Margaret Lindquist | Healthcare Content Strategist | March 23, 2023
The foundation of any healthcare system is its people, the caregivers and support staff directly responsible for patient outcomes and satisfaction levels. Healthcare human resources teams are responsible for hiring and onboarding those people, fostering a positive and compassionate workplace culture, helping employees advance their careers, and ensuring their organizations and their people comply with a host of safety, privacy, training, and other policies and regulations. To face these tough challenges amid severe staffing shortages, rampant employee burnout, and rising labor costs, healthcare HR teams need to develop thoughtful, innovative programs and policies.
HR groups in healthcare organizations are responsible for typical HR functions, such as recruiting, hiring, and advising senior management on the pay and benefits packages needed to attract and retain the best talent. Healthcare HR teams also face particularly difficult challenges that are unique to the industry. They’re responsible for communicating and tracking numerous federal and state government regulations covering certifications, safety, privacy, and other areas. They’re hiring in an industry where competition for talent is particularly fierce and candidates have many other options. They oversee a workforce that faces stressful situations on a daily basis and requires physical safeguards and mental health support. They collaborate with IT to protect the privacy of patient and employee records. They work with managers to adjust staff scheduling processes to reduce burnout, and they develop programs that improve patient satisfaction and deliver positive patient outcomes—for example, by designing compensation and bonus systems that align pay with performance improvements and patient outcomes.
Healthcare HR managers have all the responsibilities of their peers in other industries plus many specific to healthcare. Those include managing high rates of employee turnover, providing support for employees’ mental and physical health, monitoring certification compliance, and measuring success based on patient outcomes and satisfaction levels (as opposed to the organization’s financial performance).
Healthcare HR teams develop hiring practices that ensure their organization attracts the most-qualified candidates, and they work with senior management to create attractive compensation and incentive packages in a highly competitive labor market. They make sure that employees are current with legally mandated certifications. They keep an eye on technology trends to ensure that employees have the HR tools and systems they need. Perhaps most important, they’re responsible for fostering a positive work culture, one in which employees collaborate with one another, feel comfortable sharing their concerns with management, and feel appreciated for their important work—an ideal environment for reducing employee turnover and taking the best possible care of patients.
In an industry where hiring, retaining, and developing employees can be hugely challenging, the importance of the HR function can’t be overstated. Healthcare HR teams must deal with complex government regulations and union contracts, as well as steadily rising labor costs. They also face unique challenges related to physical safety, work stress, and understaffing. It’s critically important that these teams help their organizations navigate these challenges, focusing on these top four.
Given the vast amounts of employee feedback HR teams collect from surveys, focus groups, training programs, and other means, they’re in a unique position to serve as employee advocates on everything from compensation to scheduling and wellness. As such, they not only communicate employee wants and needs to the C-suite, but they also make sure that senior leaders aren’t blindsided by workforce actions, including higher-than-usual turnover and union activities.
There is no one best way for healthcare organizations to reduce employee turnover, but there is one first step all of them should take: Look at the people who have left the organization, especially high performers, and determine what could have been done to retain them. Measure those actions against a checklist of best practices, including flexible work schedules, generous training and promotion opportunities, technology that automates the mundane parts of people’s jobs, and better compensation. In addition to analyzing exit interview data, survey current employees to find out what they like about the organization and what can be improved, with the goal of helping employees maintain a healthy work-life balance and feel appreciated for the important, rigorous work they do. According to research from the US National Center for Biotechnology Information, a positive work culture increases employee engagement, reduces absenteeism, and positively impacts the patient-clinician relationship.
Healthcare HR teams are responsible for ensuring their organization complies with a range of laws governing the industry. In the US, those laws include the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA, protecting patient data), the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA, requiring hospitals to treat anyone arriving at an emergency room regardless of their ability to pay), the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act (PSQIA, protecting healthcare workers who report medical errors and unsafe conditions), and the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH, promoting the use of technology to improve the quality, safety, and efficiency of healthcare). There are also myriad regulations that apply to specific types of clinicians. For example, in Massachusetts, respiratory therapists need to complete 15 hours of continuing education every two years. It’s HR’s responsibility to make sure that the requirements for various positions are tracked and employees stay up to date. HR also works closely with the organization’s legal team to develop and enforce programs that train employees on how to comply with various laws and minimize the potential for lawsuits.
HR in healthcare entails far more than just hiring and terminating people and managing benefits and payroll. The healthcare industry is undergoing massive change, with increasing government regulation, rampant employee turnover, and new technology-based methods for delivering and monitoring care. In response, HR managers need to develop new strategies, programs, and policies. Here are 10 best practices.
Training new employees and making sure that existing ones are keeping up with their training is a healthcare industry imperative. The difference between a poorly trained and well-trained employee can be a matter of life or death. HR is responsible for developing training programs and enforcing participation as part of a thorough onboarding and employee development process. The benefits range from basic legal compliance to higher rates of employee retention and improved patient care. Using software that reminds employees about training renewal deadlines and tracks their progress is essential.
The No. 1 ask from healthcare workers is for increased workforce flexibility, according to the “Future Health Index 2022” report. Employers can deliver in a number of ways, including by offering remote work options when appropriate for the role, giving employees more control over their work hours, and using scheduling software to let employees swap shifts through an app on their mobile device. The latest human capital management (HCM) scheduling applications can also filter available shifts based on an individual worker’s certifications and experience.
