An issue as pervasive and daunting as staffing and retention usually has its roots in many places. In our 2023 SPD State of the Industry Survey, we asked central sterile technicians across the country to share their experiences in their department and of their careers. Our survey helped identify many of the different roots of the staffing and retention challenges in SPD, and how sometimes to solve one big problem, you need to address many others.
Various industries across the country are struggling with staffing and retention, and sterile processing is no exception. Our survey participants indicated that it’s not simply the labor force limitations that are leading to staffing issues in their SPD.
Pay & Benefits – As many in the industry will tell you: pay & benefits in many SPD departments isn’t competitive enough to retain and hire. This low pay creates artificial barriers for hiring: potential applicants avoid the industry all together, or otherwise don’t accept positions upon learning the pay.
Poor Leadership & Management – When technicians start feeling like leadership and management aren’t supportive of them, it can harm retention rates. This isn’t just a matter of the shift schedules or the strength of a manager’s interpersonal skills. Central sterile technicians are looking for managers and leaders that sympathize with, and know the realities of their job.
When leadership seems detached from SPD or is unable to demonstrate appreciation for the work they do, it can create an unintended perception that management doesn’t advocate for their technicians at higher levels in their organization. These perceptions can lead to the idea that it’s because leadership doesn’t understand SPD’s work, they’re not prioritizing things like inadequate pay and benefits.
Culture – Often stemming directly from leadership and management issues, our participants signaled that poor work culture is a pervasive problem, and it’s one that causes SPD technicians to look elsewhere for work. There isn’t a silver bullet for cultural problems in any workplace, but a good starting point is demonstrating appreciation for the work SPD does and finding ways to make quality of life improvements within departments. (Receive our free Citation for Being Awesome appreciation tool, here)
Morale – Low morale causes high turnover in a department, leading to a revolving door of new, dissatisfied employees. But morale doesn’t decline overnight; it happens over long periods of time and is generally associated with many of the issues discussed in this post. Low morale can come from a persistent lack of appreciation, inability to move up in an organization, poor leadership, a toxic work culture, and many other things.
Worse yet, as morale declines, many of these issues compound on top of each other, until the issues consume much of people’s time and attention. Inadequate pay & benefits may not sting so bad when you’ve got a great team around you, and leadership supports and advocates for you.
The results of our 2023 SPD State of the Industry Survey make it plain to see: there’s a lot more contributing to staffing & retention rates than a lack of qualified people in the talent pool.
Fear not! While increasing pay & benefits is a challenge that can’t be overcome with the flick of a switch (but should be a regular topic for leadership), making other qualitative improvements in a department is something any dedicated leader can make happen.
Here are some suggestions:
- Have C-Suite leaders visit your sterile processing department. They need to see the heart of the hospital for themselves to truly appreciate it!
- Incorporate a daily digest of appreciation. Appreciate the resources and people around you, and thank often, and generously.
- Incorporate SPD teams in decision making and seek their input. Let them know you care about their opinions and knowledge.
- Find ways to bond your team. Find ways to reinforce the sense of ‘team’ on a regular basis.
- Build a culture that people want to be a part of. This not only helps you keep great teammates, but also attracts great new talent as well. A great culture is a selling point for any organization. This may start with defining your culture, and then creating activities and rituals around that ‘cultural profile’.
Interested in other insights we gleaned from our 2023 SPD State of the Industry Survey?
The SPD State of the Industry Survey is an annual, free, anonymous survey asking real sterile processing professionals across the country about their experiences, backgrounds, and challenges they face in their departments. We hope by providing access to free industry research and data, instrument reprocessing professionals can better grow, develop and improve their own departments through the experience of their peers. We are grateful for all the professionals who participate each year, and the contributions to their patients and facilities: thank you for all you do!