Retention strategies for the healthcare sector
The healthcare sector is suffering high rates of attrition causing huge pressure on those who remain. So, what can organizations do to attract and retain healthcare workers?
The issue by numbers
In the US recent analysis shows that, in 2 years, the average healthcare practice has a 53% churn rate. Turnover of nursing staff can run as high as 37%, depending on location and type of work, with a national average of 17%. It’s estimated that since 2015 the average US hospital has turned over a massive 89% of its workforce. Added to this the average cost of turnover for nursing staff in an organization is between $37,700 and $58,400 per nurse.
Figures for the UK healthcare sector are equally stark with 1 in 9 or 11% of nurses leaving in the year to September 2021. Social care staff are leaving at a similar rate too. Pressures and costs are mounting.
What’s to be done?
This attrition is partly due to macro issues beyond an organization’s control. The healthcare sector even more than other industries is reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and now a cost-of-living crisis threatens to make the economic climate yet more unstable.
In the circumstances, you’d be forgiven for wondering just what can be done at a micro level. Yet it’s worth remembering that the retention problem in healthcare predates these crises. Also, surveys of departing healthcare workers repeatedly stress a feeling of being undervalued (in all senses, not just financially) as a prime reason for quitting. What’s more healthcare workers are motivated by a vocational ethos but equally want to be adequately recognized as the professionals they are.
These observations suggest that by taking better care of staff, paying attention to employees’ needs and goals, and improving the working environment healthcare organizations can increase retention and reduce churn.
8 steps to improve retention
- Get onboarding right: For any employee and employer, onboarding is a critical stage. First impressions count and a high percentage of new hires who subsequently quit cite a poor onboarding experience as a primary reason. With the staff shortages in healthcare, there’s enormous pressure to quickly step into the new role. Digital onboarding can facilitate the swift transfer to work by reducing the burden of admin tasks and training. Digitizing and automating elements of the onboarding process frees up time to allow the person-to-person inductions that make new staff feel welcome and get them familiar with their new working environment.
- Introduce mentoring: Mentors can improve the effectiveness of the onboarding process and provide support on a long-term basis. As well as acting as mentors experienced staff can coach new staff in new areas as part of their training program. The relationship between mentor and mentee tends to extend beyond the initial induction period and represents clear evidence of an organization’s commitment to training career progression and professional development.
- Deliver career progression: Lack of opportunity for development leads to staff leaving. Healthcare organizations need to demonstrate their commitment to career progression in a practical and meaningful way. Professional development should be highlighted right from the onboarding stage with examples of possible career pathways and introductions to people who have taken those paths. Digital learning can be used to deliver learning pathways and be personalized to reflect the goals and experiences of individual healthcare employees. Investment in digital learning programs and platforms provides greater opportunities for up- and re-skilling while staff continues to work in their current role.
- Offer flexible working: One of the key consequences of the pandemic has been the focus on different ways of working and the issue of work-life balance. The hybrid working model may not be suitable for many healthcare roles, but employers need to offer some flexibility in working practices to keep staff and prevent burnout. This can be achieved through greater flexibility in work schedules and increased recognition of the stress placed on healthcare staff. Self-scheduling, facilitated by digital technology apps, allows employees to select their own shifts and swap with other staff. This gives staff real control over their working lives as well as allows managers to manage schedules based on real demands and requirements.
- Promote wellbeing: It seems ironic that in a sector devoted to healthcare that the health of its employees receives too little attention. An organization has a clear duty of care towards its staff. The active promotion of well-being involves having support services and protocols in place so that employees know where and how to get help if their mental or physical health is suffering. Organizations should also be proactive and implement an open, honest, blame-free culture. They can start by requiring managers to take time to ask staff how they are and effectively respond to their concerns.
- Recognize and reward achievement: Salary is clearly a factor in staff attrition and retention, but it is not the only reason people decide whether their future lies in healthcare. Recognition of achievement and the opportunity to progress into new areas are important reasons for staff to stay. Certification in different specialisms offers the chance for new career prospects and greater financial rewards. In addition to the completion of certified training programs, digital learning offers quick, efficient training in specific tasks leading to a digital badge. These badges can be stored in a personal e-portfolio as evidence of proficiency and represent a milestone in continuing professional development. Certification has been shown to lead not only to better recognition and increased skills but also to greater job satisfaction.
- Work to prevent burnout: Burnout is high amongst frontline healthcare workers. Physical effects include fatigue and loss of appetite. Sufferers report feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. They are likely to require extended sick leave if not quit altogether. Dealing with burnout starts with awareness of the risks and a policy of active listening. Giving employees greater control over their schedules, reducing paperwork, and improving working conditions and career options allows them to focus on their prime role of patient care. A culture of well-being and fairness ensures that employees feel supported in their work no matter how tough the challenges they face in their work.
- Develop a culture of learning: The culture of an organization has a great bearing on whether its people stay or go. An organization that has a culture that promotes continuous learning and offers opportunities for progression is more likely to have engaged and committed employees and therefore offer better patient care. A culture of learning where experience and knowledge are openly and actively shared makes for a more inclusive and attractive work environment.
In the long term
Any moves to retain healthcare workers need to be sustainable. Financial rewards may convince some to stay in the short term, but It’s unlikely to be enough on its own. Employees need to feel valued and valuable in what they do. They need an environment that allows them to grow and reach their goals. Organizations that provide opportunities for development tend to have more satisfied, committed, and engaged employees. With the right culture and environment people are more likely to stay in the healthcare sector even through very tough times.
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