Amid the industrywide labor shortage, two-thirds of hospitals are using signing bonuses to recruit talented clinicians, nurses, and other professionals, according to a survey from recruiting agency Avant Healthcare Professionals. That’s a considerable increase from before the pandemic, when less than 40% reported using such bonuses. Average signing bonuses for nurses are about US$15,000, based on an analysis of listings on nursing job boards. These bonuses work best to secure candidates who are wavering between offers from two different healthcare employers. In some cases, signing bonuses are essential to landing a candidate, such as when relocation costs would otherwise make it difficult for a candidate to accept an offer.
Market-leading compensation packages go way beyond salary and bonuses. Employees expect base-level benefits such as medical and dental insurance, life insurance, paid vacation, and a retirement savings plan. But other means of compensation include a gym membership, training reimbursement, financial planning resources, childcare subsidies, and commuter benefits. The first step for savvy healthcare leaders is to talk with employees to understand their priorities. Their answers may surprise you.
Building and sustaining a positive work culture is key to attracting job candidates, retaining current employees, and promoting innovation. Meantime, employees who are happy with their workforce culture and who feel appreciated are more likely to prioritize patient care. In fact, research by the UK National Health Service shows that dysfunctional organizational culture results in increased rates of patient mortality. Among the steps healthcare organizations can take to improve their workplace culture are creating a comprehensive and engaging employee orientation process, instituting a mentorship program, recognizing and rewarding employee achievements (both big and small), and promoting an open dialogue with senior management through surveys and live team-building and strategy meetings.
A number of technologies are transforming healthcare, with the potential to cut costs and improve clinician satisfaction, patient experiences, and health outcomes. Some of the new technologies, such as telehealth, wearable devices, and mobile health applications, connect clinicians directly with patients, while mobile scheduling and talent management applications automate administrative tasks and allow staff to create personalized career pathways. It’s HR’s job to work closely with IT to ensure employees get the training they need to use these new tools.
Burnout among healthcare workers is at an all-time high, according to a recent Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation survey. 55% of healthcare workers reported symptoms of burnout (defined as mental and physical exhaustion due to chronic workplace stress), with the highest rate, 69%, among workers aged 18 to 29. To alleviate worker stress, healthcare employers are giving employees on-demand access to their schedules to help them manage their work-life balance. They’re developing strategies and support mechanisms to handle fatigued employees—for example, limiting extended shifts (those over 12 hours), letting employees take breaks every couple of hours, and providing sleeping rooms. Some hospitals have even instituted “fatigue buddies” who monitor each other for signs of exhaustion. Healthcare organizations are also making it easier for employees to split shifts or make dynamic shift changes. Some organizations are connecting employees with mental health resources they can access privately. They’re also training managers on empathetic leadership, encouraging them to engage with employees regularly rather than during perfunctory check-ins.
Eleven of the 20 most secure jobs are in healthcare, according to the latest U.S. News & World Report Best Jobs rankings, with respiratory therapist, cardiovascular technologist, and epidemiologist topping the list. So holding on to a job isn’t a major concern for those at the highest levels of the profession. However, workers in nonclinical healthcare roles have less job security, creating an opportunity for HR to offer them learning and development programs and facilitate career mobility within the organization as the needs of different departments change.
Self-managed teams of employees share responsibility for planning and executing tasks to achieve specific goals with little or no supervision. Under this model, team members make commitments to each other, and those commitments drive the work. Although there’s no boss of a self-managed team, hierarchy and accountability still exist. Workers with specific skills take on leadership roles for relevant tasks. The benefits of self-managed teams include higher employee engagement and reduced costs. In addition, according to the Journal of Health Organization and Management, self-managed teams are more effective at allocating resources and therefore more flexible in how they approach tasks and situations.
Healthcare HR teams need to work closely with their organization’s legal department to stay abreast of and ensure compliance with a host of industry-specific laws and regulations, including the aforementioned HIPAA, which protects the privacy of patient data, EMTALA, which requires hospitals to treat emergency room patients even if they’re unable to pay, and PSQIA, which protects healthcare workers who report unsafe workplace conditions. In addition to those federal laws, there’s a host of different laws and licensing requirements for different positions that differ by state. The penalties for noncompliance include costly lawsuits and fines.
Stiff competition for talented workers, rising salaries, and increasing employee demands for work-life balance—these are just a few of the challenges healthcare HR teams face every day. Healthcare organizations are using specialized industry capabilities built into Oracle Fusion Cloud Human Capital Management to automate and improve hiring, simplify staff scheduling, connect staff with needed training, and help workers engage with one another and with management—all of which contribute to the ultimate goal of delivering better patient care. And because those HCM services are delivered in the cloud, staff can access them from anywhere—at their desk, on the floor, at home, or on the go.
What are examples of human resources in healthcare?
Beyond the hiring, benefits management, and termination processes that all HR professionals handle, healthcare HR workers must also deal with evolving government regulations and certification requirements, workforce safety concerns, and an epidemic of employee burnout at all levels of the organization.
What does HR do in a hospital?
Hospital HR teams perform typical HR functions, such as recruiting and hiring and advising senior management on pay and benefits packages. Hospital HR responsibilities also include tracking and enforcing government training, safety, privacy, and other regulations; working with IT to protect patient health records; and developing disciplinary processes to ensure employees are held accountable for bad behavior and disputes are resolved fairly.
What are some current human resources issues in healthcare?
The biggest HR challenge in healthcare is recruiting and retaining talented people—in particular, specialist doctors and nurses—amid the industrywide labor shortage. Other issues include managing rising salary requirements and alleviating staff burnout.