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Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: So welcome, everybody to this week's podcast episode for the Financial Freedom for Physicians podcast. I'm your host, Dr. Christopher Loo. And as you know, I talk about four types of freedom: financial, time, location and emotional freedom. And what started out as a small cohort of physician guests and audience has now broadened and reached a greater scope so I can help more people. And so in that light I bring on guests that are non physicians doing other things on the cutting edge impacting lives and changing the world.
So today, we have a really interesting guest. We're going to talk all about burnout and employee retention. Dr. Merrylue Martin. I'm gonna let her introduce herself. But she's the author of The Big Quit Survival Guide. So check that out. I'm sure you can find it on Amazon. So Dr. Martin, welcome.
Merrylue Martin: Thank you, Chris. And please, call me Merrylue, which has a unique spelling: Merrylue. It's always a challenge to go through life spelling it, but thank you for the opportunity and to connect with your audience today. I can't think of a more volatile combination right now than to be in healthcare, in any way, shape, or form, and try to navigate through this thing called the Great Resignation. It's just the perfect storm for trying to attract people, retain good people, hire people and all these things. And what I want to bring to the listeners today, is an awareness that we are in a completely different environment right now, when it comes to working with people, leading people, whether we have our own medical practice, or we're working in a corporate environment. Anytime two human beings are working together, there's something very much different right now about this environment. So, I wanted to bring just a couple of tips if I may, on what is different. And certainly, just to kind of set the stage.
I like to say, this is not our grandfather's workplace. If you think back to the 1940s, I remembered an I Love Lucy clip, where Lucy and Ethel are in the candy assembly line. And they're trying to keep up with the operations and the candy is going everywhere. And the supervisors are just barking orders and yelling more. And I think for years, we've kind of had this command and control environment, in working with people. That's all changed. We've got now a human being transaction here that we need to deal with. So I want to bring out many of those points in terms of what's different.
The first tip I could give anyone who's working with people right now is: we must formalize a retention strategy, we really have to have a plan. When we're running a business or part of any organization, we care for marketing, we care for finance, we care for operations, we care for customer service, we even have an HR group, or a person or a department that helps with benefits. I'm even talking beyond that. We need to strategically and mindfully think about and plan, an employee retention strategy.
And I'll give you a newsflash: bringing more bagels, adding ping pong tables, and providing craft brews is not a retention strategy. There's too many carbs in there anyway. But that's been part of the challenge. We're throwing organizational or business solutions to what really is a personal one on one human being interaction, that I'll speak to in a minute. So does that resonate? Does that sound like what we're up against?
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Absolutely. I hope I see one day just the transition of the airline, auto, energy, financial, health care, and insurance sectors. Hopefully in my lifetime, I'm not sure if it will be done, but hopefully. In terms of Governments, corporations, just their whole structure and just our whole way of living and working. We're working in the 21st century under 1940s industrial-age type solutions.
Merrylue Martin: You are so right. And what's interesting about the human factor here is, anytime we decide to hire an employee, we've immediately elected to engage with a human being. This is gonna sound so overly simplistic, and yet, it's so basic to what we're missing with retaining people. From a clinical standpoint, and certainly from a physiological standpoint, it's all about homeostasis. It's all about seeking balance. And what we're seeing right now, with today's employee, they're way ahead of that command and control. You take this, I've been pent up for years working for a toxic boss, I felt I just had to stay and be there to get the bills paid. You add a gallon of that. You mix it in with the volatility that we saw with the pandemic, that life is very fragile. And then you sprinkle in a little bit of a taste of working from home, and we had a major explosion here. This is what this whole big resignation is, and it's still continuing. We're not seeing a slowdown, yet. It's interesting.
And what's even more interesting, right now, we've morphed a little bit. A lot of the frontline people, depending on the industry, were leaving in droves. They still are, but what we're seeing right now, Chris, is the biggest group that's leaving, are your middle to senior level managers.
