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How to retain new hires in a volatile market

Coauthored by Milissa Eagle, MA, Director of Workforce Analytics.

The past few years have tested the healthcare workforce like never before. Resources and staff were stretched thin, pushing many to the brink of burnout. Employee engagement plummeted to an all-time low, while a retention crisis rocked the industry. And it wasn't just people seeking greener pastures at other organizations. Many were leaving healthcare altogether.

1 in 5 of healthcare employees left in 2023—and 1 in 4 among those who had been at their organization for less than two years.

We analyzed data from 2.2 million U.S.-based healthcare employees to understand the state of the healthcare workforce today. Our “Employee experience in healthcare 2024” report examines current and anticipated challenges around building an engaged, thriving workforce, and strategies for delivering a high-quality patient experience that result in optimal healthcare outcomes for all.

In particular, the revolving door of new hires is a pressing concern. While one in five of all healthcare employees left their organization between 2022 and 2023, that number jumped to one in four among employees who’d been at their organization for less than two years.

The message is clear: Our workforce is hurting. And new hires are particularly at risk.

4 strategies to mitigate turnover among new hires

Press Ganey new hire data from clients participating in lifecycle surveying reveals that new hires value connection—to the work and the organization. They want the environment they are working in to reflect the expectations set before they accepted the role. When looking more broadly at retention, key drivers include feeling connected to the work, feeling respected and supported by the direct leader, and working in a safe, collaborative environment.

1. Listen authentically, and act on feedback

Knowing the risk of first-year turnover, building strong feedback loops into the experience of new employees is essential. Continuously listening, and demonstrating action based on employee feedback, is critical to engagement. But currently, only 60% of new hires (with two years or less of tenure) feel their voices are heard—and that their input leads to positive change.

Beyond entrance and onboarding surveys, regularly checking in with new hires throughout their first year (via rounding and stay interviews, for example) will make sure they're sufficiently supported, and that you're meeting their expectations. Gathering this information also helps you better understand what those expectations are, and what the incoming workforce values.

2. Invest in structured and strategic onboarding

Creating a culture of high engagement reduces turnover among healthcare employees, at every stage of their careers. When new employees join an organization, our data shows that they’re hungry for the resources they need to thrive. This includes information about the organization’s culture and values, how their role connects to the goals and mission, and adequate training and support to be successful in their day-to-day job.

Structured onboarding ensures a consistent experience for all team members, across the health system, when they join. This gives the organization an opportunity to make senior leadership visible early, and train on behavioral standards that fuel relationships with team members and patients. New hires should have a map of what onboarding looks like, from organizational education to role-specific training.

Onboarding looks a lot different today than it has in the past. Beyond orientation and structured training, effective onboarding requires a strategic approach that incorporates ongoing feedback to identify and quickly address suboptimal experiences.

Regularly collecting feedback at 30, 60, and 90 days promotes engagement, encourages transparency, and provides valuable insights into the onboarding experience itself. During the employee onboarding process, establish individualized development plans (IDPs) to align on personal, professional, and organizational goals. This level of clarity gives new employees a roadmap and a timeline, and fosters ongoing skill development and career growth.

To help new employees feel supported, valued, and prioritized, mentorship programs are an investment that pays dividends. Mentorships not only accelerate onboarding and talent development, but they also serve as a powerful tool to reinforce an organization’s mission, vision, and values through personalized connections.

3. Develop front-line leaders to create a sense of purpose and belonging

Active leadership instills confidence, promotes transparency, and fosters a positive and open organizational culture. This connection between employees and leaders directly impacts retention.

Employees who report a weak relationship with their direct leader are 44% more likely to turn over than those who report strong relationships with their direct leader.

Our data shows that four of the 10 drivers of retention are about leader behaviors (respect, treating people equally, caring about job satisfaction, and encouraging teamwork). Employees who report a weak relationship with their direct leader are 44% more likely to turn over than those with strong relationships. The key is to develop front-line leaders who champion their teams. This means hiring, promoting, and training them to support and connect with their people, fostering a sense of belonging within the team and the organization.

Investing in leadership development creates a ripple effect across an organization, impacting employee engagement, experience, and retention. The data is clear: Empowered leaders bring out the best in their people.

4. Be visible: Senior leadership manifests an organization’s values through actions 

While fostering a positive work environment and driving retention both largely fall on front-line leaders, employee engagement requires a strong foundation built on senior leadership. Three of the top 10 items that fuel employee engagement nationally are directly linked to senior leadership. These include demonstrating the company's mission and values, prioritizing patient safety, and fostering overall confidence in their ability to lead. 

65% of employees report confidence in senior leadership.

Senior leaders inspire confidence and trust by embodying the organization's mission and values in everything they do. Their actions speak louder than words, guiding employees—from new hires to seasoned veterans—toward the organization's vision and strategy. Through clear communication and open dialogue, senior leaders foster a culture of transparency and accountability, and cultivate an environment where everyone feels valued and connected. 

But there's a disconnect. In 2023, only 65% of employees reported confidence in senior leadership. While that's a slight improvement over 63% in the previous year, it's clear there's room for growth. Rounding on new staff, for example, gives senior leaders a front-row seat to the everyday employee experience. At the same time, it builds trust, opens the lines of communication, drives engagement, and boosts employee retention.

While senior leader rounding on the front lines is powerful, scaling rounding efforts requires rounding on mid-level leaders too. This enables mid-level leaders to have greater alignment with the senior leader level so communications can seamlessly translate to the front line.

Giving new hires the tools they need to succeed

Investing in new hires isn't just about filling a position today. It's about building a strong foundation for tomorrow. Empowering them early in their career—and at every step of their professional journey—ensures they excel in their roles, and will help shape a brighter future for healthcare. 

To learn more about new hire retention—and more—download our report. To discuss these findings 1:1, reach out to a member of our employee experience team

About the author

As Chief Clinical Officer, Jessica leads efforts to support organizations in increasing clinician engagement and improving patient care outcomes, particularly among physicians. Her areas of expertise include leadership development, clinical care redesign through outstanding teamwork, addressing clinician burnout, and advancing professional fulfillment. Jessica also leads Press Ganey’s Workforce Well-Being Collaborative, an initiative designed to help healthcare organizations identify the varied and disparate needs of their workforce and enable them to respond to their physical, emotional, financial, and operational needs in both the near term and beyond.

Profile Photo of Jessica C. Dudley, MD