Developing a future-proofed healthcare workforce

Edward Wallace

By Julie Davern, Edward Wallace

The healthcare provider workforce is facing significant pressure. According to a report by Elsevier, 47 per cent of US clinicians are considering leaving their roles in the next two to three years. Without adequate organisational support, the impending risk of provider burn-out will lead to an unprecedented workforce shortage in healthcare, with an expected shortfall of 3.2 million healthcare workers by 2026. This will lead to treatment delays, worsening patient conditions, and increased mortality rates for critical patients.

As healthcare practitioners manage complex patient needs, longer working hours, and high stress scenarios, healthcare organisations need to prioritise the wellbeing of their people to continue delivering high levels of care. To develop a future-proofed, empowered workforce, there are three key areas of focus:

1. A people-first approach

The world has changed dramatically at an unprecedented pace as a result of the pandemic. Benefits and policies that have worked for decades are no longer enough, as healthcare professionals are stretched to the limit and still required to fit in administrative tasks in between patient care. Provider organisations should invest in ‘stay interviews’ to crowdsource compelling benefits and policies that will entice people to stay and support them in their daily roles. The goal of ‘stay interviews’ is to build trust and alignment through direct, informal conversations with employees.

Trust is a critical element in employee retention. At the height of the pandemic, Mount Sinai Health System in New York began sending daily emails to staff to keep everyone updated on the latest COVID-19 figures and responses. They also communicated gratitude for everyone’s efforts. This open communication created a true sense of community. The hospital network also arranged for free hotel rooms and meals for staff, understanding the challenges they faced caring for critically ill patients while trying to keep family and roommates safe at home. By understanding worker needs, the organisation was able to respond to them effectively.

2. Technology that streamlines tasks and builds community

With a clinician workforce on the edge of burn-out, it is essential to make new technology easy and intuitive to use and minimise administrative inefficiencies. Providers should adopt platforms that allow clinicians to more easily engage with their patients in addition to streamlining tasks such as invoicing.

Communication platforms such as Zoom and Slack can also be used to build stronger social connections between colleagues. Fostering social connections has been shown to increase engagement and loyalty, reduce stress in the workplace, increase employee wellbeing and reduce absenteeism. For example, a US healthcare integrated payer/provider leveraged a digital communication platform when celebrating employee achievements such as work anniversaries and promotions. This experience allowed colleagues to see one another and celebrate each other’s joys.

Telehealth platforms also enable practitioners to care for potentially contagious patients without putting their own health at risk. With health networks already under significant strain, reducing worker illness can go a long way in minimising workforce shortages.

3. Well-being initiatives that drive inclusive culture

Clinicians are calling for more wellbeing support over the next 10 years. While 85 per cent of clinicians said they enjoyed their jobs, only 57 per cent felt they had a good work-life balance.

Five key levers of employee wellbeing are:

  1. Financial – Overall compensation, type of retirement plan, financial wellness, and education
  2. Mental Health – Access to an employee assistance program and mental health programs
  3. Social – Company culture, work-life balance, and type of relationships at work and outside of work
  4. Physical – Health insurance, wellness and fitness programs and workplace safety
  5. Career – Access to training and development, tuition reimbursement, internal mobility opportunities, performance review, coaching and mentoring.

Provider organisations should invest in wellbeing initiatives that empower employees to proactively look after their overall wellbeing. This is particularly important as an article by Forbes highlighted that 62 per cent of employees surveyed identified employee wellbeing as a key deciding factor when applying for a new job. To attract and retain talent, Cigna, for example, has a wellness program that addresses physical, emotional, environmental, financial, and social needs.

Mount Sinai Health System has also instituted a number of policies and programmes to support employee wellbeing. Responding to the mental and emotional toll of the pandemic, the network launched the Mount Sinai Center for Stress, Resilience and Personal Growth to provide mental health screenings and interventions for frontline healthcare workers. By making mental healthcare accessible, the network may be able to reduce the incidence of burn-out among its staff through much-needed support.

The bottom line

The problem of burn-out costs the US healthcare industry an estimated $4.6 billion per year because of doctor turnover and reduced clinical hours. Given the staggering cost and impact this is having on clinicians, healthcare providers have an opportunity to prioritise their people strategy to ensure clinicians have the organisational support they deserve.

About the authors

Julie Davern PA workforce transformation expert
Edward Wallace
Edward Wallace PA healthcare expert Edward has experience working on major organisational design programmes with a focus on capability & people development

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