4 Takeaways from the 2021 ASHHRA Conference

Senior Director of Marketing

More than a year since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the workplace has changed forever. As we continue on the road to recovery, the virtual 2021 American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration (ASHHRA) Conference provided an opportunity for healthcare HR professionals to connect, innovate, and transform the future of the industry. “We spent 2020 dealing with the fall out from COVID and moving to telemedicine,” said Jeremy Sadlier, Interim Executive Director at ASHHRA. “[Last year] shows the power of the collective healthcare environment and our healthcare teams to make a difference.”

While 2020 was an unusual year, there are many changes that are here to stay once the pandemic recedes. The following represent my top takeaways from this year’s ASHHRA conference. I hope you find them insightful as you prepare your organization for success in the new normal.

1. Erin Brockovich’s Methodologies and the Power of One

In her opening keynote, environmental activist and consumer advocate Erin Brockovich shared some of the ideas, stories, and steps that she has learned along the path of over 30 years of advocacy. Throughout her talk, Brockovich emphasized the power of one while recognizing the interconnection of all of us with each other and the environments. As we focus on ourselves, the “one,” she discussed the importance of developing “sticktoitiveness,” or unwavering persistence. 

“All of us can drop something, make mistakes, and fumble,” she stated. “But failures can pave a path to your greatest success. You get back in with the team, you huddle, you rethink the play. Think of it like we’re in the Super Bowl of life.”

Brockovich also shared two methodologies that have helped her succeed in life.

The first one consists of the 5 Ls:

  • Logic: Use the power of observations and common sense skills to logically do the right thing. 
  • Leverage: Collaborate with others to collectively achieve common goals.
  • Loyalty: Practice “sticktoitiveness” by being true to cause and to yourself.
  • Leadership: Lead through kindness, acceptance, tolerance, patience, and thoughtfulness to lift all.
  • Love: Let love fuel your passion to make a difference in the community through your work. 

Before concluding, Brockovich encouraged attendees to reconnect with the environment and shared a second heuristic, RAM:

  • Realization: Look inside who you are, find your “sticktoitiveness,” and realize your own strength.
  • Assessment: Continue to reassess who you are as you constantly evolve and adapt through life’s stages.
  • Motivation: Find time for self-renewal, practice mindfulness, and reignite your motivation.

2. Long-Term Remote and Flexible Work Strategies

Since last March, many of us have been working from home. While this may not be possible for all healthcare positions, candidates’ expectations have changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and having a remote and flexible workforce strategy can mean the difference whether an organization thrives in a post-COVID world. 

“The data is there to support flexible work,” said Scott Nostaja, Senior Vice President at Segal, during a conference session. “In almost every study, a very high percentage of employees consider telecommunications and telework to be valuable. [Making remote work] part of your strategy for recruitment and retention of employees becomes a compelling proposition.”

Nostaja cautions that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a remote work strategy. There are several variations of remote and classic work, including:

  • Telecommuting and remote work (full or part-time): Working from home or from another off-site location.
  • Flexible schedules: Schedules that have longer periods of breaks throughout the day.
  • Job sharing: Two people working on a reduced-time basis to perform a job normally fulfilled by one person.
  • Reduced/part-time schedule: Reduce schedules to provide more work-life balance.
  • Staggered shifts: Reduce workplace congestion and help employees avoid rush hours.
  • Compressed work week: Replacing the 5-day 40-hour work week with a 4-day 40-hour work week.

Healthcare organizations should experiment and explore opportunities in different ways to balance family and work responsibilities. “Provide a range of flexible options,” Nostaja says. “The hybrid environment in that employees can be at home and occasionally onsite is a good model.”

3. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion’s Growing Relevance

DE&I is one area that employers are focusing on after 2020’s social and racial equity and justice movement. In public health, the Centers for Disease Control reported that people from racial and ethnic minority groups were more likely to be impacted by COVID-19. “Racial disparities are a preventable harm,” explained independent health consultant Yvonne Wesley during a learning session. “HR plays a vital role in moving from intention to outcome. HR is where inclusion starts and has an opportunity to develop some fundamental building blocks.”

“Often the direct link between HR to clinical outcomes may not be made, but we can make a [direct impact] on racial health disparities,” said Jane Fitzsimmons, Executive Vice President of Executive Search at Kirby Bates Associates. “[They are] preventable and an inclusive culture and diversity of leadership can help create an environment in which these disparities are addressed.”

In order to prevent disparities, Fitzsimmons and Wesley propose adopting a scientifically focused bundled approach to achieve better clinical outcomes and care. Care bundles are sets of evidence-based practices that, when implemented in a standard way, are known to improve outcomes. Their suggested racial health disparity bundle includes the following components:

  • Create Safe Spaces: Provide a forum where everyone can feel comfortable in addressing issues.
  • Promote Leadership Equity: Build a diverse leadership team to prevent unconscious biases from deterring improvement.
  • Become Anti-Racist: Be open to learning and understanding to improve clinical outcomes for all populations.

4. Candidate Expectations in the New Normal

There’s no denying that COVID-19 has changed work in many ways, but this provides healthcare organizations with an unprecedented window of opportunity to shape the future of work. “2020 endured a presidential campaign, the highlighting of racial equality and systemic racism, a mental health crisis, and a global pandemic,” said Tracy Duberman, President and CEO of The Leadership Development Group. “The impact of all of these [forces] has changed what employees expect from their organizations in 2021. Employees are expecting support for well-being, investment in their development, good corporate citizenship, and flexible workplaces.”

In 2021 and beyond, healthcare organizations must embrace this new way of being to better support employees. The objective is to provide work-life balance and encourage employees and leaders to take time for self-renewal so that they can contribute their best to the organization. 

“Our team is working on a lot of projects, but we check in a lot more than we might have before,” said Sandra Murray, Chief Learning Officer at CommonSpirit Health. “This is a new and completely different world than what we had before and it’s okay [to acknowledge what you don’t know.] By giving that safe space, we see teams really coming together quickly and trying new things they might not have attempted before at a faster pace.”

While 2020 was a challenging year for everyone, the recovery from the pandemic provides ample opportunities for healthcare HR professionals to lead their organizations to improved outcomes for all. By embracing change and adopting new ways of being, HR can play a key role in shaping the future of healthcare, all while managing candidates’ evolving expectations. 

Did you attend this year’s ASHHRA conference? Leave us a comment with your favorite takeaways in the comments section below.