Typically, the labor market evolves slowly, or at least slowly enough for employers to plan for. But that has not been the case since 2020, as the pandemic rocked the foundations of workers’ professional and personal lives. Burnout associated with the pandemic has exacerbated existing tensions in the workforce, and many clinicians are weighing whether to remain at the bedside or not—or in some cases exit healthcare altogether.
At the same time, we’ve witnessed a shift in the labor market. Current labor market conditions are not only making job movement possible, they also actively incentivize turnover. Demand for jobs, particularly for clinicians—but also in other sectors—has made it easier for people to leave their roles.
There are misconceptions that clinical workforce challenges occur on a cyclical basis and this will abate over time, and that these challenges fall under the purview of nursing and HR departments. But this is a new-in-kind, strategic challenge that will require the commitment of the entire C-suite.
Drivers of clinician turnover include:
- Burnout: Staff experience chronic workplace stress exacerbated by the pandemic and inadequate staffing.
- Feelings of disrespect: Staff voice ongoing concerns about pay, treatment, work-life balance.
- Concerns about workplace safety: Staff live with the threat of workplace violence and harassment from patients and families.
Clinician turnover often creates a vicious cycle. Staff leave due to their working environment, which puts an enormous strain on the workers who are left behind. Those left behind then leave due to the working environment, restarting the cycle. This cycle leaves facilities understaffed and forced to rely on short-term fixes like travel nursing expenditures to fill in the gaps. These short-term fixes are expensive and leave no money to invest in underlying workforce issues, further perpetuating cycle shown below.