It's been enough time now where they're literally imploding, to your point a minute ago with burnout, trying to take on all of the concerns and the fears and the nurturing and all those things they've been trying to do. Employees, the rally cry is to treat me like a human being, show me empathy. And they're struggling, well, what does that mean? And I'm trying, and I'm wanting to get to know you, and you're still not happy, and I have to keep you.
But then they have the owners, or the senior leaders in their higher ups, who are putting pressure on them, saying, We can't do X, we're not going to do X, we are going to enforce this, yes or no, I don't care if you like it. So there's this mismatch. And it's really landing right now on this middle group. So I'm hoping by the end of today, we will provide the listeners with some real tactical tools to survive, to thrive, to work with people to help with the burnout, and just a little bit more understanding of what's going on. Because there are some solutions, there really are.
Companies, practices, small businesses, they are figuring it out very quickly, and they are keeping good people, and they're attracting them. And they're winning the talent war. And that's really what my impetus was to write this book, The Big Quit Survival Guide. The target audience is leaders who are leading people. And in the course of my career and working with people, I've come from an in depth background in organizational development, research, psychology, working with folks that are leading people, training them. And what I am seeing is just this new awareness, that really caring for that person right now is the most important.
One of the things I've helped people get their arms around is that people are people first, they're always going to be our employee second. And if we just start there, and we mindfully care for this people piece, the rest fits much more easily. And I'm going to give you an example of what's going on in the head of ourselves, as we have been employees. I think this will resonate with anyone who's reported to somebody or has held a job, as well as those of us who are leading people.
When we take a job, we're going to psychologically start to balance three things. This is where this homeostasis comes in. I want you to picture a teeter totter, just like a child's toy on the playground. On one side of that teeter totter is this bucket, then I'm going to call the first R of the requirements. These are the things that you could directly know what your requirements are to succeed at this job, you can look at your job description; you can see if you're a sales rep, you're going to be making calls, presenting all the basics, those are easy. If you're in food service, you're waiting on customers, you're cleaning the bathrooms, whatever it says in your job description. Those are the direct requirements.
Now this employee also is going to add to this bucket that's sitting on that teeter totter, the indirect requirements. And these are things that are maybe more personal, we don't see upfront. For example, there might be an hour commute to get to the office, we're seeing some interesting dynamics getting played out right now. In this environment, I call it a big game of chicken. These employers are saying you will come back to the office, the employees are saying no, I'm not. We're trying to see who's gonna win this war. It's a very interesting time. But it could be any of those things, personally. So whatever that employee has to do, physically, psychologically, emotionally, whatever that is, that sits in those buckets of requirements. Okay, so that's the first R.
Now, move to the other side of the teeter totter. The second R, are the rewards. Those are the tangibles. What I mean about the rewards, why do we come to work? That's pretty transactional, we have our paycheck, right? We have maybe a 401(k), or a bonus, perhaps. We might have a benefits package, we might be offered certain training opportunities so we can get certifications or degrees. I see right now a lot of employers are offering student tuition reimbursement. You know, things that I can physically take and put in my pocket. So far, so good. An employee is going to stay thinking, okay, this job is costing me these things over here. But you know what? The rewards I'm getting back so far are good. We hope. If not, we have a problem right there at the beginning.
And in my book, The Big Quit Survival Guide, I talked about how you can even set up that scale, even at the very beginning, to make sure it stays in balance so you don't go through all this calibration. But what happens, because we're human beings, a third R comes in, and it sits right next to the rewards. And this one is huge. It's respect. How am I feeling while I'm doing this job? And this is one you'll hear all throughout every employee employer situation. This employee is thinking, am I feeling validated here? Am I feeling appreciated? Do I have autonomy? Can I show up and do my best work? Is this environment emotionally safe for me? That’s huge right now. Is it psychologically safe? Or am I dealing with this stress and burnout? And so, there you go, there's that homeostasis.
