Talent acquisition and retention within healthcare

Talent acquisition and retention within healthcare

Talent acquisition and retention within healthcare

A healthcare system is only as strong and robust as its workforce.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates a projected shortfall of 10 million healthcare workers by 2030. While this is anticipated to mainly impact low-income and lower-middle income countries, countries – across all levels of socioeconomic development – will continue to face issues in the employment, training, deployment, retention and performance of their workforces.

The COVID-19 pandemic served to further weaken the position of systems – and healthcare employees – that were already severely overburdened and operating unsustainably. In the UK, employee turnover rates among healthcare professionals continue to rise:

While many of these issues are systemic, requiring lasting solutions and interventions from both government and regulators, what can the healthcare sector do in the meantime to boost talent acquisition and retention? After all, quality of patient care and patient outcomes will suffer if the current staffing situation is allowed to continue.

What are the benefits of retaining talent within healthcare?

For financially pressured health services, avoiding the significant costs and resources associated with recruiting medical and healthcare  professionals more broadly is highly beneficial. The figures speak for themselves: it’s estimated that the turnover of a physician represents a cost of more than £160,000 to health organisations, and almost £50,000 annually for a nurse.

As well as huge cost savings, providers – and patients – continue to benefit from the wealth of experience and expertise found in their existing workforce. Experienced professionals also help with the training, development and mentoring of newer, less experienced colleagues.

What retention strategies work best for healthcare organisations?

In order to work out which retention strategies are likely to be most effective, we must first investigate the reasons why so many are leaving jobs in the health and social care sector. According to research from the Nuffield Trust, commonly cited reasons for leaving include:

  •         work-life balance
  •         burnout, stress and mental health
  •         lack of job satisfaction and feeling undervalued
  •         work environments and physical working conditions
  •         low staffing levels
  •         workplace culture – 13% due to discrimination, 32% due to bullying, harassment and abuse from managers and fellow colleagues
  •         influence of the pandemic – accounting for 14%
  •         pay and pensions taxation.

Naturally, the specific issues vary from position to position – for example, between doctors, nurses, support workers and social care staff – but clear themes emerge nonetheless. Senior management and human resources (HR) functions must act to help address these issues in meaningful, realistic ways.

So, what are the options?

  •  Strategic recruitment and onboarding enables HR leaders to find new hires with the right levels of skills, knowledge and experience and get them up to speed quickly. Comprehensive medical and healthcare staffing programmes should prioritise straightforward application and recruiting processes, thorough inductions, and establishing strong support networks.
  • Employee engagement is multifaceted. Offering greater work-life balance and flexibility, promoting positive values and cultures, adapting work environments, encouraging autonomy and the pursuit of individual interests, and helping them to follow their desired career paths – where possible – will all help to boost job satisfaction. This last is particularly important; ongoing training and development needs to be structured and highly accessible to all. Boosting professional development, skill acquisition and supporting employees to pursue career development opportunities is critical to ensure they remain satisfied, suitably challenged and valued.
  • Diversity and inclusion should be a priority for any organisation. –Providers must recognise and respect diversity, develop meaning initiatives that enhance inclusion, and take a hard stance in overhauling toxic cultures.
  • Recognition and celebration can be one of a number of powerful incentives to help employees to feel valued and respected in their roles. Celebrating successes, highlighting individual achievements and rewarding staff members for their efforts all contribute to a happier workplace.

These represent only a handful of strategies that can help to retain existing talent pools and attract top hires from elsewhere. Others include removing frustrating obstacles to work, conducting ‘stay’ interviews to highlight issues ahead of time, implementing mentor systems, addressing pay disparities and reviewing benefit packages, and much more.

What are the barriers to medical and healthcare talent acquisition and retention?

Are there factors specific to healthcare that are impacting recruitment, employee retention and attrition?

For the NHS in particular, there is growing concern that the large number of consultants, doctors and other professionals who have delayed retirement will eventually leave and add to the shortfall. A mass exodus is not only problematic in terms of workforce volume, but those leaving the profession can cause significant gaps across specialties – that cannot immediately be filled.

Employer branding can prove a barrier when negative aspects of an organisation’s culture overshadow its positives. As well as addressing the root causes, where applicable, by identifying and developing effective solutions to issues, more could be done to improve messaging and offer incentives to redress the balance.

Historically, hospitals and clinics have not always managed to quickly adapt staffing levels in response to challenges as they arise. Remote clinics, sessions and virtual care have helped somewhat in addressing shortages, and some services have redeployed teams in areas of highest need. Developing creative solutions to ensure the right staffing levels are maintained in the right places – bearing in mind that a reliance on contract staff can cause additional fragmentation – helps meet needs even with suboptimal staff numbers.

Other notable factors posing barriers to health recruitment and retention include:

  • market demand exceeding supply
  • healthcare professionals tend to have good leverage
  • increasing education demands
  • health services that are looking to cut costs.

All of this only highlights the need for a considered, sustainable and fit-for-purpose talent management strategy. Increasing service coverage, and delivering the highest possible standards of care, is inseparable from the availability, accessibility and quality of the health workforce.

Help develop solutions to talent management within the healthcare sector

Transform healthcare organisations – and support them to recruit and retain the best talent – with Queen Margaret University’s online MSc Healthcare Management programme.

Gain the skills to excel in careers across both the public and private health sectors, drawing on your specialist expertise in health and management. Your learning will be grounded in real-world practice, developing key critical thinking, strategic analysis and decision making capabilities instrumental to improve health outcomes. You’ll study wide-ranging, flexible topics critical to the success of the healthcare system: health leadership, human resource management, community health, health systems and policy, health promotion and partnerships and project management.