The healthcare industry has always had to operate under a certain amount of pressure.
Since their work is critical to the health and well-being of so many, healthcare professionals deal with incredible levels of stress you won’t find in other professions. And recent trends indicate that the pressure is only going to increase.
So, what is the role of the human resources department?
From small rural clinics to big city hospitals, human resources in healthcare will also feel the pressure. These professionals face issues like increased demand and staffing shortages, among others. To overcome these hurdles, HR must better understand the how and why behind each one. Read on to learn more about the four biggest challenges faced by HR professionals today, and more importantly, what we can do about them.
Let’s start by discussing HR and healthcare jobs.
1. Staff Shortages
One of the current human resource issues in healthcare involves recruiting.
Back in 2012, only 4.8 percent of hospitals experienced a shortage of nurses of 10 percent or greater. By 2016, that number had jumped to 32.9 percent. And the numbers aren’t expected to go back down soon. By 2022, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that there will be a total of 1.2 million vacancies for nursing positions.
There are a few factors contributing to this problem. First, as members of the baby boomer generation continue to age, their massive numbers create a considerable workload for medical professionals. It’s affecting the problem from the inside as well, as nurses from that generation are beginning to retire and leave the workforce in droves.
Add to that the limited capacities of nursing programs, and there’s just not enough supply to meet the growing demand. This shortage has stacked the deck in favor of the nurses, so employers are now fighting to differentiate themselves and attract prospective employees.
The issue is only exacerbated by the shift toward a millennial workforce, whose priorities are very different from their predecessors. Unlike baby boomers and Gen Xers who primarily sought competitive compensation, millennials value benefits, and advancement opportunities far more than their predecessors. This means that employers looking to hire the next batch of medical professionals need to make changes now to appeal to their young prospects.
Some organizations are already doing this by offering training, development and advancement, and competitive benefits packages, including tuition reimbursement. What’s more, savvy HR representatives in the healthcare industry are reaching out to their marketing teams to help draw attention to their job postings.
Leveraging lead generation tactics and SEO tools, human resources in healthcare is working hard to get the attention of qualified applicants and offer those candidates the type of benefits package and work environment they want.
2. Turnover Rates
In addition to hiring shortages, hospitals and clinics are also struggling to retain the excellent staff members they already have. With so many jobs open to medical professionals, it’s all too easy for staff to leave if they’re unhappy or dissatisfied.
In the past six years, average registered nurse (RN) turnover rates have increased from 11.2 percent to 17.2 percent. In 2016, turnover for bedside RNs ranged anywhere from 8.8 percent to a whopping 37 percent; so while some organizations are dealing with more reasonable numbers, many others are battling much larger deficits. What’s more, the rising national average indicates that it’s only getting worse over time.
These high turnover rates are costing hospitals millions. The cost of replacing a bedside nurse is about as much as a nurse’s average yearly salary and then some. Currently, it costs the average hospital between $5M-$8M each year to make up for turnover.
This is happening for multiple reasons. Like we mentioned above, millennials are looking for more than just a paycheck as they enter the workforce. When they don’t receive what they want from their job—be it more training, career advancement, or a great benefits program—they are confident in leaving.
The biggest problem, though, may be supervisors. As Maureen Swick, CEO of the American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE) put it, “In my experience, people don’t leave their organizations, they leave their managers. That is why nursing leadership is critically important and has a significant impact on retention and recruiting. Effective nurse managers make sure their staff feels supported and mentored.”
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The work of HR in hospitals and clinics can help retain nurses by addressing the changing demands of the workforce, making their organizations more attractive to current employees, and ensuring supervisor-employee relationships are flourishing.
3. Employee Burnout
The issue of employee burnout is tangled up in the issues of staff shortages and turnover.
Burnout is caused in part by staffing shortages, and it has a compounding effect on employee turnover. On top of that, burnout has a negative impact on both patient care and patient safety, as emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion leaves providers (doctors and nurse practitioners included) unable to perform their best.
Recent surveys have found that burnout rates for nurses are as high as 70 percent, while burnout rates for doctors and nurse practitioners can reach as high as 50 percent. These statistics reflect an epidemic, the ramifications of which include poorer patient health. There’s a significant correlation between these burnout rates and increases in patient infection rates. Patients can see the impact of burnout, too; they report lower satisfaction rates in facilities where burnout rates are higher.
Those decreased satisfaction rates could be the result of emotional distance on the part of clinicians. Burnout tends to create a disconnect between providers and patients, with providers developing unfriendly, cynical, and less empathetic attitudes. This disconnect makes them less sympathetic to the needs of patients and leaves everyone involved unhappy about the experience.
There are a few other factors that contribute to burnout as well. Among them is feeling underappreciated, underutilized and as though they lack authority. Frequently, nurses feel as though they could do more, but aren’t being allowed to. Workload also has a lot to do with burnout rates. Nurse-to-patient ratios range anywhere from 1:4 at best to 1:8 at worst, and those nurses with higher patient loads have double the chance of burnout and an increased risk of patient mortality.
It’s a complicated problem with some dire consequences.
HR professionals need to be aware of the effects an overworked and under-supported staff can have on patient care. There is currently a nationwide push for safe staffing legislation, which would mandate hospitals to keep the nurse-to-patient ratios within safer limits.
But in the meantime, HR in healthcare can alleviate some of the burnout with reward and recognition strategies as well as training programs to increase job satisfaction among employees.
4. Training and Development
As mentioned previously, employees in the medical field today are looking to learn new skills and gain access to advancement opportunities.
And providing this kind of employee engagement is a critical job of HR in the healthcare industry.
Many in the nursing profession intend to further their careers by becoming nurse practitioners, doctors, or nursing managers, and more and more often they expect help along that journey from their employers.
Providing the career development employees desire can be costly, but the costs of hiring and training replacements are far higher. Training employees is an investment, and it pays dividends on the other end, both in retained employees and in their increased capability.
Another aspect of properly training employees. With electronic, Internet-ready devices quickly saturating our lives, hospitals and clinics have started to shift toward digital systems for tracking patient charts, managing workflows, educating and entertaining patients, and keeping professionals in touch with those they look after.
While this is all good news, the challenge is that each system comes with a learning curve, and it requires training to be able to use them, let alone see a return on investment. Systems like these require a significant amount of support from management to motivate adoption among the employees that will actually be using it.
HR professionals need to be aware that systems like these are becoming increasingly prolific in the industry. It’s also important to note that functional roles of the human resource department in healthcare may include the implementation of new training within their own organization.
The medical field is a difficult and stressful one, and as the professionals who manage and look out for doctors and nurses, HR in healthcare needs to be partners with practitioners in improving employee engagement, job satisfaction, and in turn, the quality of care their health centers provide to patients.
With the right tools, they can help employees become more effective—and more satisfied—in their work. The medical field is changing. HR healthcare needs to change with it.
Annabelle Smyth is an avid writer who covers all things HR—from leadership to technology. Follow her on Twitter to keep up with the latest industry trends.