Staff shortages are becoming commonplace — here are 3 key strategies for retaining your practice team

Blog Posts  |  12 January 2023

Written by: Cheryl Reifsnyder, PhD

Medical practices find it challenging to run properly without the right people—and staffing challenges have impacted nearly every role in healthcare. According to a recent MGMA Stat poll, 58% of medical practices say staffing is their biggest challenge heading into 2023, ahead of expenses (20%), revenue (17%), and technology (2%).

Far-reaching consequences

These shortages lead to high costs of management because they lead to increased overtime costs, increased expenses when a practice is forced to outsource, plus high costs in time required for recruiting, interviewing and training new employees. Many practices have been forced to decrease hours or even close one day a week, which can be frustrating for both staff and patients.

Finding capable, dependable staff to assist physicians caring for their patients is only half the battle, though. Practices also need to keep new staff around after finding and hiring them—and perhaps the highest cost for practices is the vicious cycle these shortages create by putting greater strain on existing workers. Higher levels of stress and burnout among all practice staff create higher levels of staff turnover. Keep reading for some key strategies for keeping both your new and longtime staff satisfied with their jobs and committed to your practice.

Financial incentives and benefits improvements

According to an MGMA Stat poll, 59% of medical practice leaders reported better pay and benefits elsewhere as the top cause of staff turnover in 2021. In response, another MGMA Stat poll revealed that 56% of medical practices reported their top tactic for addressing staffing issues in 2022 as raising wages, versus:

  • 29% flexible schedule
  • 5% temp workers
  • 10% other

Some practices have also begun improving benefit offerings to be more competitive with other employers. The increased competition among employers for healthcare workers has already led more than 50% of practices to budget more than usual for workers’ cost-of-living (COL) increases this year, for an average COL increase of 5%.

Financial incentives aren’t limited to wage increases. They can also include sign-on bonuses, relocation assistance, offering stipends for necessities, tuition assistance and reimbursement, referral bonuses, appreciation bonuses, and longevity bonuses.

The value of well-structured onboarding

However, a good salary is only one factor in why someone takes a job and remains there. Another key factor is whether new staff are introduced with well-organized, effective onboarding.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) defines onboarding as the process of helping new employees adjust to both the social and performance aspects of their new jobs quickly and smoothly. Onboarding improves employee retention by investing in training and development. This not only helps improve employee productivity and engagement, it also leads to better patient experiences. The quicker new hires feel welcome and prepared for work, the more quickly they can contribute. Research has shown that having a well-designed onboarding program can rapidly transform new hires into dedicated employees, reducing the costs associated with turnover and improving employee morale.

An effective onboarding program has 4 primary goals. It aims to instill new hires with:

  • Self-confidence in their job: The more confident a new employee feels in their ability to do the job well, the more motivated and, later, the more successful they will be.
  • Role clarity: High role clarity, or how well a new employee understands their job role and expectations, is one of the strongest predictors of job satisfaction and commitment; job performance will suffer if expectations are ambiguous or unclear.
  • Social integration: Feeling socially comfortable and accepted by peers and superiors is also related to employees’ sense of commitment and the rate of new employee turnover.
  • Knowledge of and fitting into the practice’s organizational culture: Successfully teaching new hires the practice’s organizational culture not only helps them to fit in; it is also associated with increased commitment, increased job satisfaction, and decreased turnover.

Investing the time to create better relationships with new employees up front helps them to be more likely to remain with your practice long-term. In addition, when done well, onboarding leads to higher job satisfaction and commitment, higher performance levels, lower employee turnover, and lower employee stress.

The power of employee engagement

Employee engagement is another of the most important elements of successful staffing in your practice. High employee engagement is a key indicator of job satisfaction. Engaged employees feel more valued; they tend to feel that they are contributing members of the practice. There is also evidence that employee engagement correlates to improved performance in the areas of productivity, retention, patient care, and loyalty.

Low employee engagement can result from excessive overtime, unpredictable scheduling, or heavy workloads. However, by being proactive, you can help encourage improved engagement among your staff. Some tips for boosting employee engagement include:

  • Offering coaching and mentoring programs: Fostering strong bonds and relationships between team members with a formal mentoring program encourages professional growth while building better employee engagement.
  • Encourage continuing education and certification: For example, according to the American Association of Critical Care Nurses, the benefits of nursing certifications include higher job satisfaction, increased peer respect, and increased patient satisfaction.
  • Opportunity for better work-life balance: Utilizing scheduling best practices such as self-scheduling and flexible scheduling (e.g., split shifts, overlapping shifts, or job sharing) can help meet the needs of staff who are struggling to balance work and other demands.
  • Employee-led initiatives: Asking employees what would improve their engagement is valuable because employees know their positions and needs best; some examples might include adding healthy snacks to the break room or making a requested technology change.

Successfully combatting staff shortages

Healthcare employee turnover continues to be high while the healthcare industry faces an ongoing shortage of qualified professionals for the workforce. It’s critical to start being proactive in your efforts to attract new hires and encourage existing staff to remain with your practice.

Rather than trying to implement all the above strategies at once, use a handful of affordable options to kick off the process. A few tangible efforts can go a long way toward making your staff feel more valued.

If you’re uncertain what approach to take, consider asking for feedback from your staff—asking for their input shows you care. Then, implement their strategies or open discussion about other possible solutions. Also consider “stay interviews” at least once a year, one-on-one with staff, where you ask questions about any issues or frustrations they might have and their suggestions for improvement.

Well-treated employees will often feel greater loyalty to their practice. Every action you take to improve your staff’s job satisfaction, morale, and productivity is a step toward improving your medical staffing situation.

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