3 Tech-Enabled Ways Healthcare Leaders Are Addressing the Talent Crisis

Industry experts and Workday customers across finance, human resources, information technology, and supply chain management share their most pressing talent challenges and solutions for retaining a strong workforce in the healthcare industry.

group of diverse healthcare providers

In this article, we discuss:

It’s no secret that the healthcare industry is in the midst of a widespread, record-setting talent crisis. An aging U.S. population and rising healthcare utilization are straining an industry grappling with high attrition stemming from heavy workloads, increased administrative burdens, and overall burnout. 

Short-term solutions, such as relying on contingent nurses, may solve an immediate staffing shortfall but can carry a high cost. “We can’t keep doing what we’re doing; it’s not sustainable,” says Vince Vickers, principal and national healthcare consulting leader at KPMG.

What is sustainable—and gaining serious ground among healthcare leaders—are new and emerging technologies that enable organizations to reimagine everything from workforce planning and talent development to where and how work happens. In fact, healthcare executives are more likely than those in other industries to be proactive in their digital strategy, the 2022 KPMG U.S. Technology Survey found. They’re also more likely to invest in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). And, even though most healthcare organizations spent less than 10% of their budget on technology, they’re more likely to have generated a positive return on investment from tech expenditures. 

“Everybody wants to talk about people: How to retain and develop, how to prevent burnout,  reimagining how and where people do their work,” says Sarah Hickman-Auger, industry director of healthcare solution marketing at Workday. The unwavering, industrywide focus is necessary because, as Hickman-Auger continues, “in healthcare, your people are your most valuable resource.”

Rosemary Sheehan, chief human resources officer at Mass General Brigham, explains: “We are facing some of the biggest staffing challenges we’ve ever had to face, and employees have really different expectations today than they did pre-COVID. We’ve had to pivot to make employee experience our No. 1 priority.”

The connection between technology and talent is key for healthcare executives. What follows are three targeted ways technology is empowering human resources (HR) leaders to address—and solve—their pressing talent problems.  

“I think about the ability of employees to do their work easier, with more efficiency, with less friction, and this is really going to allow us to deliver on our mission.”

Audrey Williams Lee Chief People Officer Lurie Children’s Hospital

1. Easing Administrative Burden

Clinician burnout grabbed global headlines during the early days of the pandemic. But rather than fade as the acute phase receded, burnout has calcified into an enduring and growing attrition risk. Nearly 2 out of 3 physicians experienced burnout in 2021, a significant jump from the roughly 1 in 3 that reported burnout in 2020, according to a 2022 study in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. And the healthcare industry overall saw burnout risk climb 4% in 2022 to 31% overall, a Workday analysis found.

Workload alone isn’t to blame, Vickers notes. An overload of bureaucratic tasks can be a top contributor to burnout. In this case, technology can be a potent salve, as automation and a unified platform free workers from many of the tedious, repetitive tasks—from aggregating report data to filling out expense reports—that they find draining.

When Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago went live with Workday, nearly 90% of employees adopted the platform’s self-service capabilities in the first quarter alone. The HR team was freed from manual requests while able to deliver insights much faster to those who needed it. The organization shaved 28 days off its expense reimbursement process and reduced the average time to approve a job requisition by 27 days. 

“I think about the ability of employees to do their work easier, with more efficiency, with less friction, and this is really going to allow us to deliver on our mission,” says Audrey Williams Lee, chief people officer for Lurie Children’s Hospital. 

“We’ve tried to have more upfront conversations around workplace flexibility, and having employees pick shifts that work for them, so they have some control and agency over their work.”

Rosemary Sheehan Chief Human Resources Officer Mass General Brigham

2. Fostering Flexibility on the Frontlines

The work-from-home flexibility many enjoyed during the early pandemic didn’t extend much beyond the back office. Three years later, frontline healthcare workers are clamoring for more control and flexibility over how and when they work. Future-focused organizations are responding. 

At Mass General Brigham in Boston, “we’ve tried to have more upfront conversations around workplace flexibility, and having employees pick shifts that work for them, so they have some control and agency over their work,” says Sheehan. 

While that may seem like a logistical nightmare for those using legacy systems, employee-first scheduling tools can automate and streamline the process. AI and ML can match labor demand with worker qualifications, availability, and preferences to automatically optimize schedules that fit both what the worker wants and what the healthcare organization needs. 

Workday research shows that frontline leaders—those organizations that report turnover lower than the historical average—are far more likely to invest in such employee-first scheduling tools. A lot of organizations have some fear and reluctance at first when making a significant change, yet findings show there are stunningly low levels of problems. 

3. Shining a Light on Talent-Development Misses

When Intermountain Health (formerly Intermountain Healthcare) went live with Workday in 2021, having all of its people data unified in one place was reason enough to celebrate. Even better, being able to run powerful analytics on that data—with an intuitive, drag-and-drop interface that didn’t require special training—meant HR teams could surface and act on insights they might have missed otherwise.

One early finding: New leaders in the company had low engagement scores and high turnover rates. A deeper dive into the data revealed many of these hires were coming to the company through nontraditional channels, meaning they weren’t being flagged for the targeted learning and development opportunities offered to others. Workday illuminated that weak spot and HR remedied the issue, pairing newer leaders with the support and training they needed, so they were better engaged and stayed longer in their new roles.

Sheehan is hopeful that a Workday deployment planned for early 2024 can likewise help Mass General Brigham buoy its talent retention and make it easier for employees to spot and seize opportunities to grow their careers. “Our legacy system just doesn’t have the talent applications that we need to really support what’s so important to our workforce, which is career development and allowing employees to map their career and identify learning opportunities to help them succeed,” she says. 

Ambitious employees currently face the daunting task of manually clicking through some 10,000-plus job postings, all with disparate definitions and descriptors. That means workers must “try to translate all of those job postings into something that makes sense for them,” says Sheehan. 

Mass General Brigham’s Workday deployment is expected to winnow down those listings to 2,500 job definitions. It will also empower employees with intuitive tools to search for opportunities that match their current skills, and let them see the career moves made by others who were once in their roles. In other words, technology turns talent development from a manual slog into an intuitive, data-driven progression.

The challenges the healthcare industry faces won’t disappear overnight, but the right technology can help leaders forge a lasting, long-term cure for what ails them.

Learn how new technologies can help healthcare leaders retain top talent by gathering the right data to understand employee needs and offering more flexibility with employee-first scheduling: Read eBook

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