Despite being one of the oldest and most essential industries, the healthcare industry still faces considerable challenges when it comes to staffing, managing, and retaining its employees.
Hospitals, clinics, medical centers, and other healthcare facilities need skilled workers to keep their practices afloat and treat patients. But maintaining a dedicated and productive workforce can be quite challenging. Let’s look at the top three HR challenges in the health industry and discuss how employers can work to overcome these hurdles.
1: Staffing Shortages
By far, the largest HR challenge in the health industry is staffing shortages. Nationally, the hospital turnover rate stands at 22.7% in 2023, according to NSI Nursing Solutions, Inc.
Causes of Staffing Challenges
In 2021, the health industry saw a mass exodus of workers burned out and overworked from three years of Covid-19, an event called the Great Resignation where an estimated 333,000 hospital workers quit.
Though medical facilities are slowly recovering their forces, there still remains a large labor gap in the health industry. Even worse, a staff shortage means that currently-employed medical professionals may be pressured to work longer hours, causing a feedback loop of burnout and more resignations.
Solutions to Staffing Challenges
The obvious solution to staffing shortages is, of course, to hire more employees. HR can entice fresh graduates and former medical workers into the health industry alike by offering enticing compensation and benefits packages and working to reduce the heavy workloads that caused them to quit in the first place. An especially effective tip to get more hires is to offer benefits that help to pay the candidate’s student loans.
A medical facility should also work to retain its current employees by promoting a healthy working environment, offering career development programs, and openly communicating with workers.
2: Employee Well-being
You’d think it’d be easy to keep employees happy and healthy in the health industry. After all, who knows better about physical and mental health than the medical professionals themselves? However, working in the health industry can cause severe stress and strain on healthcare professionals that HR must manage.
Causes of Well-Being Challenges
Employee well-being is a considerable issue for hospitals and other health facilities, as labor shortages force workers to take on more and longer shifts. People are usually motivated to become doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers because they want to help people in need, and may be concerned that patients will deteriorate without constant care. Because of that, health professionals may feel forced to constantly work harder to help more people.
Additionally, as hospitals and emergency rooms are usually open 24/7, this means that medical professionals who work night shifts are unable to maintain a stable circadian rhythm.
All of these factors lead to burnout, where the employee is too mentally and physically tired to work.
Solutions to Well-Being Challenges
To prevent burnout, HR should take steps to monitor employee stress and intervene before a worker can hit burnout by mandating breaks and resting periods.
HR should use data analytics and predictive models to forecast how many employees will be needed to cover predicted peak times. With this information, HR can ensure their facility has enough staff to comfortably cover all functions without overworking any single employee. Even if there isn’t enough staff, clearly communicating a rough schedule ahead of time lets employees prepare ahead of time for it, lowering their stress levels.
Additionally, HR could offer concrete perks that directly boost employee health, such as gym memberships, paid time off, and mental health counseling.
There are quite a lot of factors that contribute to improving employee well-being. For a more comprehensive listing of challenges and solutions to employee care, check out this human resources blog that covers these topics in more detail.
3: Employee Safety
Workers in medical environments are constantly exposed to sharp objects, dangerous chemicals, and heavy machinery. As such, HR needs to take extensive steps to ensure employee safety while on the job.
Causes of Safety Challenges
According to the Military Health System, the top four hazards medical workers face are:
- Slips, trips, and falls from fluid spills and obstructed walkways. These can cause minor injuries that, while not usually fatal, can result in a lost workday and lasting pain for the employee.
- Needle sticks during blood drawings and injections. Blood is one of the leading carriers of pathogens, meaning that a prick from a contaminated needle may risk the employee developing a bloodborne virus themselves.
- Repetitive motion or strain injuries from repeated fine motor tasks related to operating medical equipment. An employee with these sorts of injuries may develop muscle or nerve damage in the related appendage (such as carpal tunnel syndrome), rendering them unable to perform their duties.
- Lifting and handling injuries from moving patients and heavy equipment. Especially for older medical workers, this can cause serious and permanent injury to the employee’s neck and back.
Solutions to Safety Challenges
Though there may always be hazards in a medical facility, HR departments can reduce the chances of injury by following the Occupational Safety and Health Department (OSHA)’s guidelines for the healthcare industry, ensuring that the building and all practices meet the required legal safety standards.
HR can directly combat the four most common safety hazards by:
- Creating and enforcing strict hallway conduct protocols to prevent items from being left in walkways and employees from tripping into them. HR should also hire and maintain a high-quality janitorial staff to swiftly handle any spills.
- Ensuring proper PPE is provided for all employees handling sharp objects.
- Encouraging employees to take frequent breaks to stretch their bodies, especially for workers who handle fine equipment or work at desks.
- Investing in equipment such as transfer carts for larger equipment transfers and educating employees on proper lifting posture. Staff rotations should be varied enough that no single employee is repeatedly handling all the heavy lifting.
Without a health industry and medical care, society would quickly fall apart. That’s why HR departments for medical facilities should do their utmost best to staff, train, and retain qualified healthcare professionals, who, in turn, serve as the backbone of our society. By paying close attention to and overcoming challenges in staff, employee well-being, and employee safety, HR departments in the health industry can promote a healthy and happy workplace.