3 Factors to Improve Healthcare Workforce Planning in the New Normal

Senior Director of Marketing

Healthcare workforce shortages are affecting all aspects of patient care, and the shortages are only expected to get worse. The American Nurses Association recently called upon Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to declare the ongoing nursing shortage to be a national crisis. And by 2030, the physician shortage, especially in the western U.S., is predicted to rise to a crisis level.

Strategic workforce planning has never been more essential to the healthcare industry. But moving forward, we’re still dealing with a lot of uncertainty from the pandemic. What does it take to create an effective healthcare workforce plan in the new normal?

Here are three steps healthcare HR professionals can take in the short term to improve long-term workforce planning.

Anticipate the Effects of External Forces

The pandemic has introduced factors that must be addressed as part of a comprehensive workforce plan. “We have outside forces affecting our workforces that we have never seen before,” says Paul Edwards, Co-Founder and CEO at CEDR Solutions. For example, vaccine mandates could limit the talent pool healthcare organizations can draw from. 

The state of childcare and schooling is a primary concern, as it could remain uncertain for the next year or more. Lack of access to childcare tends to have a bigger impact on women — who make up 66% of the entry-level healthcare workforce. What benefits can you implement to help employees navigate dependent care concerns?

By staying vigilant to the impact of external forces on your employees, you can create a workforce plan for attracting and retaining talent in an uncertain environment.

Revisit Your Legacy Work Models

Companies across industries are revisiting and revising their legacy work models. Most companies are working toward adopting a hybrid model. “Employers have to evaluate the old-school method of everyone being in the office versus the new normal,” says Jared Pope, Managing Shareholder at Pope Legal Groupe and CEO and Founder at Work Shield.

Hybrid work is harder to accommodate in healthcare because so much of the work relies on in-person interactions. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Clinicians could adopt a rotating hybrid schedule, for example. Set a basic hybrid work model, and then empower individual units to make it work for them.

Your workforce plan hinges on your decisions about long-term work models. Offering some full-time remote positions opens up a more geographically diverse talent pool, for example. Operating in a hybrid model also changes what you look for in candidates for succession planning (such as digital leadership skills) and what skills you need to develop in your workforce.

Communicate an Intentional Culture

Retention and recruiting are vital parts of a successful workforce plan. Attracting employees who will stay with your organization is crucial for meeting your talent needs. Much of that hinges on culture. 

Employees in healthcare, especially younger employees, often enter the field looking for a vocation. Just highlighting a transactional approach to healthcare doesn’t set your brand apart, Edwards says. Highlight what you can offer in terms of personal mission, values and purpose by foregrounding, for example, what you’ve done in the community.

Consider revisiting your values. Poll your workforce to determine whether the company values still resonate with them. This will also help you gain a better sense of company culture. Culture is truly set not by leadership but by the habits and behaviors of employees on the floor every day. 

“The expectation can be set from the top, but the implementation and day-to-day activity has to be set from the bottom up,” Pope says. Once you have a better sense of your culture and values, you can assess candidates for values that align with the company’s, setting the stage for longer, more meaningful employment.

Healthcare workforce planning in the new normal is complex. As the pandemic evolves, so must your plan. The true nature of the new normal is one of constant change, so develop workforce plans that can change alongside the business and your workforce’s needs.

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