1. Determine what exactly an unproductive technician is.
2. Learn what creates an unproductive SPD tech.
3. How to engage an unproductive tech and hopefully improve their output.
Sterile processing departments play a critical role in hospital efficiency. These individuals are responsible for ensuring doctors and health care staff have the equipment and resources they need to care for patients. Teams with low productivity or efficiency don’t just impact the rest of the SPD team—they also affect the entire hospital. Procedures can be delayed (or canceled), staff morale plummets, and, worst of all, patient satisfaction decreases.
To avoid this, you need to keep SPD productivity and morale high. And while you may have practices and incentives in place to maintain efficiency, there may be one or two technicians who are chronically unproductive. These individuals, who we’ll refer to as “the unproductive technician,” can be catastrophic to not just your team, but the entire organization.
Rather than terminate these individuals (an action that may not always be justified), there are ways to work alongside the unproductive technician. Yves Theodule, Manager of Sterile Processing at Advocate Aurora Christ Medical Center, described how to work with unproductive technicians to maintain productivity, patient safety, and workplace morale.
What Does an Unproductive Technician Look Like?
Organizations across industries have been affected by labor shortages and the Great Resignation. According to one source, nearly 1.7 million healthcare workers quit their jobs in early 2022. For SPDs, labor shortages and difficulty in attracting and retaining top talent have increased the number of unproductive technicians in health care facilities. “Sterile processing already has a hardship in hiring employees,” said Yves. “It’s hard to find great technicians and I’m always searching for new techs. I even teach a course on sterile processing and I’m still struggling to find great technicians.”
Labor shortages and difficulty attracting and retaining top talent has increased the number of unproductive technicians in SPDs. These unproductive technicians, according to Yves, are the ones who are “playing on their phone instead of working, watching movies, or listening to music.” Essentially, they’re individuals who do the bare minimum in their job roles. And these individuals can be incredibly dangerous. “How accurate are your trays going to be if you’re watching a movie and building a tray at the same time?”
However, unproductive technicians are smart. They’re good at hiding in plain sight. Yves described them as “busy bodies”. “There’s a lot of movement…and it looks like they’re working hard and going above and beyond, but they’re not really doing anything.” He continued by describing these individuals as being friendly and clever, putting on a show of working hard while their manager's eyes are on them. However, once the attention is off them, they’re back to doing the bare minimum—or nothing at all.
Unproductive technicians are also quick to point out issues within the department to take the focus off their inefficiencies. “These individuals are pointers,” Yves said. “They’re pointing at everything that’s wrong because they want to take leadership’s focus off what’s really going on.” Yves continued by reminding leadership it’s their responsibility to correct these individuals, as high-performers are watching to see how these individuals will be handled.
What Factors Create Unproductive Technicians?
Not every technician who’s brought into an SPD is going to be unproductive. There are a myriad of factors that can decrease a technician’s productivity. Yves described a few factors that contribute to low productivity rates.
- Lack of knowledge: SPD technicians are held to an incredibly high standard—instruments have to be 100% clean 100% of the time. However, without the right training and knowledge, SPD techs will not meet these standards. “Some people just don’t have the skills and the knowledge to do the job,” Yves said. “As leadership, give them the tools to master their job. Help them understand what sterile processing is and why it’s so important in healthcare facilities.
- Not enough opportunities for training and development: Similar to not enough training, SPD techs who don’t have enough opportunities for additional development will not be as productive. According to one source, organizations who offer more skills development opportunities have employees who are 52% more productive and 30–50% more engaged. Yves encouraged leadership to continuously reskill and upskill employees to ensure they understand every part of the sterile processing department, from beginning to end.
- Unclear expectations: “You can’t just drop a tech in decontam and leave them wondering what to do next,” Yves said. To keep productivity levels up, managers and leaders need to set techs up for success which starts with setting clear expectations regarding job responsibilities.
- Personal issues outside work: While chronically unproductive technicians will continue to pose problems, there are some techs who experience a drop in productivity due to issues in their personal lives. Individuals experiencing major life changes or health issues are less likely to produce their best work due to stress and burnout. “As leaders, don’t beat on someone going through a tough time. Give them the time to heal and course correct as needed,” Yves said.
- Laziness: Despite leadership’s best efforts, there are some individuals who are just lazy. Even with additional training and extra support from higher ups, some just can’t rise to department expectations. In these situations, Yves recommended providing corrective action. “Make sure you’ve provided enough corrective actions and given them the time and grace to improve,” Yves said. “If they still haven’t, it’s time for harsher methods.”
Avoiding Hiring Unproductive Technicians by Asking the Right Questions
SPDs across the country are struggling to fill vacant positions with high-quality candidates. With numerous positions going unfilled, HR personnel and recruiters are overly eager to fill these positions. This means that low-quality candidates (i.e., unproductive technicians) can slip through the cracks and wreak havoc on SPDs.
To avoid bringing on unproductive technicians, it’s crucial for recruiters or managers to ask the right questions. “Go beyond the traditional interview questions,” Yves said. “A lot of the questions are simple and straightforward and don’t give insight into how well someone can actually do a job.” Yves encouraged hiring managers to get creative with the questions they’re asking–questions or scenarios that encourage interviewees to think critically and on their feet.
Don’t Let Unproductive Technicians Hold You Back
Unproductive technicians pose a number of challenges within SPDs–increased errors, increased risk to patient safety, decrease in team morale, and more. To avoid these consequences, Yves encouraged leaders to carefully monitor new techs during the first 90 days. “When you first meet a new person, they should be giving you 100%. You should see them trying hard and if they’re coming in the door and showcasing lazy behaviors, correct it quickly.”
For more information about streamlining processes in your SPD, visit censis.com.