Aesthetic professionals advise on how to reduce turnover amongst front-of-house staff
Staff retention is likely to be a challenge for all aesthetic clinic owners. You dedicate your time and, often, money to train a new team member, only for them to leave you in a few months’ time.
And then, you have to restart the recruitment process all over again – using even more of your precious time and money. So how do you get out of this vicious cycle and build a strong and reliable reception team?
According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), a professional association for human resource management specialists that offers advice and guidance across all areas of employment, the following factors can improve staff retention:1
In this article, Aesthetics explores some of these factors in more detail, with specific advice from nurse prescribers Jackie Partridge of dermalclinic in Edinburgh and Jacqueline Naeini of Cliniva in Barnsley. We also gain insight from German board-certied dermatologist Dr Stefanie Williams and Vicki Vilas, the operations and marketing manager at recruitment specialist ARC Aesthetic Professionals.
As well as a clinic manager, Naeini employs two part-time receptionists, and a ‘floating receptionist’ who comes in one Saturday per month to cover holidays and offer further support. She says ensuring they understand how they should work together is essential. “I do this rather than having one full time receptionist as it’s a lot easier to manage staff absence from sickness and holiday,” she explains, noting that this is also of benefit if your team member should choose to leave, as it reduces the chance of not having a receptionist if it takes longer to employ someone new.
Partridge has a similar approach with two members of her reception team who split the week between them. She says, “I feel that limiting the number of this team is important, so that there is less chance of things being missed during hand over between too many people.”
Dr Williams, on the other hand, has five full-time receptions and says she is prefers them to work full time, noting, "We prefer full time to part time, simply because the staff member then identifies more with the Eudelo values and are more immersed in our culture."
The strategy for retaining your reception team members should start before they’ve even joined the company, the professionals interviewed for this article highlight. They confirm that interest in front-of-house roles are not usually a problem, but sifting through unsuitable applications certainly is. Naeini says that of 70 applicants for her latest reception team role, she interviewed just 15 and didn’t employ one. “I’d rather not have anyone than have the wrong person for the job, so we have waited until the right person came along, which they now have!” Naeini says.
When looking for an employee with relevant skills and experience, Naeini notes that it can be difficult to find someone with specific experience in an aesthetic clinic, so she instead seeks people who have worked in a similar environment, for example a doctor’s surgery or dental practice. This, she says, ensures they recognise the importance of patient confidentiality and booking appointments, as well as good customer service. Other skills she looks for are flexibility, due to later opening times and weekend working, and the ability to be adaptable and assist with a variety of tasks.
To narrow suitable candidates down, some recruitment companies advise incorporating to a two-minute video into the selection process, in which the person explains why they believe they are the perfect person for the job. It can be easily shot on a phone and really demonstrates which candidates are actually interested in the role.2
This works for Dr Williams, who asks applicants to provide a two-minute video explaining why they believe they are the perfect person for the job. “This has revolutionised our recruiting,” she says. “The video can be easily shot an a phone and really demonstrates which candidates are really motivated to join Eudelo. Amazingly, only about 2% bother to do it, so you can filter out a a lot time wasters that you’d otherwise spend time interviewing.”
Vilas advises practitioners hold more than one interview with candidates, noting, “You may absolutely love an applicant when you first meet them, but the longer you get to spend with candidates, the more you will be able to understand whether they truly are a good fit for your clinic.” You can also tie this in with introducing the candidate to your team, which she says will allow you to get an insight into how well the team will work together, as well as allowing other staff members feel included in the process.
During the interview, Vilas recommends asking competency-based questions to put certain skills to the test, such as teamwork, problem solving and decision making. “Ask open questions where your interviewee cannot give simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers,” she says, adding, “For example, you could ask someone to describe a situation where they overcame a difficulty or solved a problem, or give an example of a time when they worked with colleagues to achieve a great result.” She also highlights the benefits of including some sort of test(s) in the hiring process, saying, “If you need a receptionist to have immaculate written English, ask your candidates to complete a brief assessment to demonstrate this. You could give candidates some examples of emails that patients may send, and ask them to draft a concise response.”
