It’s being called “the great resignation.” According to recent news reports and studies, employees in a number of fields—including healthcare—are switching jobs or leaving fields entirely at record rates. The stress of the COVID-19 pandemic on the workforce is often cited as a big culprit in the migration.
Turnover and burnout were already taking a toll on the clinical trial workforce before the pandemic upended the landscape, notes Paul Evans, president and chief executive officer at Velocity Clinical Research and past chair of the Association Board of Trustees for the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP). However, the brain drain problem has arguably accelerated in recent history.
“Working for a clinical trial site has not been easy for the past 18 months,” Evans says. In addition to battling the COVID-19 virus itself on the front lines of healthcare, clinical trial professionals, including nurses, endured “tremendous stress” in terms of workload and juggling work/life balance, he notes.
However, Evans and team at Velocity believe they’ve “turned the corner” in battling workforce burnout and turnover by taking a long, hard look at how they treat employees. In fact, action steps fueled by reaching out to employees helped double the personnel headcount in 2020.
First, Velocity added a bonus structure, increase some 401(k) financial options, and took other steps that “cost money, but it’s part of what you have to do to hold onto staff,” Evans explains. With his company standing at 600-plus employees in 30 locations across 14 U.S. states, he acknowledges it might be easier for a relatively large site to find additional money for salary where a much smaller operation might not have the same flexibility.
However, while salary and benefits remain important retention tools, Evans says even smaller operations can take some steps to stem a talent exodus beyond the basic paycheck.
Evans says success begins with engagement. “We conducted employee surveys” to find pain points for staff and try to identify areas where the company could help, he notes. Also, while the company couldn’t address every issue, the mere fact that feedback was solicited had a positive impact, he says.
Not surprisingly perhaps, the surveys revealed “people were tired and had been working in difficult circumstances,” Evans says.
Armed with more specific knowledge of employee morale, Velocity took some steps after sifting through employee responses. For example, the company began providing regular staff lunches, gave employees an extra day off for the Memorial Day weekend (turning it into a four-day break), and organized “site family days” where each Velocity site could choose an activity bringing employees and their families together. Events designed to help employees enjoy time with families included a company picnic and a whitewater rafting trip, Evans says.
In addition, Velocity hired a dedicated recruitment team, “which is virtually unknown in [the] small site businesses,” Evans says.
Author: Michael Causey