Shane Jackson, President of Jackson Healthcarea $1.8 billion healthcare workforce and technology company built on a values-driven culture
Any business executive I know will tell you that the past two years have been unlike anything they’ve seen in their careers. Supply chains have been broken, costs have risen and consumer expectations of companies have changed. Perhaps most importantly, the relationship between companies and the people who work for them has changed dramatically.
There are currently 3.5 million less workers in the US were there two years ago. Since February 2020, vacancies have increased by an astonishing 50%while total employment in the US has fallen slightly down. Armed with the leverage of drastically higher demand than available supply, workers demand and receive not only pay increases, but also choices in when, how and where they work.
Nowhere have these effects been felt so drastically as in healthcare. When our hospitals were overrun with Covid-19 patients, outpatient clinics were overrun with patients avoiding hospitals. Many nurses who have been on the front lines caring for critically ill patients have succumbed to overwhelming pressure amid so many deaths. According to a 2021 study by Health Affairs, nearly 100,000 nurses left the profession last year – most of them under the age of 50. With their departure, those who remained had even more to do and fewer colleagues to help. Citing their work as having a negative effect on their well-being, 32% of nurses have said they can leave the profession. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates we’re close to filling 200,000 nurse vacancies per year until 2030.
It’s not just nurses who have felt the impact: Nearly everyone involved in our healthcare system is rethinking their calling. At the other end of the spectrum, healthcare executives are retiring or switching industries en masse. Doctors also report they opt for early retirement or leave full-time medical practice for other work.
To make matters worse, patients are sicker than ever. Nearly every hospital is seeing an increase in patient acuity, largely driven by care that was delayed during the pandemic. And chronic disease and obesity remain the main drivers of US health care consumption. All of this comes at a time when we are on the cusp of a drastic increase in patient care demand, driven by the aging baby boomers, the oldest of whom turned 75 last year.
It should come as no surprise that the crisis caused by Covid-19 has led to a dramatic shift from traditional work to temporary or temporary work among healthcare professionals. After experiencing the chaos of the pandemic, clinicians seek the control that work gives them when, how and where they work. Gig health professionals will tell you it’s about much more than just paying: it’s the ability to manage their own health and well-being by going in and out of different healthcare settings – and the staff in general – as they please.
I recently spoke with a local doctor – a doctor who works temporarily in a variety of practice situations. He told me how he had reacted to a colleague who asked him what he did to deal with burnout. “I don’t get burned out,” he said, “because I work as a deputy. If you’re a deputy and you’re burned out, you’re not doing it right.” Incidentally, that doctor was about to take three months off to give himself a much-needed post-Covid break.
There are steps that the healthcare sector can and should take to meet these challenges. Certainly, technology and structural changes, such as the design of care teams, will play an important role. But perhaps most importantly, healthcare employers need to rethink how they interact with their healthcare providers.
There are two lessons from this experience that I believe are relevant to any industry right now:
• Companies need to improve not only the way they acquire temporary workers, but more importantly, our ability to integrate them effectively into work processes that are redesigned to use them. The temporary workforce is real and growing, and every company needs to figure out how to embrace it. According to SIA52 million Americans will have been in temporary employment by 2020, representing 35% of the total U.S. workforce — a number that statistic expects to be nearly 51% by 2027. In response, we must restructure our organizations to effectively attract temporary workers.
• We need to figure out how to give full-time staff the benefits people look for in temporary work. We need to create work schedules that allow for flexibility. We need to give people more control over when, how and where they work. And as leaders, we must not only allow, but sometimes demand, that people participate in activities that help them rest and find more balance in their lives.
Our healthcare system faces enormous challenges in caring for the coming tidal wave of patients, and we are starting with fewer colleagues by our side. However, as leaders, we have the opportunity to create environments for our people to live up to the ideal that each of us who have chosen healthcare as a career has: caring for people in their most vulnerable moments.