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Addressing Healthcare Workforce Shortages During Low Unemployment

After several years of high unemployment and essentially an employer's market for healthcare organizations, the tables have turned, and employers are facing low unemployment and workforce shortages.  The workforce shortages include some of the same issues already present, such as in nursing, and some new shortage areas, such as in behavioral health and social work. Employees are now becoming more in demand to fill empty positions, and employers are seeing themselves moving from a high supply of applicants to a low supply of applicants and from price makers to price takers.

In order to combat the workforce shortage, healthcare organizations must address the long time looming concerns and complaints of those already in their employ and those wishing to be employed by their organization.  Here are some suggestions to do so:

1. Treat all applicants like potential employees/customers/patients. Every applicant who walks into a healthcare organization could be a potential hire. As a result, that applicant should be treated with dignity and respect at all times. If the organization has a set of "core behaviors" they expect applicants to meet, then everyone interacting with the particular applicant should also demonstrate those core behaviors. The applicant should not be interviewed based on rumors, gossip, supposition, or other things that produce an unfair bias. The applicant should never be harassed or embarrassed intentionally in any way. The applicant should essentially be treated as a VIP guest in a healthcare facility. The rationale behind these suggestions is simple. This applicant is a potential hire. If they were not a potential hire, the organization would not have invited the person for the interview in the first place. Second, the applicant is a potential customer. Everyone knows someone. Everyone is related to someone. In this digital age, there is a high probability that something a potential employer does will be broadcast on social media at the very least. Mistreating or disregarding interviewed candidates can adversely affect the healthcare organization's market share. Finally, the applicant and even new hires are potential patients. An applicant in the future may visit the hospital or healthcare organization and remember a negative interview experience, and then be concerned about the type of care that they will receive.

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2. Offer competitive/equitable salaries. There are some organizations that say that offering competitive salaries is easier said than done and people cannot work for money alone. However, staff are not coming to work every day out of the kindness of their hearts. They expect to be compensated and compensated fairly. Conducting regular salary surveys of the market area can determine if salaries are competitive or not. People want to feel valued in their jobs. Underpaying someone indicates to them right away they are not valued. Fortunately or unfortunately, many staff determine their value based on salary comparisons. Moreover, that value should not be determined by race, gender, or any other reason. If a male data coordinator is paid $60,000 per year, and a female data coordinator with more education and experience is paid $45,000 per year, that is not fair and equitable. The gender wage gap is real, and it is up to employers to close it. A woman should not be paid 79 cents on the dollar to what men are paid ever, particularly given comparable abilities, education, and experience.

3. Offer opportunities to existing employees.  Although this may seem like an old trick, many employers are still not offering opportunities for advancement, growth, and education to their employees.  An employee who gets promoted is going to be happy. An employee who is repeatedly promised a promotion and never gets it will be unhappy. Demonstrating to existing employees that the organization is also a place where they can grow professionally does a lot for morale. Employers can provide in-house training and workshops, notify employees of seminars in their field, and provide additional training to staff to grow them within their fields. Some of this may be free or low cost to the employer, but it produces a high value to the employee. Along the same lines of education, an employer may reduce workforce shortages by educating staff for potential positions in their organizations. If the organization is experiencing a shortage of phlebotomists, offer phlebotomy training to non-clinical staff.  If there is a shortage of coders, offer training to non-coding professionals or those with closely related job titles.

4. Recognize and appreciate employees. Again, employee recognition programs seem like an old concept.  Still, it's surprising how many managers and organizations do not do it. Employee recognition starts with learning everyone in the department's name. Employees should know who their department directors are and vice versa. Further, recognizing employees for their accomplishments, achievements and milestones can go a long way.  If an employee has a ten year milestone at work, recognize that person. If an employee has been promoted, send out an e-mail to other staff in the area indicating such and explaining that person's new role. If it's a holiday or special occasion, recognize it with the staff. Many people spend almost as much, if not more, time with the people at work than they do with their families.  Employees want to feel that that time is appreciated.

Of course, there are many other tools to gain and retain staff.  These are merely a few suggestions that can be applied to any healthcare organization.