5 Employee Relations Challenges Facing Healthcare Today

By Deb Muller

There’s no question: Today’s workplace is challenging. From dealing with discrimation to the ramifications of the post-#MeToo era to workplace safety, employee relations issues have changed how we all interact – and how we as HR professionals approach our daily roles.

Nowhere are these challenges more daunting than in healthcare. Regulations are complex and ever-changing. Competition for talent is tough. There’s pressure to deliver better care at lower cost. And, considering that lives are literally on the line, healthcare organizations and their employees are among some of the most at-risk for employee relations issues.

So what’s driving the volatility in healthcare? Here are the top five issues

  1. Regulatory overload. Healthcare is one of the most highly regulated industries, with an exhaustive list of guidelines for patient safety, care environment, emergency care and human resources. The Joint Commission, which accredits and certifies more than 20,000 healthcare organizations and programs in the U.S., sets the standards for care, which includes specific HR standards requiring organizations to verify staff qualifications, provide ongoing training and ensure staff sensitivity to cultural diversity. The burden of proof requires HR to document these efforts in order to maintain accreditation. Implementing effective employee relations solutions for compliance and documentation is critical to avoid losing accreditation and to address ER issues related to staff credentialing and qualifications for career advancement. 
  2. Rampant harrassment. Traditionally a male-dominated field, the healthcare industry faces some of the highest rates of sexual harassment, with young, female physicians and nurses in particular often the victims of inappropriate comments and advances leveled by male superiors as a means of intimidation or power assertion. In many cases, victims are afraid to report, fearing it could cost them their careers—not to mention the frequency of harassment by patients and/or their families. Healthcare organizations must not only provide safe, trusted reporting mechanisms and establish consistent and thorough processes to respond to incidents, but also aggressively force a cultural shift that condemns this kind of behavior and establishes—and enforces—a zero-tolerance environment.
  3. The shift to value-based care. The move toward value-based care and performance payment models is not only adding additional pressure to direct-care staff, but it’s also forcing organizations to realign and redefine compensation structures. This often means organizations are being forced to do more with less—fewer resources, fewer staff and tighter budgets. The pressure can cause tremendous stress for staff, with 70% of nurses and 50% of doctors and nurse practitioners reporting burnout. This can have a direct impact on patient care and patient satisfaction
  4. Shift work. Shift work is a requirement in healthcare, but it’s also a serious employee relations issue. Long-term nightshift work is associated with numerous health risks, and rotating shifts often causes sleep deprivation among staff, which significantly increases the risk of medical errors. While they often have no choice, employees who deliberately sleep on the job can be disciplined for misconduct, and lack of sleep can cause irritability and friction between co-workers, which could lead to harassment accusations.
  5. Tech stress. Constant changes in the medical technology landscape, such as ICD coding standards, EMR platforms, new diagnostics tools—and even telemedicine—can push employees to the brink when it comes to keeping up. Combined with all the other pressures of the job, the stress can cause extremely high turnover, with the average rate for hospitals hitting its highest level in over a decade at 19.1% for 2018. This puts additional pressure on HR leaders to not only mitigate the employee relations issues driving the turnover, but also hire new staff to replace the lost talent. 

The employee relations challenges in healthcare are complex. By deploying centralized, robust employee relations documentation and investigation solutions, healthcare organizations can leverage standardized workflows for reporting, tracking, managing and resolving employee relations issues. This approach provides a versatile and reliable solution that both healthcare employees and HR leaders can trust to streamline and standardize employee relations processes and improve the overall work environment. Ultimately, that means healthcare organizations can gain a strong advantage when it comes to retaining their most valuable investment—their people. 

Deb Muller is CEO of HR Acuity. Deb is driven by an obsession to do things the right way, particularly in employee relations, where she has spent her career championing excellence and effectively managing workplace investigations. After serving in executive HR roles at numerous Fortune 500 companies like Honeywell, Citibank, and Marsh & McLennan, Deb launched HR Acuity to create technology with built-in expertise and equip organizations to manage employee relations more strategically. Deb provides a wealth of real-world experience and guidance to help companies strengthen processes, transform workplace culture, and elevate employee relations as a strategic driver of business success.

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