Who Has the Toughest Job in Healthcare?

HR professional speaking with a doctor in a healthcare facility

At a recent HR VP strategy day in Chicago, people leaders from a range of hospital systems and healthcare staffing firms gathered to exchange ideas on some of the most pressing challenges facing their organizations. The overarching issue is HR’s responsibility for helping to build the healthcare organization of the future… no small feat when faced with shrinking margins and widening skills gaps.

Fortunately, the featured presenters brought inspiring strategies to share with the group. Those strategies included:

Building a stronger business through a more strategic HR team 

One of the most active discussions centered on the increasingly vital role of HR business partners. The afternoon’s first speakers outlined how this competitive market has placed talent strategy at the top of the C-suite’s priority lists… a shift that forces HR to raise its game. That led to a discussion about transforming HR from an administrative function – defined by completing tasks – to a strategic function – defined by counseling and upskilling people leaders, including specific definitions of the competencies required to realize this goal. Starkly contrasting before and after examples -- including organizational charts, key performance indicators, and HR reporting dashboards reports -- all helped make this transformative idea tangible for the audience.

Adapting well-being supports to serve more employee needs

Healthier clinicians deliver better care. Yet, as two presenters illustrated, our traditional benefit programs have only addressed a few of the many risks to clinician well-being – and we need to change that. These thought leaders shared several reasons why benefit strategies needed to catch up to clinician’s well-being needs, including:  

  • An influx of younger workers, who have different work expectations and stressors
  • A collective effort to remove the stigma surrounding mental health
  • Financial well-being research that has uncovered trouble spots even for high earners

An SVP from a top healthcare staffing firm outlined her organization’s total rewards strategy for supporting employees’ holistic well-being – defined as mind, body, and spirit.  And an HR executive from a New England health system shared how she completely renovated her organization’s rewards programs to meet three success criteria: Contemporary, Competitive, and Cost-Effective. These generated lively exchanges within the room, especially around shifting HR programs and practices to better meet Millennial and iGen workers’ needs.

Tapping a wider talent pool to fill future roles

The final presenter of the afternoon, from a major health system in the southeast, turned the room’s attention to the urgent issue of staffing frontline roles. Conventional recruitment methods are inadequate for a period marked by doubledigit job growth and record-high turnover among frontline roles such as Patient Care Technicians and Certified Nursing Assistants. Citing a successful program in Dallas, and similar strategies in other major metros across the country, the talent development executive shared specific steps that healthcare organizations can take to boost their access to skills, including:

  • Forging partnerships with local high schools and community colleges that create job-ready graduates
  • Refocusing tuition assistance to develop employees for needed roles, which can dramatically boost retention (up nearly 200% in one example)
  • Enlisting the help of local and national non-profits to provide wrap-around services, such as child care and transit assistance, for employees in underserved communities

An ambitious charter for a critical role

Each of these initiatives could have occupied a full strategy day’s agenda, and each case study presented took years to develop, implement, and measure. Considering that each of these talent concerns can directly impact patient care scores and financial returns, I can appreciate why the session’s emcee called HR executives, “the toughest job in healthcare.”

Fortunately for many hospital systems, there are a growing number of visionary leaders up to the task.

Healthcare professional sitting in his office

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Written by: Jonathan Corke

July 1, 2019

About the Author

Jonathan Corke at Bright Horizons

As Senior Director, Product Marketing, Jonathan has spent the last decade working at the intersection of strategic HR and enterprise technology. He has learned a great deal about converting a talent management strategy into an operating plan through direct conversations with HR leaders and numerous industry surveys. These experiences have sparked a fascination with how leading employers create a better environment for their workforce, and how that environment drives consistent business performance. Jonathan holds an MBA from Clark University.