Workforce planning and talent strategy are among the most essential of all modern healthcare hiring trends. From clinics to hospitals, organizations are realizing that forecasting their staffing needs in order to better plan how to close any identified gaps is an excellent way to future-proof their operations. Certainly, no workforce plan can be 100% perfect, but the more thought and effort that goes into the process, the more a healthcare entity is able to handle anything that arises.
What are the biggest benefits of spending time forecasting short- and long-term hiring needs? Foremost is being able to avoid talent gaps. Having an insufficient number of personnel at any given time can be a constant headache for any organization, but especially healthcare, because it can contribute to a spiral that affects a wide range of internal and external stakeholders.
Many healthcare providers have experienced staffing shortages that negatively impacted patient care, employee morale, and the ability to attract more patients and staff. In some cases, these issues have even led to the closing of entire wards. The revenue loss from a shutdown makes staffing and reopening even more difficult, thus creating a vicious cycle.
Without a doubt, healthcare HR leaders have the ability to serve as advocates, experts, and facilitators when it comes to talent forecasting, as well as developing strategies to address potential shortages in cost-effective ways. They can keep large-scale business decisions on track and ensure that their employers’ goals can be met.
To prove the ROI of investing in people and tie it to workforce-related activities, Harvard Business Review attests that HR and finance must work together. However, there is often a disconnect. HBR’s survey found that more than 60% of respondents believe that their HR systems don’t connect to critical business results, including revenue and customer satisfaction. Creating stronger relationships between HR and finance (as well as other departments) is key to achieving alignment and meeting company goals. With proper planning in place, HR leaders can have a critical impact on how well their nonprofit or for-profit companies thrive.
Overcoming Challenges Inherent With Forecasting Healthcare Hiring Needs
To gain all the benefits that come with forecasting, healthcare HR departments need to acknowledge and overcome the challenges that come with predicting how many contract, part-time, and full-time workers to bring aboard. One challenge is the national shortage of healthcare workers in the labor market.
According to reports, the shortage existed well before the pandemic and is expected to continue into the next decade. Workforce planning can help mitigate this problem, though, by identifying likely gaps between what’s needed and what current recruitment capabilities are in place. For starters, understanding lead times to fill each type of position can help determine when to start sourcing and recruiting.
Simply starting sooner might not be enough by itself, so additional strategies for sourcing and attracting candidates can be invaluable to getting healthcare workers into the fold at just the right moment. If staffing strategies alone won’t solve the gaps, HR can use the analyses to work with leadership on business strategies to address potential gaps. For example, perhaps a department can figure out ways to use more LPNs and NAs instead of all RNs.
Another challenge is that forecasting is always going to involve moving targets. Plans can become less relevant when the unpredictable occurs or when changes are made in a hospital or clinic’s strategy.
The good news is that when workforce forecasting is done well, it takes contingencies into consideration. In other words, unpredictability is folded into the overall plan. This makes the plan more flexible and less affected when something unexpected (like a merger) occurs.
Prioritize Flexibility and Be Ready for Anything
As a healthcare leader, it’s vital to have the right people in place. But if HR teams use outdated methods or routinely approach hiring as a series of one-time events, healthcare organizations could be missing out on legitimate opportunities to meet long-term hiring needs.
The current healthcare talent shortage is a serious issue, with many organizations struggling to find and retain qualified professionals. Despite this challenging environment, meeting staffing needs is still attainable. The first step is learning how to forecast hiring needs. Easier said than done, sure. But far from impossible.
No hiring plan will ever be set in stone, but some can be more flexible than others. If a hospital changes its strategy or focus, for example, the initial hiring forecast can quickly become outdated. Imagine that a nearby hospital decides to focus on only two specialties, so it suddenly has to refer its patients with other needs to different local hospitals and clinics. This would greatly affect the staffing needed at the hospital.
Reversals like this are all-too-common and can happen due to mergers, acquisitions, and spinoffs. That’s why it’s a good idea to have contingency plans ready for fluctuating staffing needs. In addition, changes to the labor market can also result in either more turnover than anticipated or less interest in job postings and offers.
Businesses must have good workforce plans that can be changed quickly depending on the situation to help the company achieve its goals and be ready for anything with the right talent in place. Hiring forecasts become less reliable when healthcare markets, labor markets, strategies, or other variables change unexpectedly and result in more or less hospital usage than expected. However, the underlying workforce analyses and tactics can still have value in ensuring business strategies have the staffing needed to execute them.
Donna Horowitz, Ph.D., is the head of R&D and Quality at Personify, a WilsonHCG company, an award-winning, globally recognized recruitment process outsourcing firm. Donna is an accomplished human resource executive with profit and loss experience across multiple industries in public and privately held global business settings.