Flexibility is the New Currency: Redefining the Economics of Workforce Management

Healthcare leaders are acutely aware of the financial impacts of elevated labor expenses, largely driven by contingent labor use during and after the pandemic.

The tumult over the past three years has only added to the cost of already brewing workforce challenges. The problems aren’t new, but the solutions and strategies to solve them must be re-examined. With turnover and vacancy rates on the rise, leaders must pivot to meet the demands of today’s workforce in order to stabilize core staff and regain control of labor costs. 

At Becker's Hospital Review's 13th Annual Meeting, in an executive roundtable sponsored by Prolucent Health, Prolucent CEO Bruce Springer, Chief Nurse Executive Carol Bradley, and Chief Growth Officer Joe Cabral led a discussion about innovative ways to tackle today's healthcare staffing challenges.

Four key takeaways were:

  1. The pandemic was hard on the healthcare workforce and recruiting and retention efforts — but these were both already a challenge. The pandemic escalated long-existing staffing shortages across the delivery system, resulting in even greater employee turnover and vacancy levels.  But it finally spurred leaders to reevaluate the efficacy of existing solutions for attracting and engaging candidates. For example, career site search functions are rudimentary and do not allow job seekers to drill down to find what they’re looking for on employer career sites. Most are out of step with modern consumer experiences. "If you're a critical care nurse looking for a 12-hour night shift in a Magnet hospital in southern California, the job filters should be able to curate based on those specific characteristics and easily zero in on the specific jobs that fit those criteria," Carol Bradley said.
  2. It is what consumers have come to expect in other industries, and we have solutions that deliver on those expectations in healthcare recruitment.” Successful job searches also require well-written job postings that include the job features that candidates care about. 

  1. Workers want flexibility — and healthcare organizations need to provide it. "Flexibility is the new currency," Joe Cabral said. "It's not just about staffing schedules, but it really is about your entire employment proposition; job structure, compensation, employee development, orientation, and onboarding, as well as benefit offerings tailored to different employee populations."
  2. It is common that innovations by healthcare organizations are frequently constrained by inflexible regulations, professional licensing bodies, rigid credentialing organizations, and even bargaining agreements. Leaders need to advocate for flexibility within systems that traditionally govern standards across healthcare. Organizations can be proactive in solving their own workforce challenges through pipeline investments and career pathways for current employees.   

  1. Employed nurses are also well aware of the differences in pay, flexibility, and other benefits that they receive compared to their traveler colleagues. Some of the pushback to flexibility is from employees who want to know how committed their temporary colleagues are and what the organization is doing to convert these individuals into core staff. Employees want the benefit of stable employment along with more flexibility.  They understand the benefits of loyalty and commitment to the culture of an organization.  “Who are we going to have next to us that's going to be a part of our team and not just here for the short term?" one attendee said. Incorporating flexible workforce strategies, as stressed by Carol Bradley, must delicately balance the operational demands without disregarding the needs of core staff.
  1. Rethink what leadership looks like for today's workplace. A hospital president from the Southwest said his region becomes filled with snowbirds every winter, making it difficult to staff seasonally without using agencies. His CNO was able to avoid using agencies and other expensive staffing solutions by supporting a model of visible and active leadership. Leader visibility in the clinical environment was something that really inspired people. This type of active leadership, along with creative strategies and modern technology, is needed to successfully build, maintain, and manage today’s workforce for a better future.

Flexibility has taken on new importance and a broader definition as the post-COVID healthcare workforce transformation continues. The demand for flexibility surrounds us in healthcare — how we attract, recruit, and develop professional careers, the nature of the jobs, work hours, pay practices and benefits, and how we develop and deploy employee-centric policy and technology. There is no single solution that will fix it all.  

However, to best meet the needs of your organization as well as your staff, embracing flexibility has become essential and is a significant first step. “Technology needs to continue to evolve to meet the needs of hospital systems,” Bruce Springer said. “Prolucent has built a platform that helps systems gain visibility into their entire flexible labor, both internal and external, and give them back control of their labor costs.”

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