Healthcare Staff Turnover: Let’s Talk Solutions
(Edited from Physicians Practice article by Lisa Hedges, 2/14/2022, and Harvard Business Review article by Berry, Awdish & Swenson, 2/11/2022)
Medical practices around the country are experiencing many challenges, including record levels of turnover, unrealistic expectations from patients, and burnout exacerbated by a virus that’s not going away completely.
It’s an unfortunate reality for physicians and healthcare practices, especially when it affects patient outcomes. In response, medical practices have been implementing new technologies and revamping employee benefits to improve work processes and incentivize healthcare workers to stick with the job.
Locumpedia recently covered CompHealth CEO Scott Beck’s thoughts about how hiring locum tenens physicians and other clinicians can help prevent or mitigate the burnout many healthcare professionals are feeling as the two-year milestone of COVID-19 passes. Beck’s list of how locum tenens can be part of the solution, as follows:
1. Focus entirely on patient care.
Locum tenens’ sole purpose is to care for patients; they don’t go to staff meetings or perform administrative tasks.
2. Work when, how, and where you want.
For physicians, finding vacation time can be hard. There are holidays to cover and nights to be worked. Meanwhile, locum physicians can control the days, weeks or months they want to work.
3. Get out of office politics.
Locum clinicians are temporary and don’t have to deal with office politics.
4. Experience working in a different setting.
Many locum physicians find that working in different settings shows them new practices, while allowing them to share their expertise with colleagues.
5. Travel–experience other parts of the country.
Whether it’s rural Wyoming or somewhere more exotic (like Hawaii or Alaska), there are many places to see and things to do.
Factors Driving Burnout and Turnover
Physician burnout was a big problem even before the pandemic, as physicians reported burnout from “excessive workload” and “work inefficiency,” according to a JAMA study conducted in 2018.
In August 2021, Software Advice surveyed healthcare professionals, including 207 family and general practitioners and 50 mental health therapists, to understand their experiences with burnout during the COVID-19 pandemic. The goal was to figure out what strategies work to mitigate the stress of treating patients during this time.
Healthcare providers are still experiencing crippling staffing shortages—including essential nurses, physicians, techs, and management. The mass exodus from healthcare is real and alarming. Thus, making healthcare harder to access, more expensive, and (in some cases) less effective for the public.
Here are Software Advice’s survey findings about burnout among providers:
- 64% of providers surveyed considered leaving their jobs in 2021.
- 25% of respondents have considered a career change during the pandemic, while 39% have considered early retirement.
- 82% of providers said flexible work hours would help alleviate burnout, while 77% said increased paid time off would help significantly.
Unfortunately, only 29% of responding healthcare professionals have been allowed more flexible hours, while only 11% have enjoyed increased paid time-off. This could indicate a larger issue where management and staff don’t compromise, possibly leading to toxic work environments in which employees feel undervalued and start exploring career options.
Physicians and therapists aren’t the only ones suffering from burnout: Software Advice recently ran a survey of medical employees (excluding practice owners, founders, and executives). Among 278 respondents who’d considered leaving their jobs, burnout was a top reason they were exploring other options.
The two key retention methods they cited included increased salary (64%) and remote working options (59%). Outlined below are proven methods to help improve office morale, attract skilled workers, and retain staff.
Not all physician practices have adopted the newest technologies. However, many physicians tested or adopted new measures during the pandemic–including telemedicine systems for remote patient care and scheduling tools.
Investing in wellness and support programs—from free therapy to reimbursement for self-care activities (gym memberships, training, workout equipment, messages, etc.)—also incentivizes staff to take charge of their health and recharge in their off hours.
Recently published in Harvard Business Review, authors Leonard L. Berry, Rana L.A. Awdish, and Stephen J. Swensen identified 5 Ways to Restore Depleted Health Care Workers that were adopted by some of the healthcare organizations the authors analyzed.
1. Make the most of extended teams.
Well-executed, team-based care honors clinicians’ level of training and reduces the time and effort clinicians spend on the administrative tasks they so often find physically and emotionally draining.
2. Be a reliable advocate.
Healthcare workers’ emotional well-being depends on robust support from their employers, including an institutional commitment to protecting their physical safety and economic security.
For example, during the first wave of the pandemic in 2020, Torrance Memorial Medical Center committed to a no-layoffs policy, which persists today. Nearly 700 staff were sent home but received 50% of their pay, plus assurance their jobs would return.
Although temporary furloughs were necessary at Henry Ford Health System, it established a COVID-19 employee relief fund that accepted monetary donations for fellow coworkers in need. Senior leaders donated 10%-25% of their salaries to the fund–and some 92% of furloughed employees were brought back eventually.
3. Lead with kindness.
The Mayo Clinic has invested heavily in selecting and developing leaders who seek to combat depletion with kindness. Leaders are assessed annually with a survey, of all 73,000 staff, on five kindness-fostering behaviors:
- Include: Treat everyone with respect and nurture a culture where all are welcome.
- Inform: Transparently share what you know with the team.
- Inquire: Consistently solicit input from the people you lead.
- Develop: Nurture and support the professional development and aspirations of staff.
- Recognize: Express appreciation and gratitude to employees in an authentic way.
4. Offer access to emotional support resources.
It’s essential for leaders to invest in mitigating the relentless stress of healthcare work. Providence, a healthcare system based in Renton, Washington, with 52 hospitals and more than 1,000 clinics in seven states, has taken steps to mitigate emotional depletion, including:
- Providing curated content for staff on topics like “compassion fatigue” and parenting during a pandemic.
- Instituting a “No One Cares Alone” program, whereby teams of behavioral clinicians, social workers, and chaplains consult with members of high-stress units (eg, ICU, emergency, respiratory therapy) and offer practical suggestions.
- Giving unit leaders direct support to help them understand the importance of creating psychologically safe environments to promote team members’ mental health and well-being.
5. Allow time for what matters.
Rushing clinical interactions with patients has both human and financial costs. When clinicians are hurried, they may miss pertinent information, potentially undermining recommended treatment plans.
Placing value primarily on productivity disempowers patients, and ultimately depletes clinicians by diminishing their joy in work. Simple acts of connection and kindness can change the tenor of care for both parties.
Listen to Employees and Offer Creative Benefits
Now is the time to keep the economy in mind and get creative with your perks. What can you offer that sets your organization apart? Looking to alleviate some of those major pain points for your employees? Consider surveying employees anonymously to learn how they really feel and then taking action/
Making an investment in the form of raises, ultimately, is the top-cited reason for employees’ staying. It doesn’t have to be a huge raise to make a difference: 63% of survey respondents said they received between 1% and 3% of their base salary. Other benefits to consider include childcare stipends, commuter benefits, or even pet insurance—all of which can prove powerful in recruiting and retention.