Across the country, the healthcare industry is still facing a severe shortage of nurses and other clinical workers — a trend that shows no signs of stopping. To help providers cope with this challenge, here’s a look at how to avoid the healthcare staffing shortage crisis — or at least, its worst effects — with a few actionable workforce strategies.
How to Avoid the Healthcare Staffing Shortage Crisis: 4 Strategies for Success
“The provider industry is caught in the midst of a widespread labor crunch that, according to recent data, shows no sign of slowing down in the months and years to come,” as a recent report from Fierce Healthcare explains.
“At best, the shortage of workers has led to incremental increases in labor expenses and warnings to investors that margins may run a bit tighter in the coming quarters,” the report adds. “At worst, understaffed units, rampant overtime and burnout are leading a growing number of nurses and other healthcare workers to retire or transition to another industry.”
These are serious challenges. But how can healthcare leaders offset them at a time when margins have rarely been tighter? While the right path forward will differ for every organization, these four strategies can serve as a solid starting point for beating the crisis and emerging stronger on the other side.
Staffing Strategy #1: Focus on Pay & Bonuses
To boost retention and better attract new workers, some providers are offering higher salaries, signing bonuses and other financial incentives. In Washington State, as the Fierce report points out, Providence Health & Services announced that it would spend at least $220 million in pay adjustments and bonuses “in an effort to retain its more than 120,000 employees and fill its roughly 17,000 job openings.”
There’s little doubt that this strategy can make an impact. Too often, nurses and other clinicians are told that they’re heroes, but receive little more than a cake or a plaque for that honor. And, while that recognition is certainly important, many workers are starting to see these efforts as a means to avoid raising their pay — and many are also actively courted by employers willing to open their wallets accordingly.
> Any alternatives? When asking how to avoid the healthcare staffing shortage crisis, offering more pay for nurses and other in-demand workers seems like a no-brainer. But for some providers operating under tight margins, it simply may not be an option.
Instead of committing to long-term pay increases, those organizations may want to turn to contingency staffing partners like travel nursing providers to secure high-skilled workers for specified contracts. This doesn’t just provide employers with the workers they need, right now, but also offers the opportunity to adjust their strategy a few months down the road.
Staffing Strategy #2: Offer Better Benefits
Building out a better benefits plan is another traditional alternative to offering higher salaries or signing bonuses. A lucrative 401(k), flexible scheduling options, or a significant amount of guaranteed time off all have real value to workers, and could make the difference in keeping them on staff at a time when they may be considering other career options.
In addition, offering workers a more attractive suite of benefits can impose less of a financial hit on employers than higher salaries or signing bonuses. Some of these benefits can be contracted for at scale, for a lower relative price. And some of them — like flexible scheduling, one of the more frequent employee demands — could be gained my making some relatively simple administrative adjustments.
> Any alternatives? Though perhaps not as onerous as higher salaries, offering attractive benefits could still be cost prohibitive for many healthcare organizations. One effective alternate solution could be supplementing full-time staff with contracted workers for set periods of time, with the help of a healthcare staffing service.
With CareerStaff, for instance, all workers already receive a rich variety of benefits, including full health and life insurance, a great 401(k), stipends for travelers, and much more. It’s a great way to supplement staff capacity with workers who are already thrilled with the benefits they receive, without having to build out those plans on an in-hose basis.
Staffing Strategy #3: Build a Better Culture
Of course, throwing money at the healthcare staffing shortage crisis could just be a temporary fix — a band-aid that stops the bleeding but does little to prepare organizations for the larger implications of the workforce situation. And for many healthcare professionals who may frustrated with their working conditions, a few dollars extra pay may not be incentive enough to stay on board.
To this end, improving those day-to-day conditions can go far toward helping boost staff retention. From offering a dedicated break space that’s truly comfortable to adopting a more compassionate scheduling system, many of those challenges are simple and relatively inexpensive to implement. And if you’re not sure where to begin, ask your workers!
> Don’t forget: If your organization does decide to invest in cultural improvements like mental health programs or other forms of employee assistance, make sure that workers know about it! Too often, these programs are underutilized simply because employees don’t know they exist.
“Most employers could be doing more to raise awareness of these offerings, thereby improving the wellness of their workforce and receiving the maximum return out of their benefits investments,” as one expert explained in the Fierce report.
Staffing Strategy #4: Invest in a Long-Term Workforce Strategy
While the above solutions can certainly help answer the question of how to avoid the healthcare staffing shortage crisis, leaders who choose to optimize their larger workforce management strategy will be better positioned to not just survive but thrive in the years to come.
And that means starting with a full analysis of what’s working, and what isn’t, and what tools can be used to improve common workforce trouble spots like invoicing or temp sourcing. By putting in place a truly long-term, forward-thinking strategy that addresses — and seeks to streamline — every aspect of the workforce management process, employers can achieve critical efficiencies that help free room in the budget, as well as make life easier for their full-time staff.
> The CareerStaff solution: As a company known for the high quality of its corporate culture, we at CareerStaff knows a thing or two about building a better workplace. With decades of collective experience in clinical workforce management, we’ve got the deep bench of insights, actionable data and technological tools that employers need to best meet the current workforce crisis.
How to Avoid the Healthcare Staffing Shortage Crisis: Partner with CareerStaff Today!
Joint Commission Certified and an official Great Place to Work®, CareerStaff is the nation’s top choice for healthcare workforce management solutions for good reason. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you achieve your workforce management and patient care goals, today and well into the future.