Workforce Management in Healthcare: Today and What's Next

In the wake of the pandemic, the work environment at hospitals and health systems has shifted.

Top priorities for healthcare leaders include workforce management, as well as staff recruiting, retention and engagement.

At the Becker's Hospital Review's 7th Annual Health IT + Digital Health + RCM Annual Meeting, Ward Svarvari, vice president and healthcare relationship executive at CommerceHealthcare®, facilitated an executive roundtable discussion about the current workforce landscape. Svarvari was joined by Lisa Mullins, healthcare relationship manager at CommerceHealthcare®, and Kevin Scott, vice president of healthcare finance at CommerceHealthcare®.

The panel discussion yielded four key takeaways:

1. Shared services like IT, HR and revenue cycle are redefining their service-level agreements. Current budgetary constraints at healthcare organizations have affected everyone's financials. While teams try to be disciplined about prioritizing their work, it can be difficult. "You can't expect maximalist outcomes with minimalist means," a roundtable participant said. "If we don't see a return in service mix volumes to pre-pandemic levels, we will have to help people understand that we need to operate under a different service level agreement."

Good internal communication is essential for these conversations, but it's impossible to create communication channels overnight. Fortunately, the pandemic has caused many teams to work together more effectively. "During the COVID-19 shutdown, we saw the level of communication across organizations improve," Svarvari said. "If we can keep that up, it will be easier to navigate issues together."

2. With remote work, maintaining the desired culture poses a challenge. In certain departments within many organizations, remote employees have worked together for many years, making it fairly easy for them to maintain team culture. In other areas that were traditionally onsite, the switch to remote work and challenges such as increased turnover have made the desired culture more difficult.

To reinforce the culture and maintain morale, one participant has started "walk and talks" with her remote employees. "Prior to the pandemic, we were a very collaborative team of analysts," she said. "During the lockdown, we started using open channels on Microsoft Teams® to answer questions, but it's not the same as hearing conversations in the office. Now I hold 15-minute walk and talks with team members. These are one-on-one Facetime® meetings where I encourage people to walk outside or get away from their desks. It has helped the team feel connected."

3. Out of necessity, organizations are addressing the "always on" nature of remote work. When employees work from home, lines blur between work time and personal time. "There's no psychological 'off switch' when you work remotely," Svarvari said. Some healthcare organizations are addressing this issue head-on by limiting which meetings employees are required to attend, prohibiting meetings during lunch time and discouraging team members from dialing in to meetings on days off from work.

4. To address labor shortages, hospitals and health systems are adopting multiple strategies. Several participants have started to recruit remote workers from distant states. To reduce labor costs, most organizations pay local market rates based on where remote workers are located. However, in some areas, unions can make it difficult to deploy retention strategies like employee bonuses or higher wage rates based on geography. One participant noted that her organization has started daily rounding with onsite workers to monitor employee sentiment. "We're trying to be more creative about retaining people, so many of our leaders round with a popcorn cart or gelato bar," she said.

CommerceHealthcare® solutions are provided by Commerce Bank.

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