If an employee has all those three R's in balance, they will never leave you. They're going to love this job. They're working hard. They're getting paid. And they're validated and feeling fulfilled. That's another big miss today that employees are asking for. I want to be fulfilled here. I don't want to just be putting widget A to widget B together on this assembly line all day. So I'll play out the combinations and what's going on in their head. And then we can talk about the impact of that.
So let's say you've got that perfect balance. Like I said, that's your sweet spot. That's what we're looking to do. And a leader, believe it or not, can control the levers in each one of those buckets and how to do that. We won't go into as much detail today. That's all spelled out in the book along with checklists and scripts and things to even say and do to make that happen. But here's what happens. Let's say an employee has these requirements. And the rewards are really high. They're even heavier perhaps than the requirements, but let's say that respect is very low, it's very low. Now you've got an employee who's a 50% flight risk, this person's thinking, I don't like it here. For whatever reason, fill in the blank. I don't want to be doing this job, but where am I going to go and make this kind of money? Where am I going to go and get this benefit plan that my disabled child needs? Whatever the rationale is, they won't be engaged, there'll be a flight risk, because all it's going to take us for them to find an opportunity where those rewards are still as robust, but the respect is also robust, that person will leave.
And then we can look at the flip. Let's say you're a small startup practice, let's say you don't have deep pockets to offer tuition or stock options, or 401(k)'s and all these things, you still have those requirements. But now you can mitigate that by making that respect bucket really heavy. And here's what this employee's thinking: I'm not gonna get rich here. I still have to keep my Saturday coffee shop job and maybe add some extra spending money. But you know what, these people treat me like gold. I love it here. I get to do great work, I'm making a difference. I'm feeling fulfilled. For the first time in my life, I want to come to work, it's not a burden, I'm not stressed.
There's still a flight risk, though. Because if someone comes along and can offer rewards by keeping up those same requirements as respect, we have to care for that. And what's interesting, Chris, is that scenario that I just described. People are wanting to reduce the rewards for the sake of raising the respect. They're saying you know what, the money's not worth it. The burnouts are not worth it, I would rather have the control over my work life balance and be treated well, and rather have that emotional safety. I don't want to go back to the office, it's not worth it. And so we're trying to understand, and that's what's going on. And then you've got the classic corporate problem. You've got requirements that are off the chart, you've got rewards that are barely cutting it, and the respect is even lower. And we wonder why people are leaving in droves.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: That's why I'm a business owner and entrepreneur. I can't follow some arbitrary person’s way of doing this, just because I say so.
Merrylue Martin: Yeah. You're absolutely right. And so here's the thing, what we want to do, in terms of seeking why people choose to leave or stay. The word maybe, is the new employee loyalty today. When my folks and people that were in the workplace, again, in the 50s, and 60s, and such, the expectation was, you find a good job, you stay there for a lifetime, they take care of you, and you do a good job for them. And that's really the way we worked for so many years. And that has completely flipped upside down now. It's really day to day. This is working, this is not working. So with that in mind, here's an idea for people to think about, well, how do I test if these three R's are imbalanced? This sounds great, Merrylue, and I hope they are, but how do I know? Well, I'll tell you two areas that don't work so well. And a third that really will give you that intel, if you will.
The first thing people try to do to get behind why someone leaves is something called the Exit Interview. We've probably been through them. You've given your two week notice and the human resources people call you in and they want to investigate. Well, why? Why are you leaving? Now, can you imagine Chris, here you are, already putting in your resignation, and they're asking you these questions like, well, what could we have done differently? What was it about your leader that you didn't get? And it's such old news. And they don't work. Like, they just don't.
And here's the other thing: your best people, and you know who they are, the people that you want to keep, at all costs, those top performers, they're never going to burn bridges. So when they're in an exit interview, they're not going to tell you the real story, they're going to say something like, Oh, I just had this great opportunity, I just can't pass it up. And I laugh, because truth be told, they were working for that great opportunity just to land in their lap six months prior to that opportunity to leave. So the exit interviews are not helpful.
