Over the past couple of months, I’ve consulted with dozens of CEOs, CFOs, and CNOs about the severe workforce shortages their health systems are experiencing. And from these conversations, I can confidently say that the biggest crisis in health care right now isn’t Covid-19 spikes or economic uncertainty—it’s the dire state of the frontline clinical workforce, particularly RNs.
With demand for direct patient care jobs increasingly outpacing supply, the competition for nurses is fierce. This is especially true for RNs willing, able, and available to work in inpatient care. Recruitment strategies normally reserved for crises are now the norm; for example, offering sign-on bonuses upwards of $40,000, or extending travelers’ contracts indefinitely. While these tactics may keep your hospitals running tomorrow, here’s the problem: these band-aid solutions are unsustainable and will do nothing to stabilize your clinical workforce in the long-term.
For myriad reasons, the current RN shortage will not reverse itself. C-suites and leadership boards must be prepared to confront hard truths regarding what it will take to stop the exodus of RNs from hospital-based care. Beyond budgetary impact, failing to invest now will affect quality and safety while eroding your organization’s capacity to advance growth and expand market share. Read on for must-do strategies for C-suite leaders working to turn the tide of the RN exodus.
Presume every provider in your market is working to steal your clinical talent. With that in mind, an all-hands-on deck approach to retaining top talent must be your C-suite’s immediate priority.
First, leaders should re-prioritize best practice retention tactics, many of which were understandably suspended during the height of the pandemic in 2020. For example, stay interviews, a renewed focus on vulnerable engagement drivers, relevant recognition, and professional development should be non-negotiable and flawlessly executed. Other retention drivers that demand heightened focus are solidifying employee resilience as a core organizational competency versus ad-hoc crisis support, guaranteeing workplace safety, and re-scoping the frontline manager role so these leaders can succeed as chief retention officers of their units.
While legacy retention strategies must be prioritized, they will not be enough. Addressing what nurses themselves say is driving them to leave their current positions is critical to reversing this untenable RN turnover trend. Now, more than ever before, the voice of the frontline nurse; including concerns about their role and their work environment, must be heard and acted upon.
A 2021 McKinsey survey highlighted key reasons why RNs leave their current jobs, including insufficient staffing levels, intense workloads, and the physical toll of the job. These findings, along with increasing expectations for some form of employment flexibility, compel leaders to implement alternatives to legacy staffing strategies.
With insufficient numbers of RNs available, some form of team-based care is inevitable as well as the development of an aggressive entry-level pipeline of employees to offload various care activities from your RNs. The use of virtual care technology to augment staffing challenges leverages existing digital care technology investments beyond ambulatory and remote care access. Scheduling options other than the traditional 12-hour shift must also be offered to provide requested work/life balance. Admittedly, these strategies disrupt status quo operations, but the predicted longevity of the current RN shortage will require this level of investment as pivotal to reducing RN turnover while effectively staffing units.
Finally, a fundamental reworking of your entire rewards program for clinical staff; both benefits and compensation must be carefully considered. Case in point: McKinsey reports that only 10% of U.S. hospitals provide any type of childcare support despite a significant number of RNs with young children unable to find affordable childcare. Beyond a market competitive salary structure, including base rates, relevant shift differentials, and significant merit increases, some organizations are further differentiating RN pay according to the care site within a system—recognizing that hospital-based nursing is significantly more stressful and labor-intensive than outpatient services. When competing for clinical talent, redesigning your total rewards strategies in sync with contemporary employee needs will differentiate your organization as the employer of choice.
Reversing the exodus of RNs from inpatient care is not just the job of the chief nurse executive; it is the job of the entire C-suite to ensure commitment of the brain power and the resources needed.
The Advisory Board’s Nurse Executive Center stands ready to further consult executives on these and other here-and-now tactics to address the nursing shortage, including a critique of your current workforce plan’s strengths and vulnerabilities. We can be reached at AskAdvisory@advisory.com.
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