The Great Resignation is a sad and sobering reality and one we will likely be dealing with for years to come. Our healthcare system has been hit particularly hard. While the U.S experienced nursing shortages prior to the beginning of the pandemic in 2019, they were exacerbated when the pandemic hit. In the U.S., about 1 in 5 healthcare workers have left their jobs since the pandemic began. With the pandemic entering its third year, questions continue about the stability of our healthcare system when frontline workers are experiencing extreme burnout.
Nearly 400,000 healthcare workers have left their jobs since the start of the pandemic, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In January 2022, hospitals in 18 states reported critical staff shortages, including Kentucky. 60 Minutes recently shared a segment highlighting the challenges felt by three hospital CEOs in Kentucky, which was cause for concern. Is our healthcare system teetering on the brink of collapse? It could be if actions aren’t taken to address frontline worker recruitment and retention.
In a recent survey by the American College of Healthcare Executives, hospital CEOs ranked personnel shortages among their leading concerns, outpacing financial challenges for the first time since 2004. Overwhelmed clinical AND non-clinical staff are leaving for better pay, more benefits, and less stress. In light of this, hospital executives are forced to make retention and recruitment their top priorities.
How To Increase Employee Retention in Healthcare
Healthcare workers chose to work in healthcare because of their passion to help others. They are continuously learning and growing so they can provide better care to patients. With the staff shortage, these essential workers are left with just enough time to put out fires. They don’t have the luxury to spend the time they want with patients. They don’t have the luxury to spend time looking after themselves. They are overwhelmed, overworked, and burned out.
How are hospital executives trying to solve this? Becker’s Healthcare interviewed 22 executives asking what changes are needed to improve retention.
To no surprise, mental health and wellness was cited as one of the most important factors to reduce and manage burnout. A strategy could be as simple as an executive walking the halls and wards thanking the staff. This is effective in a crisis (such as the pandemic) but is not sustainable or scalable. Hospitals should also look for simple-to-implement, innovative methods to help staff free up time, and allow them to take that critical mental break.
Focus on Healthcare Employee Engagement
Another critical and effective strategy to improve retention is staff engagement. During times of high-stress, it’s easy to lose sight of one’s sense of purpose and deprioritize individual growth. Hospital executives can help staff keep purpose and growth top of mind.
An effective onboarding process helps to set employees up for success — helping new hires acclimate to the culture of the hospital should be part of the onboarding process. Hospital executives that include recognition and professional growth as part of staff orientation can help to keep staff engaged — which affects retention through job satisfaction. In a recent Becker’s Healthcare article, two statements, in particular, support this need for staff engagement as a retention strategy:
“Providing managers and leaders with tools through focused education and training is imperative to a successful engagement culture.”
Director of Employee Relations
Marshfield Clinic Health System
“In addition to all our efforts and successes in retaining what staff we have, we will have to continue to recruit new healthcare workers.”
Chief Human Resources Officer
Lakeland Regional Health
The Importance of Career Advancement
For existing employees, gaining new knowledge through upskilling and career laddering helps them feel valued by the organization and reinforces that their careers are moving forward. Staff feel valued by their organizations when they experience professional growth and career advancement. And that translates to increased job satisfaction.
Culture Change in Healthcare
Millennials are now the largest generation in the workforce. They value diversity, equality, empowerment, involvement (a respected voice in what is going on), flexibility (real flexibility, not just bid shifts), formal professional development with planned (guaranteed) career advancement, all things technology and mobile, and organic cultures with much less structure. Hospital cultures need to evolve with the wants and needs of this modern workforce. Hospital executives can support that evolution by focusing on these values and incorporating them into the organization’s culture.
Ways To Improve Employee Satisfaction and Retention
As an industry, our goal should first be to help our current workforce regain their personal time and focus on their wellness. This will help to address burnout and increase attrition. Then, focus on professional growth. Career advancement is important; it helps establish value between employer and employee. We also need to look for new, creative ways to onboard and train new staff so we can easily and quickly ensure their competence and continue to deliver high-quality patient care.
Through the heroic efforts of our healthcare leaders, clinicians and other essential workers, we have kept up with the demands placed on healthcare—in many cases, just barely. But this is not sustainable unless things change. Healthcare is feeling the pressures of digital transformation. Historically, it’s been slow to invest and evolve. But now, we are at an inflection point. We MUST embrace technology if we are to sustain the level of healthcare quality and safety that is expected today.