Reversing Attrition Trends in Healthcare

Why do people leave jobs? Intuitively, we can all name several reasons, a bad boss, more money, better benefits, better work-life balance, and personal reasons. In the post-COVID job market, however, it seems as if there is general confusion as to why the healthcare workforce is in disarray and what to do about it. Although the factors influencing the healthcare provider’s job choices are multifactorial, they are not a mystery. How to attract and retain talent in today’s market is about the basics: competitive compensation and benefits, a reasonable level of job satisfaction, a reasonable amount of occupational stress, and competent leadership. Easy right?

Repeatedly in labor surveys, employees indicate pay and benefits as one of the top reasons for leaving a job. Complicating today’s market is that competitive compensation is a moving target. The easiest way to compete for top talent is by offering a compensation package that outdoes the competition. However, when everyone in the market is employing the same tactic, positions can change quickly and dramatically. Picking a competitive position and then focusing on the other factors behind why employees leave can position organizations to stand out from the field. 

Job satisfaction and occupational stress are big factors behind why employees leave. These factors are frequently attributed to the employee domain. Employers encourage staff to take care of themselves and encourage resilience to decrease burnout. And yet, research as far back as the sixties indicates that ensuring a positive work environment, leading to higher job satisfaction, decreased occupational stress, and better retention lays in the employer domain. 

Prior to COVID, the healthcare’s industry approach to staffing, more with less, created an environment where occupational stress was high, job satisfaction was low, and burnout was rampant. Using nursing as an example, the average registered nurse (RN) is likely to leave their first job out of school in a year. Three to five years later, a significant portion of RNs have left nursing altogether. The reasons provided are uniform—not enough resources to take care of people the right way. Fixing the revolving door of employees post-COVID is going to take organizations making sure there are enough people to effectively take care of the patient. Doing so will lead to increased job satisfaction, decreased occupational stress, and better retention. Organizations that can create that working environment and advertise it, will be head and shoulders above the competition. 

Finally, so much has been written about the value of good leadership and yet it is frequently a factor overlooked and undervalued by employers. Cultivating strong leadership and then supporting that leadership in today’s market needs to be advertised. Just like testimonials and customer reviews, advertising great leadership in the workplace sends the message that a positive working environment is valued by the organization and will attract people that are looking for more than just top dollar. Executing in each of these domains is not easy, but failure in just one increases the cost of attrition and lower quality care that proliferates when the workforce is overextended and dissatisfied.  


Copyright Michael Lambert