EMS services have traditionally struggled against funding cuts and bureaucrats to provide for the needs of their communities. Now, many services find themselves in an internal battle. Ambulances are being parked as paramedics and EMTs leave the profession at record rates. In some parts of the country, there is 20% turnover.1 The problem, though, doesn't exist simply within EMS. One hospital study found that one-fifth of the responding nurses intended to leave their current positions.2 Hospitals concerned about replacement costs and quality of care use a number of strategies to retain their workforce that EMS organizations could also implement to retain existing staff.
Like EMS, the current nursing shortage includes both supply and demand. Nursing schools cannot turn out enough graduates to keep up with the increasing demand. EMS employment needs are projected to grow by 21%-35% over the next few years.3 Many EMS and nursing staff are also reaching retirement age. With increasing shortages from both ends, EMS services will be competing with each other and will need to make provisions for maintaining their current staff.
Retention efforts should begin from Day #1 with new hires, who often feel alone in their new work environment. Hospitals found that healthcare workers begin to think about leaving 180 days into their job, and half of them leave after the first year.4
Assign each new employee a mentor to help them through the early processes of learning a job. This mentor should keep a watchful eye on the new EMT to ensure he is not overwhelmed with the new procedures and has time to gain experience. Managers should listen carefully to their mentors and not schedule new workers on independent assignments until they have demonstrated documented competence handling the variables of a call.
Hospital studies recommend meeting with new employees every two to three months to make sure they're receiving adequate support and guidance.4 These meetings also open lines of communication with the manager to discuss any areas of concern that arise. Hopefully, this would head off any problems before the new employee starts looking elsewhere.
Besides retention meetings, managers could hold social events to encourage friendship between the new employees and existing staff. Friendship helps retention by increasing the new employee's bond to the department and by creating an environment where the new employee feels comfortable and accepted. Good-natured ribbing of "newbies" is an old tradition that encourages bonding, acceptance and adaptation to the department. Mentors, meetings and friendships all work together to make new employees feel part of their new environment and reduce their intent to leave by reinforcing their importance and position in the workplace.
Managers must do more than establish a workplace conducive to new employees. Through their management style, they directly impact the job satisfaction and retention of existing staff. Generation X employees refuse to accept a dictator-type manager. They want management on a personal, interactive level with them. Managers must talk and laugh with their staff and be able to stand up for them. The manager-employee relationship creates a supportive environment that allows employees to be comfortable and grow. This, in turn, leads to self-actualized employees who are motivated to work hard and are less likely to leave because they have a bond with management.
Another retention method to increase self-actualization is through education. Most hospitals now reimburse tuition for nurses; some use other methods to support education in an effort to increase nurse job satisfaction.