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Healthcare Employee Retention During COVID-19: How to Foster Caregiver Loyalty and Performance

Healthcare Employee Retention

The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the healthcare employee retention problem. An employee experience strategy can help organizations reduce caregiver burnout and improve patient care.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on one of the greatest crises within the healthcare industry: healthcare employee retention issues and the increasing attrition rate of workers. Recent studies have suggested that upward of 20% of physicians and nurses say they’re planning to leave their professions as a direct result of the emotional impact caused by COVID-19. It is fair to say that there has never been a more devastating experience for our healthcare workers, and certainly never on this scale. These forecasts are greatly concerning given we already are experiencing shortages of critical roles, specifically nurses, across the country.   

For those who don’t leave their jobs, the emotional wake the pandemic has left will undoubtedly affect care delivery. As caregivers are so focused in providing care, they don’t see the changes to their own well-being. According to Yu-Ping Chang, associate dean for research and scholarship at the School of Nursing at the State University of New York at Buffalo, “If the stress of caregiving isn’t addressed, it can lead to burnout, and then both the caregiver and the person they are providing care for will be suffering.”

What can we do to address the healthcare employee retention crisis facing the industry today? Instead of waiting and hoping that the issue will eventually resolve itself, you can take swift action with these steps.

Form a multi-disciplinary task force 

Because the COVID-19 and healthcare employee retention crises affect your entire organization, support is required from a broad team. While issues traditionally have been addressed only at a departmental level, the size and scope of today’s issues require a pivoted approach.

Start by bringing together representatives from HR, nursing, physicians, operations, and well-being leaders to form a task force who can work together. The blending of traditional HR approaches, such as stay interviews and retention strategies, paired with clinical leadership can be an effective pairing and allows for a range of solutions to be explored.  

COVID-19 has hit people in a very personalized way, and the response warrants a personalized approach.

Engage in deep listening about the employee experience

Once the core group is organized, they will need a solid line of sight into the problem. Capturing real-time feedback and continuous caregiver data can uncover deep insights — not just about employees’ levels of stress but also it can allow leaders to identify which roles, even which units, are struggling the most and who is at the greatest risk of leaving. 

Because the sources of stress can vary by the individual’s role in a health system, data can provide a view into the specific pain points in order for leaders to take action and implement personalized strategies for different roles and teams. 

For example, two different groups can experience the same emotion, but the sources of stress are different. Physicians who work primarily in an ambulatory setting may feel financial pain and ultimately stress, while nurses who work on an ICU could suffer from symptoms of PTSD and emotional exhaustion. Both groups are experiencing a significant impact on their lives, but the sources of stress are unique to their experience. COVID-19 has hit people in a very personalized way, and the response warrants a personalized approach.   

A large hospital system recently engaged in this type of assessment and the results validate this thinking. See Figure 1 below for the unique stressors by role that were uncovered:

RolePhysicianRNNon-Clinical
Sources of StressFinances
Workplace Safety
Work-life balance
Workplace Safety
Personal Safety
Emotional Health
Keeping my job
Work-life Balance
Finances

Personalize the approach: Involve the team in ideation

Once you have a clear line of sight into the unique sources of stress for specific groups, you can begin to engage in a thoughtful process to personalize solutions. It’s important not to rush to solve the problem before acknowledging what you understand these groups are experiencing as well as your intention of collectively finding solutions with their ideas and voices in mind. 

Crowdsourcing is one of the best ways to co-design solutions in a meaningful and expedited way. If you haven’t yet ventured into this space with your employee experience strategy, this is the perfect time to begin. In a research study on the impact of crowdsourcing in healthcare, over 80% of respondents felt that a crowdsourcing application could have a positive impact on patient care, medical education, referrals, and difficult diagnoses. 

All too often those of us who have worked in the well-being space (myself included) over-focus on stress reduction techniques, such as mindfulness and meditation. But, we miss the mark on what our care teams tell us would make the biggest difference, such as reduced work hours, longer breaks, transfer opportunities, and increased resources.

The key is to never underestimate how perception and experience can be quickly influenced when you have a deep understanding of the issue, and then engage in collaborative problem solving with the group you seek to influence. The steps outlined above will create a signal to your team that you are focused on their well-being, and are actively taking steps to find meaningful solutions.  

Bring an agile mindset to the strategy

Finally, we must embrace the same nimble mindset we brought to the patient space when COVID-19 hit last year and apply it to our care teams. 

All too often those of us who have worked in the well-being space over-focus on stress reduction techniques, such as mindfulness and meditation. But, we miss the mark on what our care teams tell us would make the biggest difference, such as reduced work hours, longer breaks, transfer opportunities, and increased resources.

Some of the ideas you hear from your team members might seem outrageous — but so did the idea of standing up virtual care in a matter of days and weeks in response to the pandemic. We can do more than we have allowed ourselves to imagine. This is the time for bold ideas in service for our most precious resource, our care teams. Healthcare employee retention and loyalty — and by extension, performance — depend on it.

Interested to know what doors an employee experience strategy can open for your organization? Download Medallia’s A New Model for Employee Experience: Continuous Response whitepaper.