This week is Healthcare HR Week, and I can’t think of a more pivotal year to recognize healthcare HR professionals, as well as frontline workers themselves, than 2022.
Having weathered over 2 years of the COVID-19 pandemic, burnout in healthcare is at all-time highs, and providers still find themselves short-staffed and under resourced despite the continued decline in new coronavirus cases and serious symptoms.
Healthcare has always been an industry unto itself, with a workforce comprised mostly of those who are uniquely called to put others before themselves. Unfortunately, however, the demands of the past few years have taken unfair advantage of the industry’s “we’re in this for the greater good” mindset.
The pandemic has hit especially close to home for me—my wife is a nurse herself, and my daughter is soon to become one. So while nursing, specifically, is personal to me, and I’ve witnessed firsthand the pressure and exhaustion COVID-19 has put on nurses, the profession also provides the perfect example of the current healthcare HR landscape.
Unfortunately, the outlook is bleak.
Burnout Rates at All-time High
Right now, nurses are burning out at record rates. This is alarming when you consider that nurses are the glue that connects doctors, surgeons, radiologists, and patients. They are the first face you see when you need medical assistance, and the last one you see before you check out.
For people whose life’s calling is to facilitate your medical experience from start to finish and who already knew their lives would include an atypical work schedule and long hours, it takes truly overwhelming circumstances to burn out. Yet, that is exactly where we find ourselves. What’s worse? Most of this new burnout can be directly linked to simple underappreciation.
While we certainly take them for granted, medical professionals are by no means exempt from the need to be appreciated and rewarded from time to time for their hard work. The going thinking seems to be, “they are in healthcare, so they are already kind and empathetic and don’t need to be appreciated.”
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
In reality, healthcare professionals perform duties with higher stakes than most of us could dream of. Especially now, these are the folks that should be thought of first when it comes to appreciation. But hospitals and other providers still continue to scratch their heads wondering why nurses, doctors, and support staff are leaving at record rates.
Clearly, whatever employee engagement or recognition efforts are in place now aren’t working. This much is obvious. But how can management adapt to the times and shift their business models to prepare for the future?
Most successful managers start with an internal audit. They ask themselves what is broken? What needs to be fixed? What is our current engagement or recognition strategy, and what would a more effective one look like?
Then, they collect feedback from employees. What are the behaviors they feel should be rewarded? How should they be rewarded? What are the organization’s core values, and how well do they know them? After all, employees are any organization’s greatest resource, and their feedback comes free of charge.
Next, anyone in or close to the healthcare industry can tell you hospitals and providers always seem to be cost-cutting. So naturally, it might seem to many healthcare management teams that investing in employee engagement and recognition is an unnecessary expense. But to them, I’d ask how much is the current burnout and turnover environment costing you? How long can you sustain this trend?
Improving Engagement is a Win-Win
Thankfully, when it comes to investing in employee engagement, a little now saves a lot more down the road. Recent data shows that replacing physicians can cost providers up to $1 million per role, and replacing nurses can cost between $3.6 million and $6.5 million per year at current turnover rates. Not only that, but organizations with more engaged employees report up to 22 percent higher productivity. In healthcare, this means better health outcomes for patients and lower costs for providers—a win-win.
Providers can no longer take for granted their workforce coming to work out of the goodness of their hearts. These individuals, dedicated as they may be, can’t be beat up by the job forever and continue coming back. Eventually this model catches up with every business and every employee, and everyone—hospitals, workers, and patients—loses.
So this week, healthcare managers and HR teams should take the time to consider the stakes of the new world we live in and how current engagement and retention strategies are working out. It is my hope that most uncover the urgency of showing effective and meaningful appreciation to medical professionals who need it now more than ever.