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Healthcare: Your Rx for Staff Burnout and Retention Issues

Christine Corning RN BSN

Director, Healthcare Vertical at Cornerstone OnDemand

As an HR professional, it’s never fun to deal with the aftermath of a burned out employee who has decided to leave. You’re stuck with the unenviable task of dividing their workload among the existing staff, to say nothing of having to start the recruiting process all over again to replace them.

Burnout, and the high attrition it causes, hits care centers hard. NSI found that the nursing turnover epidemic is as high as 16% per year. This reaches all the way to the executive level, where reports turnover costs can drain up to 5% of total operating budgets.

So what are some strategies healthcare organizations can employ to ensure their workers don’t get burned out?

1. What’s the Problem? The first thing is determine if you have a problem! Look at recent data related to turnover to assess whether the high rate of employees leaving has become an epidemic. If you think it’s related to burnout, then you’re probably right. But before you make any determinations, or take any actions, you’ll need to look at the facts and figures behind your departing employees to figure out the solution. Currently, NSI says just 36% of care centers have a strategy in place to prevent attrition. Establishing one will help your organization gain a talent advantage over other hospitals in the area, and the lower attrition rates will make cost-conscious executives happy.

2. Why Do People Leave? When one employee leaves, their work must be farmed out to the remaining staff until a replacement is found. But qualified replacements don’t grow on trees, so the longer that position is vacant, the more your shrinking headcount will struggle to care for increasing numbers of patients. This forces caregivers to work longer hours, and maybe even perform duties they’re not fully trained on. These dovetail into them being unhappy, burned out, and looking for better working conditions at other care centers. A HealthWyse report discovered that trying to replace even one nurse can cost upwards of $88,000, so pinpointing the reasons people leave does more than just prevent burnout – it ensures hospital resources are used efficiently.

3. What’s Next? So now that your attrition problem has been confirmed, what’s next? Administer a treatment plan based on what’s wrong. If you’ve determined that workers are leaving due to unfairly high patient loads, then consider allocating resources towards recruiting new staff in order to reduce the burden. Or did your exit interviews uncover that hours are too long? Perhaps rearranging schedules to improve caregivers’ work/life balance might alleviate some burnout issues. No matter what avenue you take, your solution should address the issues presented by the data.

Does this sound daunting? It’s not. Dealing with problems like attrition is never a walk in the park, but it doesn’t have to be a Herculean task either. Look at your recent attrition data; it will not only tell you if you have a problem, but also why it’s a problem. From there, the steps should be easy to determine. Just remember that before you start offering solutions, you must first understand the issue.

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