Made For Each Other: Using Personality Insights to Recruit and Retain Laboratory Professionals

Jan 20, 2022, 09:58 AM by Molly Strzelecki

Recruiting and retaining laboratory professionals is a topic at top of mind for many laboratories and healthcare systems. As the amount of laboratory testing increases, qualified laboratory professionals who are passionate and dedicated to their jobs are needed. As the shortage of laboratory professionals ensues, those looking to start their career in the laboratory, or who are looking to make a change, can often have their pick of opportunities. However, it’s not uncommon for a person to find themselves in a job or career that isn’t quite the right fit for them.  

But what if personality played a bigger role in matching employees and their work settings? That’s the question that authors Paul Chiou, MPH, SCT(ASCP), Lotte Mulder, PhD, and Yuane Jia, PhD, set out to explore in their recent publication, “On Pathology Laboratory Recruitment and Retention: Insights From the 16 Personality Type Indicators,” published in AJCP.  

Critical Values spoke with Mr. Chiou to find out more about their study and how its results can help make better hiring decisions for laboratories.  

Critical Values (CV): Where did you get the idea for this study?  
Paul Chiou (PC): The impetus for the study came from a book club discussion. Dr. Mulder and I are both part of the ASCP laboratory leadership book club, which meets regularly to discuss books that are relevant to the management of clinical laboratories. At the time we had just finished Susan Caine’s “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” In the book, Caine argued quite convincingly how there are distinct differences in what energizes people, how they learn best, and in what type of work or school environment would they thrive. The book was really quite interesting in the sense that you can read it and assess whether or not it is true in your specific case. Surprisingly it is very accurate. We then started wondering what the personality attributes of the medical laboratory professional were and whether understanding and appreciating personality differences would be helpful for laboratory management in creating a more collaborative and inclusive environment for everyone to thrive.  

CV: Why is it important to understand the connection between personality traits, choice of profession, and preferred work settings?  
PC: There’s a saying that time flies when you are having fun, which is to say that it is possible for a person to be so captivated by a project. I’ve heard and not sure how true this is that some of the famous researchers of modern history, like Albert Einstein, were so into their work that sometimes they didn’t even remember if they have eaten or not. I am not suggesting that going to work will ever be like going to Disneyland but my point is that picking the right profession, and the right company to work for is important in determining whether you’d be happy, whether you’d stay at the company, and whether you’d be productive and engaged.  

Today, many graduating laboratory professionals or pathology residents may have multiple job offers because of laboratory shortage, therefore there are lots of choices. I think understanding the conceptual framework and the relationships between personality traits, choice of profession, and preferred work setting will be helpful for the new pathology professional and can help them decide between job offers ranging from academic and community hospitals to reference laboratories, as personality assessment tool may be helpful in helping the graduates select the most appropriate setting for them to thrive professionally and socially.  

CV: In broad strokes, what did your study reveal, and how does that affect the lab? PC: There are common professional traits that we share as pathology laboratory professionals and there are also common and unique personal differences we bring with us to the workplace. As a whole, the medical laboratory professionals tended to be observant, innovative, caring, and organized, professionally. However, we also bring our own unique personal differences with us to our workplace. Some of us are energized by the opportunity to mentor others at the workplace while others are happiest combing through thick binders of regulatory documents and forms, making sure the there are no errors in the equipment maintenance logs and the validation records. Still, some of us enjoy cross-training and learning new things while others are laser-focused on doing one thing well and have no interest in cross-training. As a laboratory manager, the challenge is to create the right work environment that cultivate and develop the employee’s strengths appropriately to both improve the quality of patient care as well as a more positive work environment that the employee will stay.    

CV: Based on your study, what advice would you give to hiring managers? 
PC: The take-home message for laboratory management and recruiters is to see the potential in employees and learn to use their strengths appropriately to ultimately improve laboratory testing and patient care.  

Furthermore, exploring the employees’ strengths and potential developmental areas will likely improve their job satisfaction and retention, as well as reducing costly workplace turnover. Laboratory burnout is a growing issue and ignoring it will have a negative impact on laboratory professionals and, ultimately, patient care.  

CV: Based on your study, what advice would you give someone interested in a career in the laboratory?  
PC: Two things. First, I’d say take the time to understand yourself, your strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, and so forth. This will help you know what type of career you would find fulfilling. Second, I’d say to not trust stereotypes about laboratories. When people think about pathology laboratory professionals, they tend to think about people working in isolation, perhaps in an autopsy room or in front of an analyzer working alone. Today, laboratories are more interconnected with the rest of healthcare system and medical laboratory professionals are expected to be comfortable working in a team environment, outside of performing routine tasks.  

CV: How can laboratory leadership and management use the findings of your study to create a better team, a better work environment, and improve job satisfaction?  
PC: As laboratory workforce further expands on the division of labors to meet the incoming challenges in laboratory testing brought on by the increasing complexities of the healthcare and laboratory testing environments, the way laboratories are managed must also evolved. For example, managing someone with a preference for SJ (Sensing-Judging) is very different than laboratory professionals with SP preferences (Sensing-Perceiving). The SJ laboratory professionals generally value patience, diligence, and loyalty and will relish assisting supervisors with preparing for laboratory inspections, and helping edit standard operating procedures or keep track of continuing education requirements for managers. They will be invaluable for organizations in keeping copiously detailed equipment maintenance logs and validation records to date, in accordance with regulatory standards for any upcoming state or professional inspections.  

The laboratory professionals with an SP preference, on the other hand, are typically those who enjoy flexibility and can easily adjust to new environments. They would enjoy cross-training and can be invaluable as a backup for another department in a smaller laboratory to help with fluctuation in work volume.  

Knowing and using the personality strengths of a workforce can be beneficial for laboratory management to ensure employees are productive and thriving.  

Read the full study on AJCP.