The other thing people try to do, they're a little bit more effective. They're called Stay Interviews. Why are you staying? Now they make a little more sense, right? You're meeting with your employee, and you're talking through in a one on one, and you want to throw in some questions. Hey, we appreciate your work. What's working for you here? We're happy that you're contributing. Why do we need to keep doing more of that to keep you engaged? And those are okay questions. We get questions like, well, what would be your dream job? And how can I help you get there? People want to see advancement.
The problem with that would be, if I'm talking with the director of a technical software company, and they say, Oh, my dream job is that I want to be a drummer in a rock band. Okay, how am I going to help you get there? Why am I even asking you that question? We kind of go down this list of human interest questions; they don't really cut at what we're doing. The best way to truly understand where your employee is and what you're going to need to do to keep them, is to have what I call the Three R conversation. Because here's what's interesting. I don't even know how each of my employees would define that word Respect.
Think about this: here's where we miss the boat. Because unless we have this conversation, here's what can happen. They'll go something like this. Let's say, Chris, you're brand new to my team, you're new to this industry. And I'm bringing you on board, and we have this conversation now. And I say, Chris, I really wanted to find how we're best going to work together. Apart from being civil, we're certainly not going to use profanity and swear and bully each other. But I really want to drill down on what are the kinds of behaviors that for me, as your leader, I need to exhibit that's going to give you the best sense of being respected? What does that look like for you?
And we might talk through a little bit of some examples, but you might say something to me, like, Well, Merrylue, I'm kind of new to this industry. And I really want to learn, I want to grow, I want to have some opportunities, but I'm not really sure where I might be going with some of my decision making. Would it be okay if you and I could connect, say, every morning for just maybe five minutes? We may not need it. But just to know, I could get five minutes if I have a question that came up yesterday, or I have some feedback I could get from you. Because in my last job, man, I never heard from my boss for six months unless something was wrong, and I was lost. So that would mean respect to me, just knowing you're there.
So I'm thinking, sure, of course, we'll do that. Now, here's where, as a leader, I can make a huge mistake. I apply what you just shared to me as sort of [the standard of] how people want to be respected. Now, I've got another employee who's maybe been around a while who I've just hired, and they come to me and say, Well, Merrylue, the way I would define respect is, give me my marching orders. Tell me what your goals are. Give me my swim lane. And you know what, let me go. Because my worst fear is for you to micromanage me. So do you see how, unless I ask, and we have this exact conversation with every one of our people, I don't know how I should be doing the right thing for every person, to keep that three R scale balanced. So really deploy people to get out there, get involved and ask those questions. And if you don't know what questions to ask, as I said, the book gives you all those resources.
I have to laugh, because being in an organizational development field for years, we've had many consultants come and go with big dollar ticket people. And they do great work, in the right environment. But if you're working with a new leader, or a leader who doesn't come by leadership naturally, and they're trying to run their own business, hiring someone and telling them to come in and say, Well, Chris, you know what you need to do here, you need to build an authentic culture that speaks of authenticity among your team.
I would be looking at them going, what the heck does that even mean? It's like, okay, you must build trust. Okay. How? So I'm very tactical in my approach. Nothing's left to the imagination. Here's how, here's what you say, here's what you do, here's a set of tools that's going to help you. My website, if people want to access more, is the bigquitsurvivalguide.com. And there is a tab that, if you enter the password, and the book has the password in it, you can print out whole worksheets, a survival guide, 8.5x11, put in a notebook, and actually use it. Have that Three R conversation with Merrylue's name at the top and that employee can go in that folder. I've tried to make it as easy as possible.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: A really great discussion, I really enjoyed it. And I think a lot of the talking points that you made will resonate with the audience. Especially with this whole conglomeration of life changing events: pandemic war, inflation, recession. And we have people trying to adapt to this post COVID work world, and especially with health care, the issue is with burnout, and just so many people just fed up and just just quitting. So, I think the audience will glean a lot of insights from your talk.
