8 Healthcare Staff Scheduling Issues & How to Solve Them

Last Updated on November 27, 2023

Top 8 Healthcare Staff Scheduling Issues (and How to Solve Them)

Employee turnover in healthcare continues to be a challenge for employers. Most of the causes are well known, and frequently discussed — for instance, wages, understaffing, and the burnout that comes from overwork. Yet another factor in this ongoing issue — healthcare staff scheduling — could also offer an immediate way to deal with turnover that helps resolve some other concerns, as well.

Especially in areas with severe labor shortages, even a small boost in retention could offer a major competitive advantage. With that in mind, here’s a rundown of some of the key scheduling issues facing employers today, and some tips to get around them.

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Why Healthcare Staff Scheduling Matters More than Ever

It’s not difficult to understand why healthcare staff scheduling helps leads to issues such as turnover. Especially since Covid-19 struck, many nurses and clinicians work more hours than before. Years later, many facilities remain understaffed, or unable to find the workers they need. As a result, leaders have little choice but to require staff to work more shifts — and longer ones, too.

Many healthcare professionals now respond to these changes by leaving full-time work behind altogether. A 2022 survey from Oliver Wyman found an incredible 1400% shift “in the number of nurses moving to gig models.” And they reason they give? Contingency work like traveling and per diem shifts lets them control their schedules.

This runs somewhat contrary to popular belief that more nurses are taking travel or contract jobs because they pay more. It appears that many workers who make this choice do so to achieve a better work and life balance. It simply gives them more flexibility, freedom and quality of life than traditional healthcare staff scheduling.

Top 8 Healthcare Staff Scheduling Issues

So, how can employers mitigate scheduling issues, and improve scheduling in a way that boosts retention, engagement and even patient outcomes? Here are eight key healthcare staff scheduling challenges — and eight ways to take action.

#1: High Turnover

A recent report showed that turnover for RNs continues to rise even after the worst of the pandemic has passed. Of course, healthcare facilities that experience high rates of turnover have an even harder time with staff scheduling. Effective short-term as well as long-term planning becomes not just difficult but next to impossible.  

What can employers do? While completely eliminating turnover may not be possible, there are ways to fight it, like working to improve engagement, morale and the culture of the workplace. The use of contingency workers can also help ensure that full-time employees get the sick days and vacation time they need and deserve.

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#2: Lack of Available Workers (or the Budget to Hire Them)

One of the key challenges of a high turnover rate is replacing the workers who leave. Especially for facilities operating in remote areas, skilled nurses and other clinicians are often difficult to source. And organizations operating in urban areas simply may not have the budget to pay the higher wages workers now demand.

What can employers do? How can employers hire workers that aren’t available, or they can’t afford? Employee management software and third-party workforce solutions providers can help by optimizing resource allocation and forecasting to better determine when and where workers are needed, helping employers plan ahead. And healthcare staffing partners can help source and hire those workers from a much larger pool of talent.

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#3: Healthcare Staff Absenteeism

When employees are burned out, overworked or unhappy, they’re more likely to call in sick or fail to show up. And as we enter the flu season — and a possible resurgence of Covid-19 and RSV — absenteeism is only likely to surge.

What can employers do? Recruitment providers can help solve this problem with access to per diem and other contingency workers who can quickly step in, even at the last minute. And organizations that may balk at the cost of this service can work with a workforce management solutions provider to free up room in their budget by optimizing workflows and making other key improvements.

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#4: Overtime and Overscheduling Healthcare Staff

Overscheduling — or making staff work back-to-back shifts with little downtime — is a common problem in understaffed facilities. Even workers who love the chance to earn more by working overtime eventually burn out. Giving people time between shifts helps ensure their well-being and retention.

What can employers do? It’s hard to avoid this issue in the face of persistent understaffing and absenteeism. As with those challenges, though, proper workforce management and the use of contingency staff can help reduce the need for overscheduling.

> Take action with our review of the most effective healthcare contingency planning strategies

#5: Lack of Adequate Time Off

Healthcare facilities that struggle to provide staff with space between shifts can rarely offer them proper vacation time in their schedule. Yet failing to allow for vacations, sick time or other personal needs (like caring for sick family members) often leads to burnout or turnover. It can also give a facility a poor reputation, hurting efforts to recruit new workers in the future.

What can employers do? With the help of a healthcare managed service provider (MSP), employers can use technology to monitor schedules and receive alerts if a worker is overdue for vacation. In addition, some MSPs also offer a network of contingency workers ready to step in and fill in for that worker, too. And it’s all done in a way that best meets an organization’s budgetary needs.

> Take action by checking out healthcare MSP solutions

#6: Failure to Understand Workers’ Needs and Preferences

Healthcare workers know they must be flexible and pick up shifts they don’t always want. However, smart leaders balance those expectations with an effort to truly meet their preferences. Working to understand each staff member’s needs can provide the means to keep them happy and productive. Unfortunately, this is rarely done — particularly in busy clinical settings.

What can employers do? What shifts does each individual prefer to work — day, night of weekends? Who wants overtime, and who doesn’t? Who has small children or elderly parents to care for at home? Getting the answers to these questions — preferably during the hiring process — and then storing them in a database that’s easy to access can help employers create healthcare staff schedules that keep everyone happy.

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#7: Lack of Transparency

The more healthcare staff can see the schedule ahead of time, the more comfortable they’ll be with it. They’ll also have the chance to make requests early enough to suit their needs, and to help avoid missing shifts. Transparency also enables split shifts and shift-swapping, both of which can help keep morale high.

What can employers do? Leaders can offer transparency with proactive scheduling — the more in advance, the better. Next, they should work to make sure workers can access those schedules in real time via an online worker portal or app.

> Take action by seeing how healthcare MSP helps drive efficiency in scheduling

#8: Lack of a Clear Strategy

Too often, healthcare staff scheduling is an ill-informed, ad hoc affair. Employers who establish a consistent system can more readily meet the needs of workers and keep them engaged and satisfied. Tweaks are always necessary, of course. But a clear strategy that minimizes the confusion and dissatisfaction of last-minute scheduling can keep them to a minimum.

What can employers do? Leaders should work to include long-term scheduling into their larger workforce strategy. And the cost of taking this step will be justified by benefits like reduced turnover, burnout and even medical errors. By partnering with a strategic workforce consultant, employers can enjoy these benefits at minimal expense.

> Take action by requesting a workforce management consultation from CareerStaff Unlimited

Better Meet Your Healthcare Staff Scheduling Needs with CareerStaff

At CareerStaff, we work to help healthcare employers overcome today’s most urgent labor issues, including staff scheduling. From nationwide clinical staffing to MSP services, our Joint Commission-Certified solutions are customized to help you meet your healthcare staff scheduling needs, and much more. Contact us today to get started or learn more about our services!

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