How to Engage in Healthcare Workforce Planning

Marketing Director

The COVID-19 pandemic put an immense strain on healthcare workers and exacerbated the ever-growing healthcare workforce shortage. Even contingent labor pools, a common go-to for healthcare organizations to bolster staffing, were stretched thin last year. In the pandemic's early months, one travel nursing organization saw their order volume jump more than seven times year-over-year levels.

Healthcare workforce planning is essential to navigating the continued unknowns of COVID-19 and the inevitable spike in caseloads from an aging population. “Patient care is a priority, and the shortage of care workers is a constant conversation,” says Elaine Orler, Founder, CEO and Senior Vice President of Technology Consulting at Talent Function. “A structured process to address workforce needs can go a long way in ensuring the right talent is able to operate effectively within the organization.”

Here are some workforce planning strategies to boost your healthcare organization's recruiting and retention efforts.

Focus on Reskilling and Upskilling

Workforce planning helps you predict the skills your organization will need to remain competitive. "Being able to reskill or upskill our existing team members is going to be critical to retention and to maintain adequate staffing levels in key positions," says Sarah Sheffer, Director of Strategic Workforce Planning at Henry Ford Health System. "That kind of went to the back burner in the midst of COVID, but we are seeing it start to become more of a focus now."

Offering training programs for future-oriented skills gives your organization a competitive edge in the talent marketplace. It's especially important to invest in roles at the highest risk for turnover, such as nurses, medical assistants and environmental services professionals. Create opportunities for growth and mobility in these roles.

Redesign Retirement and Onboarding Programs

Healthcare organizations are facing high retirement numbers in the coming years. Plan for this within your workforce by reevaluating traditional retirement practices. One option is finding less physically taxing work for retirement-age employees to engage in. "There's a lot of people who just don't want to flip the switch and retire completely," Sheffer says. Create a mentoring and training program for retirees to transfer their institutional knowledge before leaving. 

Rethink your onboarding process, too. Turnover is highest in an employee's first year. Build out your onboarding program to support employees from the moment they sign on through their first 12 months. Get creative with vendor partnerships, too. "Background screening organizations are able to provide a thorough recommendation on a candidate's ability to succeed by evaluating previous employment history and references," says David Jones, Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at Wellstar Health System. Work with vendors such as your background screening partner to optimize your candidate experience and make recruiting and onboarding smoother. 

Build Workforce Planning Into Daily Processes

Selling the concept of workforce planning at a high level is usually less difficult than changing the habits of front-line and hiring managers. Cascade workforce planning from strategy to practice by working with front-line managers to achieve their buy-in, Sheffer says. First, be transparent with the data you have. Consider leveraging HR technology that allows you to consolidate and share data reports across the organization. Meet with front-line managers frequently, and use the data between meetings to show progress on your workforce plan. Also, involve managers in your planning process.

Another key aspect of workforce planning is competitive benefits that boost retention. Under Jones’ supervision, Wellstar Health System has added better paid-time-off packages, a year of access to their fitness centers and on-site counseling support through their employee assistance program. “This recent investment in our team members and caregivers builds on a history of special benefits and programs we have designed to enhance our teams' lives, from professional growth to overall well-being and wellness,” Jones says.

Healthcare organizations must find creative, long-term solutions for attracting and retaining their talent. Investing in workforce planning helps your organization stay ahead of its competition in an increasingly tight labor market. Put your patients first by elevating your workforce.