So, you talked about an idea with your manager, and that sounds like a more personalized and individualized plan. But what are some tips and tools that you have to really solidify today's talent war. Because, I'll give you an example; a lot of people in finance right now, from Wall Street, are leaving traditional banks and going to work for new, innovative financial technology companies, and trying to find real solutions to problems. So what are some tips and tools for organizations to win in today's talent war?
Merrylue Martin: Great question. I have three thoughts I'll share quickly.
Number one, it would be to have a sense of what kind of culture you want to create in this team, or in this organization, you're hiring for. And what I mean by that is, and please excuse the negative, you cannot not have a culture. You have a culture. And when you're the leader, again, like your retention strategy, you must be very mindful of that, because what employees are looking for now, like as your point was well taken, some of the very fast paced high stress financial environments, people now want to work in a culture that I just described, that's very high in respect. So here's where we must help leaders define that culture.
If you want to have a culture of respect, it's not going to grow naturally. We've got to care for that. And so what would be the points that you would make sure would be apparent in your culture? That starts right there with the very first interaction with this potential new hire. How is your hiring process? Is it respectful? Is it chaotic? If you have a meeting to connect with this person, are you five minutes late? Are you 10 minutes late? Right there, that's speaking volumes of your culture. So there's a little bit of intolerance today. Employees are pickier. They're very talented ones, they know their market street value. And they're looking for a certain culture. And it's going to be one with high respect, high validation. And they’re careful of that fake culture. Don't say, Oh, we treat people with respect, we do the right thing. And yet the employee, the new hire, is gonna sniff out anything that doesn't support that. So be aware of that culture.
Number two, I would say, to really make sure you've got this winning the talent war, is to look at your organization or your team as individual pixels of people. What I mean by that is, it takes some time, it does take a little effort, but you're going to invest in either the front end or the back end. If you're in that churn of turnover, that's killing anyone who owns a business' ability to have financial freedom. It costs almost 1/3 the salary to rehire and retrain that individual employee. Now you multiply that out by a few people, and you're turning them over every six months, that's a hole really hard to get out of. So we want to be very, very careful that we are attracting the best, keeping the best, and doing it in a way that they're going to stay with you. And that's with the three R's and balancing it and having all those great conversations.
The third tip, I would say in terms of being able to win the talent war, is to offer flexibility. That's the third tip. Now, we're not talking about treating people differently, in a sense of, well, gee, I can't let one do this, or one do that, well, there's a lot of wiggle room and being flexible. What we must do as business owners is treat people equitably. And that doesn't always mean treating them exactly alike. Like that example, if I think I'm respecting one employee by checking in every five minutes, and another one by never seeing them every six months, I'm gonna miss that boat. So I would say that would be my third tip to just be aware of.
So, I hope that just gives some succinct guidelines of just what we're up against. And just, it's a mindset shift. We've never really had to think about it this hard before. But I don't see it going away anytime soon. We want to get real smart about it.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Merrylue, you've dropped so many wonderful gems. And for all the listeners out there, visit Merrylue's website, bigquitsurvivalguide.com. You can download worksheets. And check out her book on Amazon. Thanks so much. And it's been a really insightful conversation and really highlighted something that's so needed in today's world.
Merrylue Martin: Thank you, Chris. Very much. Appreciate the opportunity. Thank you.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Many thanks again for being here. If you’re new, you can find me online at Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD, where I have links to other episodes or links to online resources that will support you on your financial literacy journey. I’ll see you there in on next week’s show. While I bring you thoroughly vetted information on this show regarding a variety of financial topics, I cannot promise you a one size fits all solution. This is why I caution you to continue to learn. Educate yourself and seek professional advice unique to your situation. If you want to talk to me, I welcome it. Please reach out via my website or email at Chris@drchrisloomdphd.com. I read and personally respond to all of my emails. Talk soon!
Editor's note: This transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.