5 Ways to optimize open shift management


Despite what many professionals working in provider organizations may have experienced, filling open shifts does not need to be a chaotic and challenging process.

A tremendous amount of waste, in both time and dollars, is tied to traditional processes of filling open shifts. The emotional response and inefficiency of a last-minute process that pits units against one another to compete for resources is a frustrating practice that increases labor costs and discourages staff.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s possible for an organization to work in a coordinated effort to meet patient demand while supporting staff to proactively pick up shifts. To reach this ideal state, organizations should implement the following five criteria to successfully fill open shifts in a fair, cost-effective, and standardized manner.

Embrace an enterprise staffing mentality
Staffing needs for an organization are most efficiently tackled at the enterprise level. An effective open shift program should be administered centrally, with staff picking up shifts based on forecasted need for areas in which they are competent to work, and not just a specific unit. When done in this manner, staff are assigned the day of the shift to the area of greatest need. A centrally administered program that accounts for needs at the enterprise level gives managers a degree of separation from recruitment, resulting in time back to focus on staff development and clinical responsibilities.

Encourage proactive behavior to confirm staffing well in advance
Avantas research has found that an effective open shift program rewards staff for picking up shifts further in advance, creating a disincentive to wait until the last minute hoping the amount of pay might increase. By promoting the desired behaviors, more shifts are picked up sooner, solidifying staffing plans further in advance.

Reward staff in a fair and consistent manner
The lack of fairness (or perceived lack of fairness) in open shift programs can have a negative impact on both adoption of the program as well as morale in general. Many effective open shift programs are structured to reward seniority or staff who are capable of working on a greater number of departments, but the protocols for this structure should be well communicated and automated whenever possible to discourage any semblance of favouritism.

Provide real-time, continual awareness and promotion of needs across the organization
Staffing needs change as volume projections rise and fall and more shifts become available or are picked up. Incentives and available shifts should fluctuate in real-time based on the very latest data relative to projected volumes and available staff. Qualified staff members should have an accurate view of all available shifts and incentives at any given instance in time to be able to plan their lives around their commitments to providing care.

Offer regulated and budgeted use of incentive dollars
Managers should resist offering one-off bonuses or special enticements, such as gift cards tucked away in their desk drawer. Incentives should be aligned with budgeted bonus targets and offered through an automated and emotionally agnostic manner. Meaning, the dollar amount of incentives should not be set by the manager working to fill the shift. Instead, the incentive amount should align with a budget that corresponds to the severity of the need, with the highest incentive offered in advance, ideally two weeks to 30 days before the shift.

Offering an effective, fair and streamlined open shift management process empowers staff to pick up shifts and build their schedule as it fits into their life, which is something that many appreciate in their never-ending quest for work-life balance. With shifts posting automatically according to predicted patient demand, managers also benefit by spending that renewed time on other responsibilities, while still being able to monitor shift selections and employee commitments.

Open shift is just one method of scheduling contingency resources, but it can be incredibly effective when standardized, automated, and streamlined for all staff. The design of an open shift management program takes careful consideration, but is typically a high payoff initiative as long as organizational alignment is strong and communication is defined.

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