How Healthcare Employers Can Manage Nursing Talent More Strategically

How Healthcare Employers Can Manage Nursing Talent More Strategically
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Nurses are a critical part of the healthcare workforce, so the ongoing nursing shortage is a big challenge. Research by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses says that while nurses report being highly satisfied with their career path, 54 percent said they plan to leave their current job within three years.

Problems with the work environment were a major contributor to this restlessness, especially the lack of appropriate staffing. Only 39 percent of respondents said that they had adequate staffing with the right knowledge and skills at least 75 percent of the time. Also, 86 percent said they had experienced at least one incident of verbal or physical abuse in the past year, or sexual harassment or discrimination, mostly by patients.

So how can healthcare organizations optimize their nursing talent management strategy to succeed in this competitive environment? Here are some suggestions.

Address Problems with Working Conditions

First and foremost, healthcare organizations need to address problems in the work environment that can lead to employee dissatisfaction, burnout and turnover, and that starts with nursing management. The AACN report found a relationship between nurses’ intent to leave a position and their perception of their frontline managers. “Investing in educating and supporting frontline nurse managers is a key strategy to improving retention of direct care nurses,” says Beth Ulrich, principal investigator for the study.

Employers have to address working conditions — including staffing levels — to reduce turnover and improve retention, she says. “For example, the results of the study show that intent to leave is significantly lower for nurses in units that have implemented the AACN Healthy Work Environment Standards,” Ulrich says.

Investing in additional support for nurses can also reduce burnout and improve retention. Support staff such as medical assistants and nurse assistants and tech tools that streamline work processes help reduce the burden on nurses, says Sayeed Islam, Assistant Professor of Organizational Psychology at Farmingdale State Collegeand Vice President of Consulting for Talent Metrics.

Identify Pain Points

Internal benchmarking can help employers identify problem areas in recruitment and sources for workforce attribution. “Find out what works in your own organization by performing internal benchmarking of practices and policies,” says Matt Stevenson, a partner at Mercer.

Employment data can be a valuable tool to better manage nursing talent, Stevenson says. “What organizations have now, which they probably didn't have 15 years ago, is all this data at their fingertips on what works and doesn't work,” he says.

Data-based decision making and predictive analytics can help set workforce benchmarks and goals, he says. What are your pay benchmarks? When were employees hired and how long have they been employed? What nursing program did they attend? How long do nurses stay before leaving? The answers to these questions can provide invaluable data for predicting attrition and turnover, and for figuring out how to address problems in your talent pipeline, Stevenson says.

Up-Skill Your Existing Workforce

Digital convergence and a lack of key talent has forced many industries to focus on up-skilling rather than acquiring new talent, but the nursing industry has lagged on this.

Investing in your existing workforce can help you create the nursing talent you need when competition is fierce, Stevenson says. “When employers can't find the nurses they need, it makes a lot of sense to determine if your certified nurse assistants want to go to nursing school,” he says. “These people are already part of your workforce and are more likely to stay than the people you bring in from the outside. They've already made that decision to be part of your organization.”

Employer-funded opportunities for advancement and professional development are also important, Ulrich says. She notes that tuition reimbursement, flexible schedules, support groups and career planning are ways to help nurses remain a part of your workforce while they return to school for additional training. 

Up-skilling also can help reduce the burnout that drives turnover, says Kelly Kester, a nursing manager at Duke University Hospital. “Providing long-term education and development plans for nurses will keep them interested and excited about their work,” Kester says.

There’s no magic bullet to solve the nursing talent shortage. But nurses who feel that their employer values them and is invested in their success are more likely to stay. Employers that focus on improving the work environment and investing in their nurses’ success will be the best positioned to attract — and keep — the talent they need.

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