Healthcare HR Week 2021: A Vision for the Future

Senior Director of Marketing

Even as COVID-19 vaccine distribution is bringing hope for a brighter future, the past 12 months are catching up with healthcare employees and practitioners. A recent survey exploring the pandemic’s impact on healthcare workers’ mental health reveals that 93% reported stress, while 77% said they had frustration and 76% exhaustion and burnout.

As we celebrate Health Care HR Week, it’s important to stay focused on our workforces. “Healthcare leaders need to do the same thing that any good leader in any industry needs to do,” says Jeremy Sadlier, CEO of the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration. “They need to be empathetic, act with integrity and trust their employees.” As healthcare HR professionals, we are responsible for empowering our employees and practitioners to provide the best possible care.

Here’s how you can overcome workforce challenges to catalyze positive change at your healthcare organization.

Turn Temporary Programs Into Long-Term Solutions

During the pandemic, many healthcare organizations added temporary benefits to support their employees. Many companies have shifted nonessential workers to remote work, for instance, to create greater flexibility. Child care for employees is another popular and much-needed benefit, Sadlier says. More comprehensive mental health coverage is essential for combating stress and burnout moving forward.

But benefits like remote work, child care and increased access to mental health services shouldn’t exist only during the pandemic: Revamp your benefits to provide more comprehensive offerings in the long term to support your existing staff and attract new recruits. Survey your workforce to determine their needs, and begin building benefit programs that move beyond the minimum.

Anticipate Increased Staffing Challenges

We can expect to see the healthcare workforce shortage get worse over the next few years. This can take its toll on your staff, who are already burned out from months of fighting the coronavirus. It’s more important than ever for large health systems to fill gaps by putting resources behind staffing and workforce development.

“Move from the reactive mode all businesses in all industries have been in to more of a proactive mode to stay ahead of staffing needs,” says Kathy Jordan, President and CEO of Jordan Search Consultants. “Plan for cases where you will be over- or understaffed, and create a list of trusted staffing partners to help you become nimble.” Plan to partner with staffing companies, and use contingent workforces more creatively. “Identify high-performing contracted or short-term employees so you can maintain that relationship or potentially continue to develop them and offer them a full-time position,” Jordan continues.

Find creative ways to employ your older talent to encourage them to stay longer. Most employees nearing retirement still love what they do, Sadlier says, but can’t take the physical toll. Put them in roles that are less physically taxing, such as being care managers or conducting admits and discharges.

Develop Equitable Scheduling Policies

Healthcare workforces have been treating highly acute patients with few breaks since last year. As the vaccine becomes more widely available and healthcare employees and practitioners gain more breathing room, build in time for dedicated breaks. “They'll need to make up for the vacations and long weekends that they didn't get the year before,” Sadlier says. Ensure that each employee receives dedicated time off in the coming months because burnout continues to threaten your retention plans.

Be mindful of your scheduling practices, too. Reevaluate how scheduling decisions are made, Sadlier says. In the past, time off has been granted based on seniority. But this threatens to alienate newer employees. Adopt more flexible scheduling practices, and incorporate self-scheduling options for employees to pick up shifts and control their own schedules.

Healthcare HR professionals have the power to solve business challenges by creating a more attractive, effective workplace. This Health Care HR Week, think about how you can develop practices and policies to support employees and practitioners today and in years to come.

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