Tips to Manage Your Full-time, Part-time, and PRN staff efficiently
Staffing shortages are hitting nearly every industry, but none so acutely as in healthcare.
Shortages in the healthcare workforce continue to grow faster than before the pandemic. Nurses continue to leave the workforce or move to areas offering more competitive salaries.
Despite the shortage, well-trained staff and adequate shift coverage aren’t optional, and this problem isn’t limited to within the walls of the hospital. 2020 has fast-tracked new forms of virtual patient care, expanding potential but also adding demand.
Workforce planning is never easy, but at least other industries have some stability when it comes to predicting the schedule. With healthcare, patient coverage is trickier to estimate. Patient census, seasonal illness, and staffing availability are often at odds with each other. When patients are more likely to be sick, so are staff.
If your healthcare workforce model was already struggling, it’s likely very close to being completely insufficient to meet what’s ahead.
The good news is that if you follow these three tips, you can quit guessing. You’ll be able to manage your staff efficiently and give patients the care they need, while reducing your own workload in the process.
1. Keep everything running with full-time employees
We start by acknowledging how important your full-time employees are. They’re the backbone of your team, and you’re probably already heavily reliant on them.
Unfortunately, full-time employees are the ones who experience the most burnout at work. Even worse, burnout in the healthcare industry is increasing. Recent data suggests that nearly 50% of doctors and 30% of nurses experience some form of burnout. Post-pandemic numbers are likely higher, which is why staffing shortages are a worsening problem.
Burnout isn’t only harmful to an employee’s physical health, but also their mental health. 63% are more likely to start taking sick days to try to regain some personal time. This further destroys your employee schedule and forces others to carry the extra workload created by no-shows. This can negatively affect attitude and how you’re viewed as an employer, and can spread to others on your team.
Burnout happens when employees are working more than they can physically and mentally handle. It happens when the burden they carry at work exceeds the benefits they feel they get in return—when it feels like their life is all about work, with very little personal time. Everything is out of balance, and they feel like they have no control over any of it.
There are many things you can do to reduce employee burnout. One of the best solutions for healthcare workers is to provide them with flexibility and predictability in their work.
Flexible self scheduling is how you do that, because it gives employees control over their lives.
With flexible self scheduling, you determine what the schedule requires based on patient demand, and other factors. These other factors can be specific skill sets or qualified individuals who must be present on a shift. Instead of assigning specific employees to those shifts, though, you let them choose the shifts they want. Employees can also trade shifts with each other.
This method gives employees control over when they work. While employees might not always get the shifts they want every time, they sometimes do. Add the fact they have a say in it, which helps prevent burnout. It also feels more like a team, since they are communicating directly with each other to claim and swap shifts.
Self scheduling is a win for you, too. You’ll be able to make schedules much quicker, and with less hassle, than you have before. You no longer have to deal with endless requests to change shifts, either, since they are swapping amongst themselves. Plus, when employees get control over their shifts, there’s less absenteeism.
2. Give part-time workers the hours and flexibility they need
Part-time workers are your next group. While they might seem to be a bit more movable on the schedule as compared to full-time, they really aren’t.
Yes, there’s a reason they’re part-time. They have other obligations, such as school, kids, or other jobs. They need a lot of flexibility to meet these obligations, yet they still need the steady weekly hours, and can’t be seen as someone simply there to fill a gap.
It can be a tricky balance. It’s the part-time workers you often turn to when patient demand fluctuates. Balancing full-time and part-time workers by manually handling the schedule can lead to disparity and frustration.
There’s good news, though. The solution for this problem is the same for the full-time worker: flexible self-scheduling.
Again, when you let patient demand and other requirements be the driver of creating a scheduling framework and allowing employees to select the shifts they want within that structure that defines limitations or specifics, you give them the control. They have options of when they’ll work.
And, if there are any hiccups, fixing any changes or problems in the schedule is about addressing the overall structure instead of trying to micromanage each employee as if they’re a piece on a chessboard.
3. Create a robust PRN pool and system
Once you have your full-time and part-time employees using the flexible self scheduling system, the final step is to create a robust PRN system. PRN (“pro re nata,” or “as the situation demands”) employees are those who only work when they are needed.
Some people prefer the freedom of a PRN job even though it lacks the stability that regular, steady work provides. There are a lot of reasons someone might choose PRN over part- or full-time work, and those who have chosen it to understand the pros and cons that come with it.
They might only have the time to work a little bit here or there, or have several other jobs that they also do. Some prefer the variety of working for different employers. Whatever the reason, they are still qualified and are an incredible asset to your team. They are the people who you can turn to when sudden patient increases, or staffing shortages, pop up on your schedule.
The catch, however, is that if you don’t have a good system in place, you could spend hours calling an entire PRN list to find someone to fill in for a full-timer who’s out sick.
That isn’t going to work in the long run.
You have to find a better method of letting your PRN pool see what shifts are open and claim them, or you’ll never really take the pressure off of your regular staff.
That’s where open shifts come in.
There’s some similarity to self scheduling in that you’re still working with a bird’s-eye view of what is necessary for each shift. You’re still allowing full- and part-time employees to claim their shifts. But you add open shifts to fill in any gaps, define qualifications or restrictions as needed, and let the members of your PRN pool choose which ones they want.
Patient demand and fluctuation still drive the schedule, but instead of putting more work on full- or part-time workers to handle the extra shifts, a PRN employee steps up as needed.
Patient coverage stays solid, burnout is reduced, and everyone gets control over their work lives. It’s a solid win for your employees, but it’s also great for you. No more call lists or scrambling to find someone to fill in. You simply create shifts and your team takes over from there.
Workforce planning in healthcare is incredibly challenging right now, even more than usual. Staffing shortages mixed with different work-life balance expectations are impossible to deal with unless you take a flexible approach.
It’s all about agility. If demand changes, you can quickly respond if you’ve built an agile system.
When it comes to choosing the tool for how you build your workplace schedule, you have to get it right. Not all tools will allow for the flexible self scheduling, open shifts, and direct employee communication we’ve covered here. When I Work easily handles both, making the schedule better for everyone.