Front-line staffing shortages and fallout from the pandemic have caused hospitals and health systems to adjust their workforce strategies.
Some are raising pay or offering more attractive benefits, housing or child care assistance and greater flexibility to attract and retain physicians, nurses and other personnel. Others are expanding mental health benefits to help employees cope with stress, fatigue and burnout.
Responding to the Challenge
Franklin, Tenn.-based Community Health Systems will expand its benefits by roughly $40 million per year among its 66,000 staff. The new benefits are designed to help employees eliminate student loan debt quicker, pursue additional professional education and advance their careers.
In October, St. Luke’s Health System in Idaho began providing housing assistance for some of its employees, including travel nurses, and began building 12 housing units.
Addressing the current health care workforce crisis will require more than a financial commitment, however, notes a recent Oliver Wyman report. Health care executives need to take transformative steps to address the shifts occurring among nurses, physicians and other front-line workers, the report notes.
Flexible Scheduling Is Key to Attracting and Retaining Nurses
Oliver Wyman research suggests that traditional and more transactional levers such as pay raises don’t address the root cause of burnout. Nurses surveyed by the consulting firm ranked attention to their mental health and focus on work-life balance as their top worries for working.
In interviews with more than 100 nurses, the report’s authors note that respondents want fair compensation that allows them to cover their everyday needs, ensures that their families are cared for and managers who will support them in achieving their professional goals as they plan for the next five years.
“Organizations that transform care delivery, build flexibility into formerly rigid jobs and demonstrate a clear investment into the emotional well-being of their employees will be the ones that successfully build back better,” the report states. A pivotal part of this change is the shift to temporary or “gig” labor. Recent market projections show a 6% annual growth rate in the market for temporary health care staffing — traveler, day agency and other types of per diem work — that is expected to continue through 2026.
4 No-Regret Moves Executives Can Make Now
Rebuilding trust with front-line workers will require leaders to restore a connection, meaning and resiliency in their teams. Oliver Wyman consultants suggest that executives focus on these critical steps:
1 | Ask your workforce what matters … and keep asking.
The ability for workers to process the trauma of the last two years without judgment is the only path to healing, requiring new forums where workers feel heard. In the absence of these new spaces where employees genuinely feel heard, it is likely that they will keep speaking in the language they’re used to (i.e., asking for more money) rather than identifying and expressing their core needs.
2 | Take visible action to respond to staff concerns.
Coming out of the pandemic, respondents reported a lack of trust in their employers. If leaders are willing to make the required changes to enable teams and connections to be restored, it can only further the healing process; demonstrating that employees are indeed heard will incentivize further communication and collaboration. Investments in mental health infrastructure, interventions to address work-life-balance, support for child care needs and, more significantly, will enable the restoration process.
3 | Build or integrate app-enabled flexible scheduling capabilities.
Modernize staffing models to enable more flexible self-scheduling and some level of work from home. This is challenging in hospital environments, where work is 24/7/365. Ask the challenging questions: What does 80% in-person work look like for clinicians? What would it take to enable nurses to work a half day so they can spend the afternoon with their families? Tactically, how can organizations make these flexible options easily accessible for the workforce?
4 | Scale up tech enablement.
While full-time work from home is not feasible for many direct caregivers, technology continues to push the limits of diagnostic capabilities. Organizations that can enable greater flexibility will need to create new roles that align with the future of care delivery.