Workforce Sustainability Takes Top Priority at Northwestern Medicine

Northwestern Medical Staff

Attracting and retaining top talent is crucial for most healthcare organizations as they continue to face labor shortages and employee burnout. Northwestern Medicine recently launched a year-long workforce sustainability key initiative to expand its talent pipeline, enable employees to stay and grow their careers, and enhance its culture of care and flexibility.

Wendy Olson, Vice President, Human Resources, shares four areas of focus and some early findings.

Checking in with new employees. Getting new employees in the door can be time-consuming and costly. With a recent report revealing it can take from 84 days with a cost of $2,167 to fill entry-level healthcare roles to 207 days and $5,699 for more senior roles, it's more important than ever to retain talent.

When Northwestern Medicine noticed a trend of significantly higher turnover among new employees – especially those in entry-level roles – than longer-tenured employees, the HR team launched a series of surveys to check-in with new employees. The surveys ask new employees similar questions at seven, 30, and 90 days with the goal of understanding if the job meets expectations and if employees have the support they need. These touchpoints are helping to stay connected to new employees and generating feedback to continue to enhance the onboarding process.

“Feedback from new employees has enabled us to make some changes that we believe will continue enhance the on-boarding process which will in turn lay a foundation for a successful career with NM.” says Olson. “We know that there is a great deal of information given to new employees and we are working hard to ensure they get the support they need, when and where they need it, as they get oriented to their new roles. Many ask to connect with a leader in their area which we make sure happens soon after requested, ensuring yet another connection for the new hire.”

Care for your caregivers. With stress and burnout rampant within the healthcare industry, Northwestern Medicine is benchmarking how they support their employees. Through focus groups and surveys, they’ve learned that employees value time away from work and they want to be able to take that time guilt free. The 11-hospital system is now working to shift mindsets and enable staff to take guilt-free time off.

One group Northwestern Medicine knows has been taxed over the past several years is working parents. The system has three onsite Bright Horizons child care centers that make it easier for parents to find and afford care for their children. The centers operate in ways that meet the needs of healthcare professionals, opening early and closing late. The centers offer full-time, part-time, and drop-in care that coincides with the most common work schedules. Meals are provided for the students so working caregivers don’t have to worry about this chore, giving them extra time for something else. The centers have proven to be beneficial for both employees and the organization with 89 percent of surveyed parents saying use of the center impacts their ability to concentrate on the job and 92 percent saying it makes them more likely to stay with Northwestern Medicine.

Make it easy for employees to advance their education. Northwestern Medicine recognizes the individual cost of employees advancing their education and recently increased its annual tuition reimbursement benefit to $10,000/year and also introduced direct billing so employees can go back to school with no upfront costs. Through EdAssist, the direct bill program removes the financial barrier that often prevents people from getting their degree, upskilling or reskilling. The program demonstrates Northwestern Medicine’s commitment to invest in employees who want to advance their education and grow their careers. At the same time, the program can build a pipeline of talent as the system works to redesign roles to fill talent gaps.

“Labor shortages within nursing and other critical areas are here to stay. We’re working to figuring out what new roles we can create to support critical frontline roles. This will help us tap into internal talent and create career pathways for employees,” says Olson. “Helping employees move up and around our system is key to filling talent gaps and driving employee retention.”

Experts would agree that Northwestern Medicine is on track with this approach. According to the The Future of Careers in Healthcare report published by Josh Bersin and EdAssist, “retention rates can increase by more than 15 percentage points when people participate in career pathways programs, essentially reversing the massive exodus of people from healthcare over the last two years.”

Simplify administrative tasks. The system is also in the process of upgrading its time and attendance system to enable employees to access it from their mobile phones. The new system will better reflect the technology preferences of all five generations in its workforce, while improving workforce analytics that will give the HR teams a better understanding of future changes the system may need to make to continue to meet the needs of a more modern and flexible workforce.

Want to learn more about investing in a child care center for your employees? Check out Building Your One-of-A-Kind Child Care Center: A Step-by-Step Guide, drawing from Bright Horizons 35+ years supporting top organizations with the creation of successful employer-sponsored centers.

Northwestern Medical Staff