Four Ways to Address Staff Shortages in Healthcare and Drive Retention

The national hospital turnover rate currently sits at over 25 percent. And, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 20% of healthcare workers have left their field altogether. While much of this turnover is due to burnout, there’s one facet of business that healthcare organizations should leverage to address staff shortages: culture.  

Every healthcare leader has felt the effects of this by now: healthcare workers are quitting in droves. In fact, one in five healthcare workers quit their jobs during the Covid-19 pandemic. This is happening for many reasons: burnout, employees feeling unsupported, and high-stress environments, which all contribute to poor work culture. This eventually leads to a decrease in job satisfaction that pushes healthcare workers to quit.

Healthcare organizations often overlook what can mitigate this mass resignation: investing in culture management. That’s because cultivating a strong culture creates positive experiences that lead your employees to believe staying with your organization is the right choice. 

Here are four ways you can cultivate a positive work culture that’ll also improve employee retention.

Healthcare workers often have jobs that are physically and mentally taxing: long hours on their feet, irregular and inconsistent work schedules, high expectations from patients, and more. While this is seen as the status quo for this industry, don’t take that for granted. Give focused recognition instead.

Focused employee recognition is openly acknowledging and expressing appreciation for a person’s positive contributions to the organization. When there’s no focused recognition, it creates an experience that can lead to job dissatisfaction, because it’s human nature to want to feel valued and appreciated.

Imagine you’re a hospital worker and your manager constantly asks you to pick up shifts because of staffing shortages. You don’t mind agreeing to it, but you notice your manager doesn’t thank you. An isolated example of this can be forgiven — maybe they forgot. But if you see this consistently, you’ll soon resent them. This will discourage you from picking up shifts – and you may even begin searching for a new job.

Employees like to be seen for their contributions and focused recognition enables that. It creates an experience that leads your people to believe they add value to the organization. It also prevents them from believing they are just cogs in a machine.

The more your people believe they are valued, the more satisfied they will be in their jobs. Research shows that workers with high levels of job satisfaction stay at their organizations longer. Make focused recognition part of your culture by encouraging your managers and leaders to:

  • Give thanks. A study revealed that 75 percent of employees said that if managers thanked them in real-time, motivation in the workplace would improve.
  • Tell staff when they do well. Don’t be vague about it. Instead of only saying “good job,” give specific recognition that explains when the positive behavior happened and why it’s good for the organization.
  • Create a recognition wall in the break rooms. It can be hard to gather the entire team for an appreciation event given the busy nature of healthcare jobs. Create a space in break rooms where people can write positive notes to coworkers.

If you asked most workers, whether in healthcare or not, what results the organization needs to achieve, they wouldn’t be able to answer the question. Make more money? Ensure patients are happier? Perform more elective procedures? Some can only guess, because no one has ever told them what they’re working towards. 

Communicating your Key Results throughout the organization ensures that everyone knows exactly what they are working toward. In healthcare, the priority is always going to be patient care, but when employees can connect to the overall goals of the organization, they’re more likely to feel ownership over those goals and work harder to achieve them. 

Burnout is one of the top reasons why healthcare workers are quitting in droves. In fact, according to this survey, it’s the number one reason why nurses are quitting. Yet many healthcare organizations fail to address this. 

One reason for this failure is that they often view burnout with black-and-white thinking: you’re burned out because you’re either overworked or not. In reality, poor work culture is to blame. Let’s take lack of alignment, which is a common reason for poor culture, in nursing as an example. 

Imagine you’re a registered nurse and your managers and leaders are implementing a new clinical workflow. So, your unit spends additional time and resources training everyone on the new workflow. The problem is during one of your shifts, the charge nurse says you’re following the workflow wrong. Yet, you’re doing it the way another nurse leader taught you.


An isolated example of this can be forgiven. But if misalignment constantly occurs in your unit, it creates a negative experience that’s stressful. That’s because lack of direction creates uncertainty, which is a major cause of stress. Research shows that high stress often leads to burnout. 

To avoid burnout, align expectations and be transparent about them. To achieve that, leadership and management need to agree on expectations. Once they are in lockstep, management needs to effectively communicate those expectations to staff. If there are changes in expectations, communicate them soon with clear steps on how to pivot.

Bad managers force good employees to quit. In fact, research shows that 57 percent of employees resigned because of their boss. That’s why you shouldn’t skimp on leadership development.

Oftentimes, people step into managerial roles because they did their former job well, not because they have the skills to effectively manage people. Yet, many organizations — including those in healthcare — often overlook leadership development. This may be due to lack of time, lack of resources, or simply a lack of planning.

Let’s say you have an employee who struggles in their management role: they give unclear directions, micromanage consistently, focus on blame rather than solutions, and give negative feedback without any actionable directions. This type of mis-management often leads to attrition. 

That’s why organizations need to invest in leadership development. From it, your managers will learn how to:

  • Adapt their communication styles based on whom they are managing
  • Give feedback that’s clear, concise, and appreciative as well as constructive
  • Manage during times of organizational and societal change (like a global pandemic)
  • Calculate and make decisions that are in the best interest of the organization and its people

Most important of all, this type of training can give your people a deeper understanding of what it means to be a manager. You’d be surprised how many people in managerial roles can’t articulate what a manager truly does.

When healthcare workers quit, it means more time hiring and less time for patient care. Cultivating a positive culture is critical to boosting employee retention. Our approach can help you reduce attrition and keep your top talent. Reach out to us.

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