A practice we worked with recently was struggling to improve profitability. The practice’s new manager wanted to make an impact fast, so she decided to try replacing longer-term staff with less expensive newbies; since staffing was such a big practice expense, she reasoned that this was the best way to improve profitability.

The physician owners were surprised not just that the strategy hadn’t worked, but that we questioned the decision. “Isn’t that the kind of thing you practice management consultants recommend?” they asked.

But cutting experienced staff members who perform well just to save a few dollars isn’t something we’d recommend trying. Those exiting employees will take with them all the knowledge they’ve accumulated – knowledge that is easily taken for granted. While cuts might boost profits temporarily, it likely won’t take long for patient service to deteriorate.

Service will also be undermined by the panic felt by the rest of the staff. When employees see their most loyal colleagues being shown the door, they’ll wonder if – or when – the axe will swing their way. Once those doubts creep in, your most energetic and ambitious employees will begin job-hunting in earnest. Swapping out older workers for younger ones may draw a charge of age discrimination as well.

Worst of all: the potential upside is probably small. Differences in pay for experienced versus new staff are typically large enough to cause a big swing in profitability. For example, a $5 per hour difference translates to $10,000 per year. The costs of recruiting and on-boarding a replacement could easily exceed these small savings.

It’s natural to look critically at expenses when profitability is flagging. But insufficient revenue is often the main reason profits disappoint – and cutting your best people will severely impact your ability to fix that problem. Instead of cutting valued but ‘expensive’ employees, look for ways to refocus staff and make the practice more productive.

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