For practitioners based in Scotland, the recruitment process is particularly stringent. Partridge explains that there is a set recruitment process for clinics registered with Healthcare Improvement Scotland, which is part of their inspection process. This includes adherence to the staffing regulations listed in the IHC legislation and adherence to best practice standards in Scotland. An example of this would be, where appropriate, Protection of Vulnerable Groups checks, health clearances for staff performing clinical work and checks to ensure staff have the appropriate qualifications, skills and experience necessary.3 “All of this has to be in place before they’re allowed to step foot in the building to work because they’re accessing patient data,” says Partridge, emphasising, “It took six weeks to get through the process with the latest lady we’ve taken on, so can you imagine how frustrating it is if they get half way through their probation and decide the role’s not for them!”
From the moment a new starter joins your clinic, it is essential that they are clear on their role and responsibilities to understand where they fit in the organisation, advise those interviewed. Therefore, a detailed induction process is essential. In 2017 the CIPD carried out a survey on resourcing and talent planning, which found that of 40% of organisations that were undertaking specific retention initiatives, only 50% were improving their induction process,4 emphasising the need for more companies to consider it. The CIPD states that, ‘Induction shouldn’t be treated as a ‘tick box’ exercise; it’s a key opportunity to introduce new employees to the culture and ways of working of the business… an effective induction process can help them settle in, become productive more quickly and to help prevent them from leaving within their first six months in the job’.5 It also emphasises that without a successful induction, new employees can get off to a bad start and lack clarity on their role and how it links to the organisation’s goals. In extreme cases, the new employee leaves, either through resignation or dismissal. CIPD advises that an induction should cover:5
Naeini, who has recently recruited a new receptionist, says her induction period will take three weeks and covers all of these points, with specific training on each area of the role. She explains, “My new team member will spend time learning from everyone as, of course, we all have different skills and areas of expertise. Company representatives will also come in to provide specific product training.”
For Partridge, new starters will watch an animated movie that they can work their way through. “We start this online campaign prior to them joining us, with a countdown to them starting and saying how much we are looking forward to them joining the team,” she says, explaining, “This then continues when they have joined to cover all aspects of their induction. It also allows us to ensure that each team member has indeed understood and engaged in every topic required from how to deal with angry customers to fire safety.”
Both practitioners interviewed have three-month probationary periods in place, however there is no law specifying the length a probationary period should be or even if you should have one at all, leaving it up to the employer to decide what is most suitable for their business.6
For Dr Williams, a six-month probationary period is in place for all her staff. "We have a relatively long probation period of six months, so that we are 100% sure this is the right person for us. After the probation, the notice period is three months, which is also comparably long," she says, explaining, "The reason for this long notice period is that's how long it takes to recruit and fully train a new Eudelo receptionist – and after six months probation, you should be sure whether this new staff member fits in or not, so it's not a problem from the clinic's point of view. From experience, I strongly recommend a long probation and notice period like this."
Partridge and Naeini agree that considering training costs is important. “You don’t want to fork out lots of money for someone who is going to leave you and take their skills elsewhere in six months’ time,” emphasises Partridge. For a successful probationary period, HR publication First Management Practice advises that employers should make clear the levels of standards that are expected in both written and verbal communication, as well as setting regular review dates to discuss progress and offer additional support when necessary. If an employee is experiencing difficulties, it is recommended that the manager should not wait until the next scheduled review, but address immediately. They advise the following approach:7
Of course, having an attractive rate of pay and progression plan in place is likely to have a positive influence on staff retention.
Research from the CIPD indicates that individuals are attracted, retained and engaged by ‘a whole range of financial and non-financial rewards’, advising that companies should establish ‘a reward strategy that clearly articulates the aims of the various reward elements and how they are integrated’, which is, ‘complemented by appropriate communications to explain to staff what behaviours and performances the organisation is rewarding, how, why and when’.8 Salary information service Payscale estimates that the average hourly rate for a receptionist in the UK is £7.88,9 which is similar to the National Living Wage of those aged 18 and above. As of April 2019, the National Living Wage for 18-20-year-olds is £6.15 per hour, rising to £7.70 for 21-24-year-olds and £8.21 per hour for those aged 25 and above; equating to around £17,000 for a 40-hour week. There is no London weighting for this.10 It is also worth noting that The Living Wage Foundation has suggested that the ‘Real Living Wage’ should be £9 across the UK and £10.55 in London for those aged 18 and above. This calculation has been made according to the cost of living.11
According to Vilas, as the aesthetics industry can cover everything from a small laser hair removal salon to the high-end clinics who deal with A-listers and royalty. This means there is a wide range of reception salaries, so clinics won’t necessarily pay minimum wage. In her experience, she says that receptionists in London generally tend to earn £20-24,000 per annum, while outside of London the rate is more likely to be £18-22,000. For reception managers and clinic coordinators who have more responsibility, Vilas says the salaries increase to approximately £25-32,000 in London and £24-26,000 in other parts of the country. Naeini says she pays her staff more than the National Living Wage, emphasising, “You’ve got to invest in your staff to get the best from them.”
