MIND THE GAP
There’s an innovation gap in healthcare.
We have much to celebrate, from the wonders of mRNA technology reaching global scale to the digital transformation of healthcare delivery that has opened up access and blazed through long-entrenched regulatory and cultural obstacles at breakneck speed.
Ask frontline caregivers about what (if any) innovations have fundamentally improved their work experience, and you're likely to elicit less than enthusiastic or optimistic reactions.
Despite the technological breakthroughs and record levels of investment, what has plagued healthcare workers, especially those on the frontline, persists — the strain, the stress, the lack of feeling cared for themselves, and the lack of autonomy. For many, the challenges of the past few years have exacerbated these experiences.
Today, 55% of healthcare frontline workers report burnout, with the highest rate (69%) among the youngest staff. Hospitals and health systems struggle to sustain high-quality patient care when so many of their own are suffering to this degree.
What might we do to bring the spirit of healthcare innovation directly to these frontline employees?
The answer lies in seeing your people holistically and finding ways to meet their needs inside and outside of work.
OUR CAREGIVERS NEED CARE
Just look at the challenges facing the healthcare workforce:
- Healthcare workers are experiencing incredible emotional, physical, and professional stress due to increasing workloads.
- Aging populations steadily increase the demand for healthcare services on a system already under strain.
- The pool of credentialed talent available doesn’t meet today’s need — and the shortfall will worsen in coming years if we stay on this trajectory.
- The median age of registered nurses in the U.S. is 52, demonstrating how out of sync healthcare is with the rest of the labor force, where millennials are now the dominant generation.
Yet examine the agendas of the leading health innovation conferences or the far-flung predictions about healthcare’s future, and you will find precious little that's focused on caring for today's caregivers.
Nurses in particular, have found their voice on these matters. Many decry what they characterize as a multigenerational legacy of devaluing nursing care in the U.S.
Nurses have also “learned what they’re worth.” They’ve discovered their substantial market and pricing power, especially as they flock to travel nursing agencies when nursing demand spikes, as it has during the pandemic.
DISRUPTING THE CYCLE OF STRAIN
Nursing provides an illustrative case study of frontline workers generally. Escalating workloads and nurse-to-patient ratios, which many feel put patient care at risk, drove an exodus from staff nursing positions.
You can’t hire your way out of this bind. That much is clear. Nor can any hospital remove the demanding nature of nursing.
However, some actions interrupt the cycle of strain. For instance, innovating care delivery models — such as allowing more flexibility in scheduling — makes a difference.
Two other drivers deserve attention — one outside of work and one inside:
- Recognize home lives outside of work: Frontline caregivers and administrative and support staff with caregiving responsibilities at home — for young children, aging parents, or both — need direct support. Estimates across frontline workers vary, but only about 10% of the healthcare workforce takes advantage of employer-sponsored child care. Finding ways to provide personalized supports that meet the needs of caregivers is one way to make this workforce more resilient while also strengthening the bonds with your hospital or facility.
- Strengthen careers inside of work: Supporting career development and progression has to become a priority for forward-thinking healthcare administrators. Find creative ways to establish career pathways — such as supporting those in non-clinical or non-credentialed roles to develop the skills and earn the credentials to enter direct patient care. Doing so addresses today’s retention problems and serves to lessen the longer-term labor shortfall in healthcare.
By adapting to the realities of the job, HR leaders can make positive gains toward retaining healthcare workers. For example, 17% of nurses called increased flexibility among the strongest drivers that made them more likely to stay in their job.
BUSINESS IS PERSONAL(IZED)
The days of transactional relationships — of employing, and impersonally replacing credentialed professionals — have passed. Today, successful organizations are learning to appreciate the fullness of the people who carry the credentials.
It’s time to recognize your healthcare frontline as the real people they are — moms and dads, daughters and sons, singles and partners who span five generations, all with individual hopes and aspirations and a huge range of challenges, both professionally and personally.
With this recognition, you’ll undoubtedly discover opportunities to demonstrate concern and care for their unique needs inside and outside of work.
IT’S TIME TO INNOVATE EMPLOYEE CARE
No one would argue that innovations in healthcare delivery such as bringing scientific breakthroughs into patient care to improve outcomes are just “nice to have” — striving for such gains is the industry's implicit mandate.
It’s past time that we apply that mandate explicitly to the work experience of our healthcare employees, especially our frontline workers. Doing so will close the innovation gap and the growing gap between your organization and your employees. After all, business strategy is only as good as the execution of your talent strategy. Across hospitals and health systems, it’s the talent strategy that’s desperate for fresh thinking.