How to Improve Employee Retention in Healthcare
A three-year pandemic; physical and mental exhaustion; high caseloads; plummeting morale. Improving employee retention in healthcare is an upward battle within an inherently challenging industry.
And rising employee attrition is only half of it: with our aging population, we face ever higher demand for specialized clinicians. In other words: we're burning the candle at both ends.
Consider these worrisome projections from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Association of American Medical Colleges:
- Healthcare jobs are expected to grow 13% by 2031. (Compared to a 7.7% average for all occupations.)
- The AAMC expects a shortage of up to 124,000 physicians by 2034.
- Due to retirement and resignation, there will be 203,700 nursing positions to fill by 2026.
We have no choice. We have to figure out how to improve employee retention in healthcare. And with targeted strategies focused on the most at-risk practitioners, we can get there.
The healthcare retention crisis: How we got here
Clinicians are the backbone of our healthcare system. Employee retention in healthcare is what keeps us from a public health crisis. As we recover and rebuild from the unstable past few years, it is the perfect (and essential) time to reimagine and create a thriving healthcare workforce.
But how did we get here in the first place?
Surviving vs. thriving
Attrition in healthcare is the result of an already challenging workplace being under immense strain.
Gretchen Berlin, McKinsey senior partner and registered nurse, explains: "What is happening [in healthcare] is an untenable situation for anyone to individually survive in, let alone thrive in."
We often talk about how to thrive at work, but when employees replace the question with merely how to survive, it puts into perspective the level of emotional, physical and mental distress practitioners face on a daily basis.
In return for performing arduous work, many in healthcare support positions receive inadequate pay. When practitioners compare their pay to similar-level roles in different fields, it can be difficult to keep people in the industry.
Unfortunately, the financial strain of COVID-19 has further limited resources and meant that healthcare facilities have had to make even further cuts.
High barriers to entry
What's more, the high cost of education can be a barrier to entry for many healthcare professionals. It can also limit professional development once in the industry.
Prospective clinicians may be discouraged from joining the industry if they face a large financial commitment to enter a field where their remuneration will be low — and where they may not feel like they have access to a developing future in the industry.
A system under strain
To drive the point home, the healthcare field is by nature stressful. The stakes are high, resources are limited, and the work often comes in long or irregular bouts. This strain is compounded by the current shortages in staff — a vicious cycle because burnout causes even more attrition.
Why improving healthcare retention is a top priority
The demand for healthcare practitioners was already outpacing supply pre-pandemic. As you don't need to be reminded, the pandemic put enormous strain on social and economic well-being, particularly in the world of health workers.
Long hours, health and safety risk, shortages, patient loads, emotional toll, burnout, stress... all of the challenges of being in the industry, exacerbated tenfold. Understandably, this led to a mass and permanent exit from a field already facing high, rising levels of resignation.
Beyond the typical attrition factors, the healthcare industry also consists of a significant number of baby boomers who are soon to retire. They tend to be in leadership roles or have years of experience that cannot be easily replaced.
What’s more, because these baby boomers are moving into retirement age, they will join the disproportionally high numbers of elderly people in need of increased healthcare.
This care is predicted to be more specialized and require levels of expertise in a supply we don't have yet. This means training and retaining MDs, nurses, technicians, aids, and other clinical staff to meet the demand.
As you may have guessed, we are not on track to meet this demand.
In 2021, McKinsey ran a survey on nurses who wanted to leave the profession. This number rose from 20% at the beginning of the year to 32% by the end.
An increasing shortage of skilled healthcare professionals means patients in need will wait longer and pay more for lower-quality care. Longer wait times mean windows to treat health issues may be lost in waiting or care will altogether be beyond peoples' financial means if demand pushes up cost.
Something must be done to improve employee retention in healthcare.
How to improve employee retention in healthcare: 3 strategies
Improving healthcare retention is as important as it is complicated. Employee retention strategies need to combat the inherently exhausting, distressing, and difficult nature of the industry.
No one has all the answers, and we will all continue to learn from one another as we tackle this problem. But based on our extensive work at Praisidio with employee retention and predictive people analytics, we suggest these three strategies as a starting point.
1. Prioritize onboarding and training
Prioritizing onboarding and training helps new recruits feel supported and prepared for the work ahead of them. When employees feel competent and capable in their jobs, they are more likely to stay — especially in the healthcare industry where meeting the duty of care standard is critical.
How to implement this strategy: The Cedars-Sinai example
Cedars-Sinai is an excellent example of this retention strategy. The hospital developed a comprehensive process for travel nurses to be efficiently onboarded and trained for their roles. The process included:
- Online modules
- Low-fidelity simulation-based training
- Skills validation
This process had a 96.2% positive response rate. As a result, 77% of the travel nurses extended their contract. This meant 483 contract extensions within 5 months.
2. Promote meaningful recognition
Healthcare leaders often assume the inherent importance of being a health clinician is enough to drive retention. This is a common, and understandable, mistake to make.
But by our nature, we humans need external recognition. Challenging work has the potential to be rewarding and fulfilling, but if it's challenging work without any recognition, it becomes a meaningless challenge.
It’s critical to take the time to recognize healthcare employees in meaningful ways, including celebrating achievements like milestones, years of service, and outstanding contributions and performance.
How to implement this strategy: Talent intelligence
Particularly in large hospitals and clinics, it's easy for people to get lost in the system or fly under the radar. With so many employees, visualizing the needs of everyone is a full-time job in and of itself.
Providing regular, targeted recognition might seem beyond your current resource capacity, but it’s doable — with the right tools. Talent intelligence is one of the most effective ways to keep a pulse on employees at most risk of attrition.
Using the human resources data you already have on hand, a talent intelligence platform like Praisidio identifies the at-risk employees in your healthcare system and gives you targeted strategies for retaining those employees. This includes identifying employees who would most benefit from recognition.
The platform also assesses four other at-risk areas: connection, compensation, job growth, and workload. Praisidio clients commonly reduce employee attrition costs by $10 million for every 2,000 employees.
3. Commit to career development and continuing education
We're lucky enough to live in a world of exciting technological and medical advancements. Providing the opportunity for your employees to be a part of these developments not only improves retention but also means your organization is able to provide cutting-edge care.
This may include funding learning and development for your healthcare clinicians. By doing so, you bridge the issue of expensive, potentially inaccessible career development that we discussed earlier.
Plus, financing your employees' professional development and study is also a gesture of support and investment in their future. Employees who feel encouraged to grow in their workplace are more likely to stay.
How to implement this strategy: Ideas for career development in healthcare
In addition to funding learning and development, other career development programs could include:
- Leadership pathway programs
- Mentoring and coaching
- Cross-training across departments
- Job shadowing
- Personalized development plans
- Career counseling
Showing your healthcare employees that you prioritize their career development demonstrates that there is exciting progression ahead of them in this field and with your company.
Would people analytics help your healthcare system improve retention?
As you look for answers on how to improve employee retention in healthcare, talent intelligence is a crucial tool.
In any industry, talent analytics is an efficient solution to help you understand and cater to the needs of the complex individuals making up your workforce. In the healthcare industry, where the emotional and mental workload is so intense and unpredictable, it is especially essential to find a way to meet employees' needs.
This is where talent intelligence's ability to give you real-time insight into each and every one of your staff members is so valuable.
With Praisidio, the leading talent intelligence platform, you can leverage the HR data you already have and use it to identify attrition risks and proactively take action to retain employees.
Praisidio clients commonly reduce employee attrition costs by $10 million for every 2,000 employees.
Book a demo to find out how Praisidio can help you with employee retention.