5 Ways To Increase Retention In Healthcare

Healthcare has consistently been the largest employer in the United States. High demand for services is part of it, but hopefully high numbers of workers flocking to the industry play a role, right?

Unfortunately, no.

The healthcare industry has always had tough statistics on burnout and turnover. As of late 2021, almost one-third of all clinical employees quit their jobs, nearly double the rate from just two years ago.

That’s up 10% from the previous year, as some of the most skilled and necessary workers in the nation are leaving their jobs. Some are cycling to other healthcare employers, but some are leaving the industry entirely. Consider that 25% of physicians are thinking about retiring earlier, while 12% are thinking of switching to a different career completely, and another 12% want to move away from direct patient care. And the problem only gets bigger with nurses—burnout causes 30%-60% of new graduates to leave the profession completely.

Much of the increase in negative data stems from the COVID-19 pandemic, but the trend was already in place. The acceleration didn’t help, but it certainly increased the need to deal with the employee retention problem in the healthcare industry. A 2021 survey of hospitals revealed that they are not only keenly aware of these problems, but are struggling with how to handle the high turnover.

Turnover stems from unpredictable work hours, stress, overwork, and burnout. Plus, due to the stiff competition for talent, poor benefits or workplace culture are also key reasons healthcare workers are quitting their jobs.

There are five basic ways to combat that turnover and increase retention in healthcare. Let’s take a look at what they are, and give you some actionable approaches that you can put in motion right now.

1. Compensation and benefits

With rising costs in daily personal expenses, employees will always appreciate increased compensation and benefits. 

If you’re concerned about breaking the budget, keep in mind that some of the benefits don’t have a specific dollar amount tied to them, but instead, are quality of life benefits that are attractive to workers and have their own value outside of money.

  • Work from home (WFH) or hybrid options for applicable positions. Not all healthcare positions are suitable for WFH, but those that are should be offered the option. It costs you very little, and is a value-added benefit that gives employees freedom and increased quality of life.
  • Performance bonuses. Quite simply, you should reward your best. You want to keep them, so offer tangible rewards to those who are exceeding your standards.
  • Professional development. An opportunity to advance their education and career helps  employees feel valued and is a boost to their current training and experience. It’s an investment into their future as well as into your own organization. 
  • Parking or transportation stipend. With increasing prices at the pump and for other forms of transportation, providing a stipend to cover those costs can attract or retain workers who might otherwise decide they’re too far away to make the travel feasible. This expands your hiring pool to a broader geographic area, and helps employee salaries go further. Combined with other options (e.g. WFH), it’s less expensive than a bump in salary as you only incur cost when the employee incurs cost.

2. Communication, feedback, and action

Employees leave not just because of money or hours. Sometimes the organization’s culture is the problem, even becoming a toxic workplace, if left unchecked. 

That’s where improving communication and feedback, and the action that stems from it, can make a difference.

  • One-on-one communication with managers. Employees need to be able to talk to their managers. If there are many levels of hierarchy and managers don’t relay—or accurately relay—employee concerns, that’s a communication breakdown that ends in frustration for the employee. Have a process where employees can be heard. Sometimes knowing they’re being heard is enough.
  • Use surveys. Surveys are a great way to find out what your employees think about any topic, giving you great feedback to help you make decisions. To increase survey participation, find a way to let your employees know you actually read and consider their input, whether that’s through meetings to go over the results and let them know what action you’ll take, or informing them of policy changes that stem directly from surveys. Anonymity is important, particularly for surveys on sensitive topics or in a workplace where fear of reprisal is one of the problems you’re trying to solve.
  • Exit interviews. When employees do leave, don’t waste the moment. Find out why they’re leaving. It’s the most direct way to get a finger on the pulse of turnover.
  • Stay interviews. This is simply an interview of your current employees by trained direct managers, the ones with the closest contact to employees. Ask them why they stay and what might make them leave. It’s like an exit interview, sort of, but you’re being preemptive. It’s important they feel safe to speak honestly, without reprisal.

