The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated a longstanding problem: a shortage of health care workers, especially nurses. Some older health care professionals accelerated their decisions to retire. Many others took time to consider how, when and in what capacity they wanted to continue working. As a result, health care systems had to rethink their approach and enhance their commitment to retaining their most valuable assets—the skilled medical professionals who bring their missions to life.
At St. Luke’s Health, we’ve taken several steps to help keep nurses and other health care professionals satisfied and committed to delivering the best patient care possible.
Focusing on What Matters Most
Recruiting and retention are distinct challenges requiring different mindsets. As mentioned in part 1 of this series, in recruiting, the health care leader’s job is to market the value and reputation of the health system to potential employees. Retention, however, requires leaders to create an environment in which employees want to stay, grow and learn—and this demands a heavier focus than recruiting.
In the current state of health care, leaders have to think differently about retention than we did in the past. The pandemic changed the landscape of the workforce in terms of what employees expect and want and what health systems can provide. This dichotomy may seem a bit polarized on the surface, but break it down, and it’s really not that difficult to envision.
Most employees want support to grow and develop, opportunities to learn, and more communication and collaboration than they have experienced. Perhaps most of all, they want a relationship with their leader in which they feel heard and valued. At St. Luke’s Health, we know our employees want leaders who see them as people first. When employees leave health systems, pay can be a factor, but the main reason for many people is the relationship, or lack of one, with their manager or leader.
Leaders should foster an environment of collaboration in which employees feel they can grow as both people and professionals.
“How are you doing today? What do you need to continue to grow and develop? How’s your work environment?” These are the kinds of questions leaders could regularly ask employees to build and maintain the type of relationship they need to thrive.
Recognition, Flexibility and a Voice in Decision-Making
A healthy relationship with leaders is a key part of employee retention, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle. St. Luke’s Health takes a variety of actions to address other important components of employee satisfaction, including:
Employee recognition. Everyone wants to be recognized for a job well done—or just for being special. Throughout the year, our hospitals and departments hold celebrations for birthdays and noteworthy achievements and to acknowledge the outstanding care our teams deliver every day.
Flexible scheduling. In the wake of the pandemic, flexible scheduling is more important to employees than ever. We introduced self-scheduling to allow employees to work collaboratively to identify the best ways to ensure enough people are on the schedule to meet the department’s needs. We also continue to explore how we can offer even more flexible scheduling options.
Shared governance. We believe the professionals who care for patients day in and day out should have a voice in how we structure our care processes. Consequently, we practice shared governance, which gives employees a notable say in the key decisions that affect them and their patients. This approach is working very well and benefits everyone involved.
Recently, our health system needed to change an important care practice. The chief nursing officer at each hospital in the system consulted their nursing staff to hear their ideas and come up with a vision for what this change could look like and how to implement it. This process enabled us to find a good solution to a challenging problem in a timely fashion. It also sent a clear message that we truly value and need staff input.
This is just one example of how the chief nursing officers and I leverage the expertise of the staff when we need to make important changes to our nursing practices. St. Luke’s Health features shared governance structures at the unit level or, at the least, the hospital level, to ensure team members have the opportunity to contribute their voice to problem solving whenever possible.
Another key piece of employee retention is a competitive pay and benefits package that prioritizes employee health and wellness. In addition to medical, dental and vision insurance, a flexible spending account, and a 401(k) retirement savings plan, we offer employees the opportunity to enhance their expertise and career prospects through tuition assistance for those pursuing advanced degrees.
We also provide personal wellness and health management programs to support employees’ physical and emotional health. It’s all part of our effort to provide well-rounded care not just to our patients but also our employees. And that comes around full circle, as research shows us over and over again. Satisfied health care professionals make for satisfied patients, improved outcomes and decreased mortality.
Putting Our People First
I don’t think the pandemic-related changes we’ve seen to the health care employee retention landscape are temporary. I predict the landscape of our industry will continue to evolve. As it does, investing in our employees will remain a top priority.
People enter health care because they want to help others and contribute to the greater good.
The job for me and other health care leaders is to help employees achieve these goals by creating an environment in which they can thrive. Caring and showing appreciation for our people is how we achieve employee retention success.
Interested in joining a health care organization that puts humankindness at the center of everything we do? Explore career opportunities at St. Luke’s Health.