Staffing for Now: Four Strategies to Implement

Talent acquisition and retention goes through peaks and valleys. The reality is that the job climate has changed a lot in the past 50 years. With unemployment rates at historic lows, organizations are pulling out all the stops to deploy staffing strategies to bring in workers and keep them there. Many industries face worker shortages, and healthcare isn’t immune to this problem.

When companies are feeling the pressure of an undersized workforce, they stress over hiring to fill vacancies. But the hiring process can take upwards of months, so what can organizations do now to relieve staffing stress? Surprisingly, implementing staffing and scheduling policies and realigning their workforce that can reduce or even eliminate the shortage. Here are four strategies an organization can implement now to improve staffing.

Policies and procedures. While many companies are opting for fun perks to attract and retain talent, it turns out what a lot of employees want is some semblance of structure. When structure is absent, chaos moves in. And nobody likes working among chaos. To eliminate the possibility of disorder, organizations should have standardized policies wherever possible. Policies should be consistently applied and followed by both employees and managers. Employees expect their leaders to follow through on commitments. If leaders do not set an example by following policy themselves, employees won’t feel motivated to adhere to formal policies either. Take for instance a policy that stipulates an employee must work a weekend once a month. If an employee always puts in a time off request for their weekend commitment and the manager approves it, this not only implies potential favoritism to other employees, but makes it clear that the manager doesn’t abide by policy. Following policy leads to improved employee satisfaction and less staffing stress for the organization.

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Adopt a variable staffing model. What determines the amount of staff needed for a business is the demand of the customer. While many organizations will have a static staffing model because the amount of work doesn’t vary greatly over time, there are some industries that benefit from adopting a variable staffing model. What does this mean? Let’s look at an inpatient department of a hospital. Based on historical census data, it’s determined a department sees a lull in the number of patients on Tuesdays, but it picks up again on Wednesdays. Rather than scheduling the same number of nurses every day and risk having to send people home, a more efficient way to staff is to schedule less people on Tuesday and more on Wednesday. In this case, what determines the number of staff are patients. But no matter what the workforce indicator may be (loads of laundry to wash for housekeeping, number of tables to serve for waitstaff, etc.), knowing the patterns of customers and business can better help accurately staff and reduce instances of shortage.

Have an enterprise mentality. This workforce strategy is for companies who have multiple locations within one metro area. Rather than view each location as its own entity, organizations are encouraged to view staffing from an enterprise view. For instance, if one location is running short staffed, but there is another location across town that has extra workers at the same time, a cost-effective and efficient approach would be to have the surplus of workers go to the other location for the shift, rather than trying to call people in on their day off (frustrates staff) or ask people to work overtime (costly). This staffing approach works well in health systems that have multiple hospitals in one area and can share nurses among similar units.

Hire temporary workers when needed. While there are several strategies to implement when staffing numbers are not where they should be, there certainly are times when hiring temporary workers are necessary. That said, they should be the thinnest of all staffing strategies employed by an organization. For instance, travel (contract) nurses serve a specific purpose of filling a vacancy when a full-time, permanent staff nurse is on FMLA, or when a hospital opens a new tower and personnel need to be trained on new technology. Temporary workers should have a specific end date, at which point they move on to another job, or could join the employer as a permanent employee if offered.

If companies are feeling stretched too thin and are ramping up their recruitment activities, there are strategies that can be deployed to ease the feeling of running short staffed. It’s a knee-jerk reaction for employers to think they don’t have enough workers when the reality is that strategic methods and realignment could reduce a lot of their staffing concerns. Staffing and scheduling is more than just a numbers game; it’s figuring out how best to optimize the current workforce.

Jackie Larson

Jackie Larson
Jackie Larson is president of Avantas, a provider of workforce management technology, services, and strategies for the healthcare industry.

Jackie Larson

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