Why Technology Is Key to Navigating Healthcare’s Current Labor Crisis

By Toni Land, Head of Clinical Healthcare Experience at Medallia

As we advance into year three of the global coronavirus pandemic, a time fraught with instability and uncertainty, one thing is clear: Healthcare workers are at a breaking point, and organizations need to intervene or risk losing their best people.  

Nearly one-third of RNs are considering leaving their roles — a jump of 10 percentage points in less than 10 months, according to McKinsey. Among the top drivers? Inadequate staffing, higher pay and employers not listening to or supporting workers’ needs on the job.

With resources stretched to capacity, it’s critical that organizations pinpoint what’s influencing employee experiences and what steps can be taken to improve retention. That requires capturing the voice of the employee to understand their needs, sentiment and key factors leading to churn. Using the right technology to collect and analyze employee feedback at scale, and inform an insights-driven plan of action are key to solving healthcare’s current labor crisis. 

The tools needed to understand and improve the healthcare worker experience

As the ripple effects of COVID-19 and the Great Resignation have led to increased burnout and heightened labor expenses, advanced technology solutions like multi-channel, real-time employee feedback capture and AI-enabled analytics can improve retention and drive stronger employee experiences across healthcare.

But first, leaders must have an intentionality to check in with their people more often — to understand what’s going on within their organizations and what’s impacting their teams.

Conducting yearly or even quarterly employee engagement surveys is the norm, but with the nature of work and both the patient and employee experiences in a constant state of flux, collecting real-time feedback is key.

Keeping an ongoing pulse of the patient experience has been something that organizations have started to solve with in-the-moment customer listening technologies and initiatives, but now is the time for employee experience teams to catch up. Leaders need information about staff that’s not weeks or months old, but rather is timely so they can act ASAP.

Beyond listening to employees more frequently, leaders must also be diligent about capturing more employee voices. That starts with opening up more channels for feedback, as providing employee experiences via face-to-face or email communications can be limiting.

Employers must lean into the technologies employees are using in their everyday lives. For example, they’re texting and scanning QR codes at home on their smart devices or even when they go out to eat. As a result, there is an opportunity to leverage the tools employees are already familiar with as a way to shift from a mindset of capturing point-in-time feedback to a mindset of continuous listening and empathy.

Savvy companies are finding better ways to encourage continuous listening, whether by adding an always-on survey to all employee-issued devices or placing QR codes that include employee feedback surveys in prominent locations, such as where workers clock in.

From there, organizations must make sense of all of the data captured via various inputs. Using AI-backed analytics, teams can significantly reduce the manual hours involved in making sense of individual survey responses, get real-time insights about trending topics and uncover ways to improve retention and satisfaction. Executives can quickly get a snapshot of what successes can be replicated, identify which areas need improvement and initiate open, timely dialog about what’s going on – whether that’s via regular team check-in sessions to review top themes or by democratizing data by granting workers access to employee experience insights dashboards.

When leaders receive employee feedback, it’s important to be transparent about what the top topics are and what next steps will be taken. Leaders don’t always need to devise solutions on their own, as the best solutions can come directly from their people. 

Tapping into employee signals of distress when there’s still time to take action

Healthcare employees are in crisis, and organizations often find out when it’s too late — when workers give notice. 

Beyond understanding top trends and themes, real-time employee feedback collection tools and AI-powered analytics can also be used to detect signs of employees in distress, whether they have too much to do or are experiencing a mental health crisis. 

As a real-world example highlighting patient and customer experience, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has been able to identify — and intervene in response to — 3,000 crisis signals related to suicide and homelessness all within minutes. The VA has been able to do so by capturing veteran feedback via surveys and using AI-backed systems to analyze these insights in real time. 

In an employee context, organizations could set up this type of program by checking in with employees, asking a simple question like “How full is your cup?”, and using filters to flag individuals who respond in a certain way, so that the right stakeholders can be immediately alerted to take action.

The leading indicators to monitor to improve employee experiences

Traditionally, many healthcare organizations have mainly paid attention to lagging indicators, which are retrospective and outcomes based, like churn. Yet these only tell organizations what has already happened as opposed to predicting what might happen when employers still have a chance to turn things around. That’s where organizations that regularly capture employee feedback have an advantage. They can analyze this data to uncover leading indicators, which are proactive and predictive, like employee sentiment. This can include whether employee responses to survey questions like “Are you satisfied with your job or manager?” are positive, negative, or neutral. 

By digging into employee responses, teams can figure out what’s going well, what can be done to improve the experience and what actions to take. Based on those actions taken, organizations should ideally see both leading and lagging measures improve. 

For instance, if employees have asked for more support for transporting patients, and leadership responds by allocating more resources, then ideally the organization would see employee sentiment, along with other measures such as employee satisfaction, improve.

Final thoughts

Capturing the full voice of the employee in real time is necessary for creating sustainable change in healthcare. If not, employees will have no other option but to move on.

For organizations that haven’t already implemented, or are struggling to maintain, employee experience programs, a complete overhaul is not necessary to achieve results. Teams can start small, by adding more channels for collecting feedback and investing in real-time analytics to understand employee feedback right away.   

Most important of all, practices must be put in place to showcase that employees have a voice, and that what they have to say matters.