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Tips to Improve Staff Retention

Lab leadership experts offer suggestions for lab managers to evaluate employee satisfaction and implement action plans to enhance staff retention

Lauren Everett

Lauren Everett is the managing editor for Lab Manager. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from SUNY New Paltz and has more than a decade of experience in news...

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With current events such as The Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting, many organizations are feeling the effects of staff turnover and low retention rates. A Lab Manager reader submitted the following question and two leadership and management experts have shared their insights to help fellow lab professionals enhance staff satisfaction.

Q: What are some tips for staff retention? Is this something that must be worked out only with HR or are there things I can do myself as lab manager?

Christie Bowden: There are numerous reasons why employees leave organizations, including inflexible work arrangements, feeling disengaged and undervalued, not being challenged, seeking greater compensation, and bosses that lack empathy.1,2 Thus, it is imperative that you understand your employees’ work satisfaction, identify improvement opportunities, and then work to address them. Some things you can do yourself, while others might require leveraging HR partners.  

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Portrait of Christie Bowden
Christie Bowden

First, gather information about their work satisfaction by engaging and developing relationships with them. Schedule routine one-on-one meetings to discuss workloads and projects, frequent the lab to see them working, conduct quarterly performance meetings to gauge goal progress, and take them to lunch to chat. During these interactions, ask questions!  

  • How is your current workload? What are current technical challenges?  
  • What are you proud of? What do you enjoy about work?  
  • What frustrates you? How is your stress level? How is your work-life balance?
  • How do you want your career to progress?  
  • How would you describe the workplace culture and how would you improve it?  
  • How do you prefer to know you are doing a great job?

These answers will reveal satisfaction levels and potential retention issues.

Second, if you identify retention risks, determine why. Are they stressed due to increased/decreased workloads? Do they need additional training to handle technical challenges? Are they bored and not being challenged? Are there communication issues? Do they want more career growth? Are there personal issues? Do they need resources or operational improvements? Are there team dynamics or workplace culture issues?  

Finally, develop and implement action plans. These include implementing operational improvements, becoming a better listener and communicator, providing constructive feedback and recognition, facilitating training opportunities, assigning more challenging projects, constructing development plans, providing promotions and career growth, and improving team dynamics and workplace culture. You can implement these individually or with HR’s help, depending upon the topic and your organization.

These are snapshots of what you can do, but with these steps, you’ll be on track to improve employee satisfaction and retention!

Sherri Bassner: Data consistently show that the primary reason most employees leave a company is the quality of their direct supervision. Certainly, other factors can come into play, but your actions as the lab manager are critical in encouraging retention, so make that a daily priority. There are programs that your HR department may offer and there is most likely coaching that your HR representative can offer you, but the most effective actions will come directly from you and how you treat and manage those in your organization.

Portrait of Sherri Bassner
Sherri Bassner

Extrinsic motivators, such as salary/bonuses and other rewards, have their place; however, most employees will respond best to a sense of purpose, and knowing their work is recognized and making a difference. You have a critical role in instilling these feelings! It begins by having a well-written job description and set of goals that you both agree upon. The employee will know what is expected from them, the resources available to them to get their job done, and the connection of their deliverables to business success. Once the job is defined and the goals are set, your role is to ensure that promised resources are indeed available, that you understand how the employee is progressing against those goals and helping to resolve issues along the way, and that completion of those goals is recognized by you as well as others in the business. If this sounds like it will take a majority of your time to do this well for all of your employees, then you are correct. Nothing is more important for a manager than setting the members of the organization up for success and helping to ensure that they can get their job done. Their success is your success. And if they feel valued, challenged, and that they are making a difference, then they will stay.

Christie Bowden is an R&D manager and senior research scientist at Arkema Inc. There, she manages analytical groups within Arkema’s Analytical and Systems Research department to deliver high quality analytical solutions to R&D and production. Prior to management, Christie spent 15 years in the laboratory utilizing gas chromatography, liquid chromatography, and mass spectrometry for small molecule and polymer additives method development and analysis.

Sherri L. Bassner, PhD, is a retired chemist and manager who spent 30 years developing new products and services, and then leading others in those same efforts. She is a part-time leadership coach and blogs on personal and professional development.  Christie and Sherri also both serve on Lab Manager’s Editorial Advisory Board.




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This article is part of Lab Manager’s Learning to Lead Q&A series. For more expert input on management, leadership, safety, and sustainability topics affecting laboratory leaders, click here.