“Why Are We Really Short-Staffed?” (Tips for Improving Retention)


We are short-staffed. It is so hard to find help. These statements are often given as the explanation for a range of issues: why something is taking longer than planned…why response is slower than desired…why business hours are less than they used to be…why people are working more hours than they like…why employees feel overwhelmed…why companies are paying more overtime dollars and at times bringing in temporary workers at a high cost…etc.

Taken as stand-alone items, it may appear that the cause of the challenges is the lack of staff. Yet is it really the cause or could it be a symptom? What if the root cause of the staffing issues is the inability to retain talent?

While there will always be staff departures, for a variety of reasons, those organizations that do the best job at retaining talent have the best operational outcomes. Retention impacts a multitude of results. It also improves selection of new hires. Why? Due to great retention, fewer new hires are needed. In times of staffing shortages, there is a natural tendency for leaders to be less selective in hiring than they would like to be. Even in the best of times, paying close attention to selection is vital. Great companies are great in both selection and retention. In reading the book Rewiring Excellence: Hardwired to Rewired, you will find the book integrates talent retention into each chapter. There is also one chapter focused specifically on rewiring retention.

What are some ways to improve retention? First, know that retention begins from the first time a person hears or reads the name of a place they may consider working. The employer brand is crucial. Protect it at all costs.

Also, do not guess what will keep a person; instead, ask. During the interview process, questions are asked of the potential hire to make sure they are right for the role and the organization. Be sure to do the inverse as well: Ask what it will take to ensure that the organization is the right place for the candidate—a place where they will want to stay.

What is it that helps a person feel that this is the place for me? It varies, of course. In the book Rewiring Excellence, we suggest the creation of a Personal Retention PlanTM, or a PRP, for each employee. (To download a copy of the PRP worksheet, click here. Please note that the questions on the worksheet are just suggestions. Feel free to customize them for your organization and leaders.) This is a plan geared to the individual. It helps answer the questions: What is important to them? and What will make this the place they want to be? Just having a PRP lets each person know that their retention is important.

In the book there are sample questions. I will share a few of them below. Keep in mind that each leader and organization should choose the questions they feel work best and adjust the questions if need be.

Start by explaining that the goal is to make sure that this organization is a place the person will want to be. Even if they end up leaving a particular role, let them know while they are here, you want to make it a great place. For example, in healthcare, a physician will be in residency for three years. It is expected that some will then practice medicine elsewhere. It is still important to work on retention while the person is there.

Sample questions:

  • We want this to be a place where you enjoy working. What brings you joy in your work? 
  • In thinking about where you have worked in the past, what were the best situations for you?  
  • What are some things that, if they were to take place, would make you question if this is really the place for you?
  • We are committed to investing in your development. You may not know the answer to this now, but are there skills you want to gain while working here? 
  • We know that life happens, and things are not always easy. We care very much about your well-being, and we have some great resources that can help. I want to take some time to review these with you.  
  • In what ways can your supervisor be most helpful to you? 

You might conclude by saying, “Thank you for taking the time to complete your PRP. This is just the start. We will be using this plan on a regular basis. We are pleased you are with us and hope that you feel this is the right place for you.”

Retention of talent is about relationships. Any relationship must be invested in. If not, it declines, leading eventually to the end of the relationship.

I am thrilled that people are finding the book Rewiring Excellence: Hardwired to Rewired so helpful in this and other areas. You can download the book for free here.

Please let me know what is working or not working for you as you seek to retain employees. Rewiring is not a onetime occurrence; as circumstances change, so do the strategies and tactics that get results. We will be updating the book on a regular basis and would love to include your ideas and insights.

Quint Studer
If you are interested in purchasing books or having Quint speak in-person or virtually, please contact

Quint Studer’s latest book, Rewiring Excellence: Hardwired to Rewired, provides tools and techniques that are doable and that help employees and physicians experience joy in their work as well as enhance patients’ and families’ healthcare experiences. His book The Calling: Why Healthcare Is So Special is aimed at helping healthcare professionals keep their sense of passion and purpose high. In Sundays with Quint, he shares a selection of his popular leadership columns for leaders, employees, and business owners in all industries.

Quint is the cofounder of Healthcare Plus Solutions Group, a consulting firm that specializes in delivering customized solutions to diagnose and treat healthcare organizations’ most urgent pain points.