The 4 challenges of healthcare talent management

Let’s take a look at healthcare talent management — how to focus on strategy and hiring practices to attract and retain top talent.

The 4 challenges of healthcare talent management

If the world learned one lesson in 2020, it’s how essential healthcare workers are. We think it’s important now to celebrate the people on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis — and to think about what healthcare talent management will look like in a post-coronavirus America.

When the world recovers from the crisis, previous trends in healthcare will return to the fore. Those include how patient numbers are increasing, how required worker skill sets are changing, how digital processes are reshaping operational requirements, and how boosting wages to attract the best employees isn’t a sustainable option for many healthcare businesses, particularly hospitals.

The healthcare sector was and will again be ripe for a hiring overhaul and eager for innovation.

Let’s take a look at four factors affecting recruiting, hiring, and retention in healthcare — and how healthcare companies can refine their strategies to meet these challenges.

1. The healthcare labor force is changing

Patient-centric approaches to care delivery that focus on value-based outcomes, evolving consumer expectations, new roles, new tech, new skills — these are just some of the trends reshaping the healthcare labor market.

Amy Laverock, partner at Mercer Marsh Benefits, says new ways of working, new innovations, and the necessary experimentation needed for healthcare companies to keep pace forces employers to rethink whom and how they hire.

Laverock notes that the future healthcare worker will need to be digitally skilled and adaptable to working in non-traditional healthcare locations — e.g. in patients’ homes. The shift to patient-centric service delivery also means healthcare roles will broaden to include social workers, population health managers, and nutritionists and behavioral health practitioners under the healthcare umbrella.

Another pressing concern is related to cutting-edge research in genomics and behavioral science. These new areas of scientific discovery make it difficult to know how to prepare the talent pipeline within an organization, Laverock argues. Skills that don’t exist yet will need to be developed to manage roles that are still to be created.

Hiring managers will need to be prepared for the unknown, and that requires a robust talent acquisition and management strategy, explains Tricia Jessee, a consultant at ClearPoint Strategy.

Workforce planning is one of the best preemptive actions healthcare business owners and hospital management can take to safeguard against these future changes. Inadequate staffing ultimately will result in substandard care.

Further, healthcare companies will always have to compete for the best latent. According to a Modern Healthcare CEO Power Panel survey, 58 percent of CEOs cite that competition as a pressing challenge, says Tara Bannow at Modern Healthcare.

In fact, competition for talent was the CEOs’ No. 2 concern, ahead of even regulation and reimbursement (i.e. getting paid fairly and on time). Hiring and retention are top-of-mind challenges for most healthcare executives today.

Their No. 1 concern was rising costs, which makes even more sense in light of the next point.

Team of medical workers in hospital; healthcare talent management concept

2. Healthcare operating margins are tight

Optum’s 2018 Almanac of Hospital Financial and Operating Indicators show that the median operating margin U.S hospitals was 0.46 percent in 2016. Hospitals with the highest margins were at 4.9 percent.

Matt Wolf at The Real Economy Blog argues that most hospitals have profit margins that are too small to support double-digit wage increases. Wolf cites Optum’s 2018 Almanac, which shows the vast majority of U.S hospitals have profit margins of well less than 5 percent.

Meanwhile, hiring managers in healthcare are competing for talent against S&P 500 companies with operating margins of 13.25 percent, Wolf explains. Those companies simply have more money available to invest in workers.

So, healthcare needs to compete for talent on different terms. One solution is to become a mission-driven provider that educates the local workforce in the community to join the mission. The positive here is that healthcare operators and the community they work in tend to have more positive relationships, which is good for employees and patients.

3. In the long run, healthcare employees will travel for better opportunities

As with most industries, pay matters to healthcare employees. While surgeons tend to be the highest paid, nurses are often on the other end of the pay spectrum.

Carole Jakucs at points to a 2018 survey that shows nurses in the U.S. are eager to relocate from rural areas in the prospect of higher pay. Pay varies widely between states, so it acts as a strong incentive to move. However, many nurses also said they wanted to relocate to further their careers by taking on senior or administrative roles.

Healthcare workers also want to know that the work they’re doing is contributing to positive change. Of course, they’re already helping patients. But Amy Allen at Blum Shapiro says organizations can build up their good citizenship reputation by giving back to their community at large. Organizations should not let the lack of financial resources deter them. Allen says even small organizations can launch volunteer programs and other giving opportunities to attract candidates and help the community.

Pharmaceutical firm AbbVie is a good example of a company focused on providing employees with a sense of purpose. As a first step, the organization reached out to its 30,000 employees and simply asked what mattered to them and what makes them proud to work for AbbVie.

In doing so, the company identified three core principles, Tim Richmond, EVP and CHRO, tells Ed Frauenheim at Fortune. Those are transforming lives, acting with integrity, and driving innovation. “It’s more important than ever for us to be able to answer the questions: ‘What do we believe in? What do we stand for as a company?’” Richmond says.

That kind of introspection is valuable to healthcare employers. It’s precisely this kind of work that landed AbbVie on Fortune’s Best Workplaces in Biopharma list in 2019.

Nurse cares for a elderly woman; healthcare talent management concept

4. Healthcare needs better talent acquisition strategies

According to a survey from The Predictive Index, only four in 10 healthcare executives have a talent strategy in place. The Predictive Index’s Victoria Nichol says that the positive takeaway is that healthcare execs are scoring higher than colleagues in many other industries. Yet worryingly, only 17 percent of them say their talent strategy is aligned with their business strategy. Even fewer, 12 percent, have the talent in house to execute their business strategy.

Business strategy is not much good if it is not aligned with a considered plan of hiring and nurturing the people required to execute it. More needs to be done to align talent and business strategies if healthcare businesses are to thrive.

Overcoming hiring challenges with artificial intelligence

As virtually every sector in the U.S. economy, healthcare has suffered from biased hiring practices, researchers Elena Butler and Shreya Kangovi write at Harvard Business Review.

Instead of focusing on the diverse traits that the healthcare sector needs to deliver favorable patient outcomes, hiring managers have continued to be led by traditional biases of hiring people with elite training and credentials. However, patients need more than credentialed care. They need social support, guidance on lifestyle and diet, and healthcare professionals who can build strong relationships with them.

Employers that focus on hiring people from diverse backgrounds will help to create a team better calibrated to the varied needs of diverse patients. Employers should be building teams that are medically knowledgeable but also empathetic and culturally sensitive to colleagues and patients.

Butler and Kangovi write that redesigning hiring practices can help to source high-performing people who may have otherwise been overlooked because of traditional recruitment practices.

At the same time, hiring in healthcare often struggles with something more fundamental than candidate selection. For many companies, simply filling a vacancy can take months because of inefficient HR tools. According to the ASPR Physician Recruitment Benchmarking Report, most health organizations report that it takes them more than six months to recruit and hire a physician. The report found that having an effective applicant tracking system measurably sped up the hiring process.

Faster time to hire is a key imperative for many healthcare hiring managers. But they also want to choose the best people, people who come from diverse backgrounds, to help grow the organization. Being able to load up talent pipelines, eliminate hiring biases, and match the best people to the role is what should drive any effective talent acquisition and management strategy.

Images by: Atic12/©123RF Stock Photo, jovanmandic/©123RF Stock Photo, ake1150/©123RF Stock Photo

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