All the communication and feedback in the world means nothing if no action comes from it. Listen. Learn. Make changes that make your employees’ jobs easier.

Feedback where you listen and take action is good for retention. Feedback where you do nothing retains no one. It might even make them more cynical towards management.

3. Appreciation 

Do employees know they’re doing great work if no one tells them?

That’s an uncomfortable place to be, where they aren’t sure of their standing, if management sees and likes what they’re doing, or if they should be improving. Employees who do their best, but aren’t sure if it’s good enough or even appreciated, won’t feel valued or appreciated.

If employees aren’t shown appreciation, they’ll leave and go to an employer who will.

Telling an employee is the first step; it has value initially. But you have to go beyond lip service over time, and make that appreciation more tangible. So how do you do it?

  • Awards and recognition. If you have standards and expectations clearly defined, you should be giving out awards and recognition to those who meet or exceed them.
  • Cash bonuses. An award is nice, but cash is even better. Create a systematized program where you offer such bonuses based on metrics like attendance or performance. This incentivizes the behavior you want your employees to have, and it puts cash in their pockets. Everyone wins.
  • Vacation time rewards. Instead of (or in addition to) cash bonuses, perhaps you give out vacation time for performance.

You appreciate your employees, but if you never tell them, they’ll never know.

4. Growth and development 

The healthcare industry is one where new technology and advancement happens quickly. Employees who feel like their career is at a standstill will go someplace where it isn’t.

To make growth and development a real benefit for your employees:

  • Set up career pathing. Create a clear career path for your employees. Put it on paper, make sure they know what it is and how they traverse it. If you don’t plan growth and development at this level, it won’t magically “happen” on its own.
  • Offer mentorship opportunities. Give new employees the chance to work with and learn from a mentor. This allows knowledge to be passed down, builds connections and relationships, and allows experienced employees a chance to feel like they’re giving back.
  • Create a professional development budget. If you don’t actually budget for professional development, it won’t happen. Treat it seriously enough to have its own budget, and you’ll be more likely to use it. Don’t tuck it into some other budget as if it’s less important. Employees will know how serious you are about it if it’s a real budget item.

Don’t forget, having the best trained and most knowledgeable staff is good for you, too. You’ll build a reputation as having the best healthcare team in town.

5. Work-life balance and flexibility 

Employees who are overworked are on a fast track to becoming burnt out.

Dealing with work-life balance, when it comes to employee scheduling, is one of those ways where managers, employees, and patients win, with very little extra cost to anyone. Employees want some control over their life, and to feel like they can actually have a personal life outside of work. 

When I Work can enable a great work-life balance for your employees in several ways:

  • Flexible scheduling. In healthcare, flexible scheduling benefits everyone. The way you’re scheduling your employees could be why they’re leaving, and that’s a shame. Flexible scheduling, also known as self scheduling, allows supervisors to determine the scheduling needs, based on demand and qualifications. They build the schedule, and let employees choose or trade the shifts they want within that framework. Managers have control, but employees also have control. Nurses can have more balanced lives, and avoid stress, burnout, and negative attitudes. Employees can swap shifts themselves, without higher management trying to dictate. Empowered employees mean fewer shifts suffer from absenteeism, and engagement increases.
  • Labor sharing. You can also increase your shift coverage by looking at eligible and available employees on other schedules. Labor sharing is useful to fill vacant shifts, or to backfill dropped shifts. You can use it for coverage when employees are using paid time off.

Both of these are benefits that don’t hurt your bottom line at all, while still making you competitive in the healthcare industry.

That competitive edge isn’t just about retaining employees either—using scheduling software like When I Work gives you better data on what’s happening in your organization. You get labor reports that are actually accurate and help you plan for the future. You end up with better shift coverage and improved workforce planning.

With the current labor shortage, from shifts in the industry and large numbers of resignations, retention is more important than ever to meet growing patient demand.