Like with pay grades, the CIPD advises that an appropriate communications strategy is adopted when detailing employee benefits so staff recognise when and how they can take advantage of these.12 As well as offering a standard benefits package that could include things such as a pension scheme, private medical insurance, cycle to work policy or other such incentives, the practitioners interviewed acknowledge that they offer benefits that will be exclusive to aesthetic clinics.
Naeini gives all new staff a free skincare consultation and provides appropriate skincare from her range. As well as being beneficial to her employees, she says it is also good for business. “The team are then able to talk confidently, from personal experience, about the skincare we stock with patients they encounter, which is a much softer sell,” she notes. If there is a quiet time between appointments, she will also allow the team to have device-led treatments, while any injectable treatments are paid for by the employee at product cost-price. As Naeini has a training facility in her clinic, she also allows staff to be treated for free if they act as models. Similarly, Partridge offers discounted treatments to her staff. “We also enjoy team building days out; the most recent one was clay pigeon shooting!” she says.
In addition, entering her reception team and taking them to the Aesthetics Awards is something Naeini has done every year since the clinic opened. “I think they deserve it, they work so hard. It’s an opportunity for me to say thank you to them for everything they’ve done this year and they really appreciate it,” she says.
According to LinkedIn’s 2019 Workforce Learning Report, 94% of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their careers, with the vast majority of millennials (87%) saying that professional growth and development opportunities are top priorities when seeking a job.13
“I’d say that it is unrealistic to expect receptionists to stay in the same role for any longer than a year if they are given no chance to progress or develop their role,” says Vilas, emphasising, “Talented reception staff tend to want to progress, and the aesthetics industry does offer opportunities for them to do so.”
She outlines that front-of-house staff can progress from receptionist to clinic coordinator or reception manager, then to patient coordinator or assistant manager, and then finally to clinic manager. Alternatively, some may have an interest in training as an aesthetician or another role in your clinic, for which they are not yet qualified. The practitioners advise that by contributing to or funding the cost of training for this, you can retain these members of staff who now bring added value to your clinic.
And it doesn’t have to be a typical job title change that will satisfy your team members’ thirst for development either, note the practitioners. Allowing them to take on new challenges such as updating the clinic’s website content and managing your social media channels are examples of new duties your reception team can undertake; benefitting their professional development, as well as taking the responsibility away from you or reducing the cost of this being outsourced. Of course, if clinic owners wanted to adopt this approach then it is essential that reception teams are given thorough training, advise the professionals interviewed. This could either be in-house from more experienced members of staff or, if necessary, external courses. “This will make them feel valued and reassure you that they have the appropriate skills to implement their new tasks successfully,” says Partridge.
According to research company Udemy, nearly half of employees said they’ve quit a job because of a bad manager.14 So, what can clinic owners do to ensure their management doesn’t impact their reception teams’ retention? The CIPD states, ‘Feedback is a critical element in performance management, not only because it directs the focus on learning and improvement, but also because it allows individuals to monitor their progress towards goals and stay motivated’. It also advises that performance conversations should be open exchanges in which the employee is fully involved, noting, ‘A high level of involvement is important to make sure employees actively engage with the feedback and reflect on how they can develop and improve’.15
To make the most out of these conversations, the CIPD recommends:15
Thorough documentation of these meetings is, of course, essential. For Naeini, having regular one-to-ones with her team members is essential to allow employees to voice any concerns and giving her the opportunity to track progress. Partridge agrees, adding, “We also have an anonymous staff suggestion box which is checked monthly. This allows staff to anonymously point out areas for improvement.”
While change is inevitable and clinic owners will certainly see reception team members come and go throughout their career, having a detailed plan that covers all aspects of an employee’s journey will likely support and improve staff retention rates. Those interviewed highlight that for your reception team in particular, recognising and acknowledging the value these team members bring to your clinic, through both praise, new opportunities and career progression, should only serve to encourage them to stay with you for the long-term.