are various reasons for the uncoupling of the worker and their company, attributable to many external and internal forces and a general shift in our societal expectations and norms.  I would suggest the sense of obligation towards employees from companies has been eroded to a point where human labor is identified by an employee number rather than by their personal attributes and loyalty. 

However, to focus primarily on the employer as being primarily responsible for the higher rates of employee turnover is simplistic and probably inaccurate.  One must look at the broader changes that have occurred to society over the last 40 years to help us understand this issue. 

I believe this increasing disconnect between employee and employer is having an adverse effect to operational effectiveness, company culture and financial security.  Undoubtedly, with the increase in employee turnover comes a very real personal, administrative and financial cost to businesses. Along with the obvious direct costs associated with replacing and training employees, the loss and disruption of relationships; culture; continuity and historical perspective can profoundly impact businesses ability continue to function at their current performance level. To attempt to grow an existing business with high staff turnover is almost impossible. 

I believe a major differentiator in out-patient Physical Therapy companies, and healthcare providers generally, will be their ability to not only attract but retain clinicians. Without employee longevity we will struggle to develop strong and meaningful relationships with colleagues, referral sources, patients and the wider community.   

Regardless of the causes of increasing employee turnover the challenge is identifying strategies and tactics that employers can adopt to truly engage clinicians in a meaningful way, so they choose to stay with a specific organization for an extended period. We had better do this quickly as the demand for skilled clinicians is only going to increase while supply remains limited. 

Good luck!