Because the current healthcare climate is heavily focused on meeting strict quality guidelines from the feds and payors while providing top-notch care, employee retention in health care is more critical than ever. But it’s also getting more challenging to keep workers from jumping ship.
Retention is difficult in the healthcare industry for several reasons – one of the most significant being employee burnout.
Whether it’s your nursing team, your doctors or your front-end staff, many healthcare workers are in danger of becoming disengaged. The high-pressure atmosphere that comes with working in health care can quickly drain even the most dedicated worker’s spirit and morale, causing your best people to leave your organization.
Stories and data abound about how clinical staff at all levels are feeling frazzled and overworked at hospitals, physician practices, clinics and other healthcare organizations.
Between high patient loads with little time to provide personalized care, dealing with data entry in electronic health records (EHR) systems and long, task-filled shifts, many doctors and nurses are not only considering leaving their current jobs – they’re thinking of abandoning their career choice entirely.
Front-desk and registration positions aren’t much better. Over time, these jobs have evolved from simply answering phones and scheduling patients to more complex duties, including insurance verification and fielding complicated coverage questions.
Leaders for Today, a healthcare staffing firm, surveyed thousands of hospital employees, including doctors, nurses and administrators, to ask them about their employment plans. Of those who responded, close to 69% planned to leave their current hospital within five years – and 37% wanted to leave their current position within two years.
Not surprisingly, this creates high turnover in hospitals. Over half of survey respondents worked for at least five different hospitals in their entire career. Only 4% worked for one hospital during their entire career.
A recent analysis by nurse staffing firm NSI Nursing Solutions shows just how bad turnover is for many clinical positions: Overall hospital turnover was 19.1% in 2018, which is an increase over 2017’s percentage of 18.2%.
Turnover is a significant contributor to high burnout rates in health care. When staffing levels aren’t consistent, those left standing must shoulder a heavier burden. Patients must still be treated, and insurance claims must still be processed, so employees take on heavier workloads to keep things running, taking fewer breaks each shift.
This causes workers to feel disengaged. In fact, when looking at employee engagement across a variety of occupations, the healthcare industry ranks at the bottom. Consulting firm Quantum Workplace found that only about 57% of healthcare workers were engaged with their jobs.
Even more discouraging was the finding that 13% of healthcare employees were either actively disengaged or openly hostile while working each day.
Disengaged, burned-out clinicians have significant negative impacts on healthcare organizations and their bottom line. Not only can burnout compromise the quality of patient care (44% of nurses fear that patient care will suffer because they’re tired, according to a survey from Kronos Inc.), it can also increase healthcare costs.
According to a recent article in NPR, doctor burnout adds around $4.6 billion a year to the cost of health care in the U.S. This figure represents how much it costs hospitals to replace doctors who quit – and how much income they lose while their positions are vacant.
What’s harder to swallow is that this a conservative estimate: It only takes lost hours and turnover into account without considering any other factors related to physician burnout that may increase a hospital’s costs, including expensive settlements due to malpractice lawsuits or issues with quality of care that could lower reimbursement.
That means the actual costs of burnout and turnover could be even more significant for healthcare organizations. So it’s essential to get a handle on the problem and improve employee retention.
Employee retention in health care tactics
In many ways, stress is the nature of the beast in health care, so there will always be some turnover with certain positions. But in an industry where staff can often make or break patients’ outcomes and experience (which hospitals must keep tabs on as part of new reimbursement requirements), it’s key to boost your employee retention rates to keep the best and brightest from burning out and quitting.
With that in mind, what can healthcare organizations do to retain their staff, keep workers engaged and prevent burnout? While there’s no foolproof solution, there are several strategies organizations can try. Here are four that have worked well for your peers:
- Recognize staffers’ achievements. Healthcare employees want to feel that their work is valued. This may be especially important for those on the front lines delivering care to patients each day. Recognition makes workers feel like they’re an essential part of the team. Without recognition, employees may perceive themselves as merely cogs in a machine, not realizing how much their efforts matter to the higher-ups. It can be harder to recognize healthcare employees in a formal setting because the nature of their work doesn’t always lend itself to employee appreciation celebrations. But there are other ways to give employees kudos. Send out companywide emails or put up flyers in hospital break rooms so workers can tell their efforts are noticed. Technology can be leveraged to make this easier, as well. Vendors offer various software solutions that help managers and executives easily recognize healthcare workers for a job well done.
- Give workers a purpose. To many workers, it matters whether they’re working for an organization that allows them to make their voices heard – and make a difference. Health care is no exception. Ensuring that employees feel valued is important, but forward-thinking organizations that want to keep their people on board will take the next step and help workers see exactly how their efforts are helping those around them, while allowing them to offer suggestions for improvement. Here, it’s essential to be transparent about your organization’s goals and mission. Many employees (especially millennials) won’t want to stick around at a hospital or practice that doesn’t prioritize the same values that they do. It’s also important to ask for employee feedback and ideas on everything from improving patient care to boosting community outreach. This makes them feel more engaged in their work and more invested in helping your organization accomplish key objectives.
- Provide opportunities for employees to relax. Doctors, nurses and other clinical staff need an outlet for all the stress that comes with dealing with patients’ chronic and acute conditions every day. There are many different solutions healthcare organizations can try to alleviate this pressure, depending on their budgets and resources. Some hospitals have traded in their traditional break rooms for “renewal rooms,” allowing nurses to take whatever short breaks they can in a more tranquil environment on site. Others have brought in instructors to teach staffers meditation techniques they can practice during the workday or on their breaks. Animal therapy, typically reserved for patients, has also helped staffers feel less overwhelmed. Even offering healthier food alternatives in cafeterias can help reduce stress – since the salty snacks, sweet treats and processed foods clinicians often grab between patients can cause their energy to crash quickly, along with their moods.
- Create a positive culture in your organization. Burnout and turnover can skyrocket if healthcare employees fear they’ll be blamed or punished for any mistakes that are made. There are numerous benefits to fostering an environment at your organization where employees feel comfortable communicating openly with their peers and managers about any issues they notice. Instead of seeing errors as reasons to punish workers, viewing them as learning opportunities can improve patient safety and enhance care delivery. Better communication helps managers provide workers with constructive feedback they can use to do their jobs better, and employees are more likely to be receptive to feedback that’s not given to shame them for their mistakes. Above all, a positive culture helps employees work better as a team and feel more connected with each other. This can improve their attitude toward coming to work each day – making them want to stick around longer.