Retaining Your Star Employee . . . Without a Budget

Retaining Your Star Employee . . . Without a Budget

Keeping your star employees is an essential task when you are leading a lab. But what do you do when you don't have room to promote them or budget to give them a raise?

Many management experts will tell you that salary and title are not the most important factors in retention. Rather, people stay at jobs when they are challenged, engaged, and appreciated.

Article highlights:

  • Retaining high-performing employees is a top leadership consideration
  • Salary and promotions are usually not the top factors in employee satisfaction
  • Learn seven powerful tactics for retention that won’t cost you a cent

Contributing Lab Leaders

Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith

Voltage Leadership Consulting

Jeff Smith

Jeff Myers, M.D., Ph.D.

Director of Anatomic Pathology and MLabs; Vice Chair, Clinical Affairs and Quality, University of Michigan; ASCP President

Jeff Smith

Wally Hopp, Ph.D.

Senior Associate Dean for Faculty and Research; Herrick Professor of Business, Ross School of Business, University of Michigan



Click through to discover seven compelling ways you can help retain the top performers in your lab — without financial incentives.

Let them represent your lab
Bring your star employee along to meetings with other departments. Let them be one of the faces of your lab to the rest of your institution. This will create a sense of ownership and show how highly you value your employee's presence and contributions.

Connect them to the patient
"Whenever you hear a patient story, share it with your staff," advises Jeff Myers. Make sure your employees see the connection between the lab specimen they worked on and the real person who was impacted. People will stay at a job where they feel like their work makes a difference.

Talk to them about their career
Jeff Smith advises lab leaders to meet with employees once a quarter to discuss their careers. "Sit down with them and ask, ‘How is the job going for you? What’s the career like? What can I do to improve your experience?’ Treat each employee as a human being—not just one more person on your staff."

Make them the trainer
If a staff member excels at something, task them with training others. Challenge them to use their skills to make your lab better. Unlock their creativity — ask them to create training materials, manuals, or videos. They'll feel appreciated, engaged, and invested in the success of the lab.

Compliment them
Best management practices say that a leader should have a ratio of five compliments to every one criticism. So as simple as it sounds, tell your star employees what they are doing well. Simple compliments can go a long way toward retention.

Let them create a new role
Wally Hopp has found success through an innovative technique. "I empower my staff to create positions for themselves. I’ve got some movers and shakers who tackle me in the hallway wanting to do more. I just let them tell me how to help them create opportunities for themselves."

Fire your underperformers
Underperformers affect everyone's morale. When managers spend all their time and energy dealing with them, high-performers get ignored. Eventually high-performers begin to ask themselves, “Why bother doing a great job?" and they quickly start to question the judgment of their leadership.



Get Creative

The fact is—far too many labs are losing their star employees because “the only place for them to go up is to go out.” Many lab leaders are desperate to retain staff members, but lack the budget to compete on salary. But if you get creative, you’ll find far more compelling ways to keep your star performers.

Look inward, and consider these questions:

  • Think about your best manager ever—how did he/she motivate you?

  • What makes you happiest at work?

  • What keeps you at your current job?

  • What could your manager do to increase your job satisfaction?

  • What new opportunities would you appreciate?

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