How healthcare leaders can help the workforce thrive, today
May 9, 2022
Many of my conversations with chief human resources officers (CHROs) in the last two years start with an urgency to solve for the sharp increase in attrition. The pandemic most certainly triggered this acute crisis, but we must wonder if it just added fuel to a fire that was already burning. CHROs have been flagging the issue for years, so are we finally ready to listen and act?
The problem began long before the pandemic. Pay, equity, licensing issues and more have been preventing healthcare organizations from having the workforce they need to deliver the care that people expect. And in the COVID world, people are leaving jobs in staggering numbers and they are reflecting on their jobs more critically. As highlighted in our Fjord Trends 2022 report, “People are finding a stronger sense of agency over how and where they spend their time and attention.”1
One might think this situation could be solved by bringing in more supply to meet the demand. It’s not that easy. People’s agency over their priorities is shifting career decisions, dwindling the supply of clinicians. Tried and true approaches, such as increasing pay and benefits, aren’t enough to retain workers or pull them back into the workforce after they’ve left.
CHROs and healthcare leaders must act now to take better care of the workforce, fortify the workforce and design the workforce of the future before it’s too late.
Making experiences better for healthcare workers will improve experiences for the patients they serve. Our recent research shows that 93% of healthcare workers were experiencing stress and 76% reported exhaustion and burnout during the pandemic.2 People want more agency in their own lives and they are striving for better mental health and wellness.3
How can healthcare leaders better care for the workforce?
Healthcare leaders who prioritize mental well-being, the clinical workforce experience and digital-first cultures will buffer their organizations from the Great Resignation. Prioritizing care for the employees and supporting this cultural shift is a foundational enabler to other CEO/CIO priorities around using AI and technology to substitute manual and cognitive human tasks.4
The first step is increasing the wellness quotient within the organization by identifying those at risk of psychological safety issues and disengagement. Organizations are data-rich but information-poor in understanding who is at risk of mental unwellness and how to best address it. Using analytical tools to synthesize insights on who is leaving and why, the current temperament of the workforce and what skills need to be developed can help improve the workforce wellness quotient.
Organizations can use that information to precisely target with new skills and experiences the clinical teams most at-risk. Championing workforce wellbeing and equality and attending to safety and interpersonal needs are more important than ever, but only 14% of healthcare organizations we surveyed claim to lead in this practice.5
Recruitment and onboarding processes are costly, but necessary. Recruitment costs average six to nine months of that role’s salary.6 Onboarding is expensive, but the first 90 days are the most critical for employees to be successful in their new jobs.7 Without success, the work of recruiting results in a lost employee and the need to restart that supply process.
Nurses are leaving their full-time jobs to pursue the flexibility and high pay associated with travel nursing. While this model offers advantages for skilled nurses, for hospital organizations it can lead to less funding for full-time staff benefits and other opportunities to improve the experience of retained clinicians.
How can healthcare leaders improve supply?
Healthcare leaders must adopt an omnichannel strategy to address workforce shortages. This includes expanding supply by rethinking how talent is sourced, recruited, onboarded and managed.
CHROs who invest in seamless sourcing and onboarding processes increase competitiveness for high-quality candidates and increase long-term retention. Artificial intelligence and skills prioritization technologies can identify the right candidates and target nontraditional sourcing pools. Redesigned onboarding processes and preceptor programs can also help improve the skills and indoctrinate new hires into the organization culture.
Many healthcare organizations have focused on compensation and should consider revising their financial approaches to also support career progression. For instance, providing financial support to licensed practical nurses who are transitioning to be registered nurses.
Every healthcare organization must redefine the future of clinical roles. What roles will be most important to care delivery and what talent pipeline is needed to fulfill those roles? Which roles can tap into the power of technology plus human ingenuity? By complementing the work of humans with machines, the organization can unlock the time of existing skilled clinicians. Consider the work happening in Singapore. The healthcare ecosystem there is exploring automation to free up 15.7 million working hours, which can be reallocated to tasks such caring for older and chronic patients.8
Technologies such as natural language processing and machine learning can carry out low-risk clinical responsibilities and administrative tasks so that clinicians can carry out value-add activities, such as developing innovative treatment strategies.
What strategies can healthcare leaders explore?
Defining the future workforce is full of unknowns, but there are ways to begin by thinking differently about roles, responsibilities, sources of talent and care models.
Consider how can static roles that perform manual processes be reimagined to rely more on technology so that people can do what they do best—care for patients. Healthcare leaders can also look in different places to find the right people to support the future workforce. For instance, hidden workers9 are those often left out of recruiting pipeline for a variety of circumstances—yet they offer important skills.
CVS Health’s Abilities in Abundance program works to break down the barriers workers with disabilities face by partnering with vocational agencies, nonprofits and schools to provide job coaching, support and mentoring. This innovative program is creating job opportunities for workers while also creating a talent pipeline to meet the company’s workforce needs.10
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Workers need care, support and fair wages—and healthcare organizations need workers. Let’s begin taking the right actions to ensure the workforce has what it needs to thrive.
6Heather Boushey and Sarah Jane Glynn, “There are Significant Business Costs to Replacing Employees” (Center for American Progress 2012), CostofTurnover.pdf (americanprogress.org)
7See Talya N. Bauer, “Onboarding New Employees: Maximizing Success”, SHRM Foundation’s Effective Practice Guidelines Series (SHRM Foundation 2010): 1.
9Hidden workers include individuals who are often restricted from realizing their full potential in the workplace, such as people with disabilities, family care commitments, veterans and ex-offenders.