The Great Resignation is a harsh reality in the healthcare industry, with one in five healthcare workers having left their jobs during the pandemic. However, the picture is not quite as desperate as it sounds. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals an overall drop of just 2.7% in healthcare employment since the start of the pandemic. So, most workers aren’t leaving the industry entirely — they’re just looking for a better place to work.
In this new post-pandemic reality, how can healthcare organizations attract and retain workers while avoiding an escalating, industry-wide bidding war over wages and benefits? The answer is to focus on your people and your company culture, says author and organizational culture expert Michael Pacanowsky.
“I would be trying to make sure that my hospital or my clinic really focused on the doctors and nurses who work there so they feel supported, respected, and treated like individuals. They need to feel like the leaders of the organization understand what they have been going through and are committed to supporting them as much as possible,” he says. “I wouldn’t try to differentiate myself by saying we’ll pay better or give you more days off. I would try to differentiate myself by how the corporate culture we've established really supports you as a frontline provider of healthcare.”
How culture impacts the bottom line
Building a strong culture is hard, and it takes time. But in the wake of a pandemic, it’s more important than ever to put in that time and effort. “It’s easy to forget about corporate culture when you have a bigger crisis in front of you, because that's what you're going to focus on,” Pacanowsky says.
Furthermore, a lack of focus on healthcare organization culture could be costing you in tangible ways. “In the long term, disengaged employees cost the organization. They tick off customers, the replacement cost is really high — there are all kinds of financial impacts,” he says.
Fostering a positive culture is not a fast, easy fix. It requires long-term, sustained effort. The following five strategies can help.
1. Give every employee a place, purpose, and path
Fully engaged employees are easier to work with, make fewer mistakes, and are more receptive. Most importantly, a strong, vibrant culture is your best route to employee retention.
Matthew Wride, president of DecisionWise, an employee experience firm, emphasizes the importance of creating a sense of community for employees. “Culture is the way we invite people to belong,” he says. “We have to stop thinking of it as a job and a mandate and start thinking of it as an invitation. Leaders are creating an experience that invites people to connect, to belong, to find meaning, and to ultimately stay.”
The key is to give every employee “a place, a purpose, and a path,” Wride says. “If you can focus on those, you’ll retain them. Because if you give them a place to belong, a purpose in how they’re going to grow and become better as a person, and a path they can see, it all falls into place.”
Pacanowsky offers a similar assessment. “People have to be looking at their work and saying, ‘Is this satisfying me? Is this helping me grow? Is this helping me become the best person that I can possibly be? Is this making use of my talents? Is this making use of my gifts? Am I making a contribution?’”
If the answers are no, they will begin looking for opportunities that do provide satisfaction and a sense of belonging.
2. Get out of your office and be approachable
For leaders looking to strengthen an organization’s culture, your own employees are the most knowledgeable experts. “I would be out of my office and talking to the frontline providers as much as possible, so they’d know I was serious about what I was trying to accomplish with respect to the culture,” Pacanowsky says.
Leaders, particularly in the healthcare industry, tend to speak with authority and certainty, Wride says. “That is good — it brings assurance and confidence to the patient experience. But it also means that sometimes we don’t listen enough.”
The pandemic helped change the way people see their leaders, he says. “Because for the first time, they saw their senior leaders at home — not in formal attire — with kids running around, possibly with a dog, and it humanized them.”
Instead of trying to reestablish the “old power positions,” Wride says, “Keep that tone. Use that as a metaphor of coming down and listening. It doesn’t mean that you’re not holding people accountable, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have important leadership and decision-making responsibilities, but you can listen and listen with empathy.”
3. Identify areas of excellence and replicate them
In every organization, different departments have their own unique cultures. “I would ask, ‘Is there any place in my hospital or clinic where things are going well?’ I’d look for what's called the positive deviant. This is where things are going well and counter to the way everything else is going. And I would say, ‘Is this something that we can export? Can we get other people doing this?’” Pacanowsky says.
“Go find your pockets where everything is going well and study the heck out of those,” Wride agrees. “Study your strengths, not your weaknesses. Find out why a particular hospital is off the charts with its engagement scores and spend time there; you’ll find the insights you need.”
4. Acknowledge the hurt and work to rebuild a sense of normalcy
“Coming out of COVID, there's a lot of hurt, mistakes, and grieving — and we need to manifest real caring and compassion for both the people we treated and the people who did the treating who are suffering from all of this,” says Pacanowsky.
“Normal” is never going to be exactly as it was prior to the pandemic. Healthcare organizations will need to reckon with the trauma and sacrifices of the pandemic, Wride says, to begin creating a new, positive, engaging culture.
First, leaders must acknowledge the extraordinary efforts of staff and providers throughout the pandemic. “Leaders have to thank them for it. Sometimes it’s not possible to repay it, but even just acknowledging it can help rebuild trust,” Wride says.
After that reckoning takes place, leaders can work together with employees to re-establish a sense of normalcy and provide a new measure of control over their work lives.
5. Empower managers to help in the healing
Rebuilding isn’t just a senior leadership job either, according to Wride. “Managers should be empowered to have those one-on-one conversations and say, ‘I want to check in on you. I want to know how you’re doing. I want to see what we can do.’”
And it’s important to allow managers to be creative — whether that means shifting a schedule around or a temporary reassignment of duties. “Maybe someone needs to go work in a different department for a few weeks to get a new perspective,” Wride says. “We’ve got to give some flexibility to managers to have some arrows in their quiver to address these issues.”
While it will take time and considerable effort, strengthening your healthcare organization culture can pay big dividends in deeper employee engagement, greater employee retention, and a healthier organization overall.
CHG can provide your healthcare facility with the physicians and advanced practice providers you need to grow your organization. To learn more, contact us by phone at 866.588.5996 or email email@example.com.