Five Things Healthcare Leaders Need to Know about Workforce Optimization

By Jackie Larson, President, Avantas

Over the course of a healthcare career, the transition from a bedside position to a leadership role demands a shift in focus. In addition to keeping abreast of the latest clinical and procedural advancements, a healthcare leader also needs to be fluent in workforce operations.

Healthcare leaders need to know how to optimize their workforce to ensure their hospital or healthcare facility is staffed to patient demand – and is doing so while hitting budget targets. And as anyone in a care environment knows, there’s a lot of balls in the air when it comes to staffing, and no two days are the same.

Here are five tips for leaders to know about workforce optimization:

1. Balanced schedules matter

Building staff schedules can be a complex and time-consuming process for managers. With a lot of moving parts and circumstances to take into consideration, determining the right amount and types of staff needed can be a challenge. And, if you have a department that has a lot of census volatility, that can add to the challenge.

Many believe it’s arbitrary to build the best schedule at the time of submission because so much can change between then and when the shift begins, but Avantas research suggests otherwise. The benefits of balanced schedules at the time of schedule submission include cost efficiencies, increased staff retention, and better engagement, and decreased occurrences of staff cancellations. And, it saves time for nurse managers.

2. Identify key workforce metrics

With data analytics pushing further into healthcare, many clinical leaders are left feeling the pressure to jump on the data train.

For those not well-versed in analytics, statistics and advanced mathematical modeling can seem like a foreign language. If that’s the case for you, take it in bite-sized chunks. Focusing on specific workforce metrics such as floating, cancellations, FTE commitments, and overtime will uncover loads of opportunities to better utilize your staff.

If you are ready to go to the next level, having access to advanced business intelligence tools allows nurse leaders to zero in on specific metrics and offers insight into the current state of workforce operations, allowing goals to be set and an effective plan to be created.

3. Embrace an enterprise staffing mentality

Fundamental to the concept of healthcare workforce management is having an enterprise mentality, which is a more cost-effective and efficient approach to staffing. This approach requires shared vision and organizational cooperation extending to all applicable service lines, sharing resources and aligning policies and operational practices. Working together as one cohesive team across the enterprise reduces redundancies and delivers economies of scale.

But how do you get that cohesive team formed? Frankly, it’s easier said than done. Change is tough. It takes a strong leader with the ability to influence others. It takes a leader who is more interested in doing the best thing for the staff (and organization) than being popular. It takes a leader who is willing to invest seriously in the long vision, continually communicate the vision and the “why,” and take the small steps needed to get there.

4. Staff thrives under standardization

It’s surprising how the simple notion of standardizing practices across a hospital or health system can make such a difference when it comes to staff satisfaction and efficiencies.

Much chaos can be prevented through standardized practices, such as schedule periods, float staff policies, overtime, and PTO policies that are consistently applied across all departments and communicated to staff. When staffing and scheduling practices vary by unit and/or shift, it prevents an enterprise staffing mentality, makes reporting and analysis incredibly difficult, and can create an environment of perceived unfairness.

Standardized practices help facilitate the ideology that a hospital functions as one cohesive team and not fragmented entities.

5. Technology demands trust

Healthcare has become increasingly interested in data and the insights they can unlock. Data analytics have been proven to increase efficiencies and reduce costs, and predictive analytics are especially beneficial in healthcare. Predictive analytics look at the likelihood of future events based on patterns in historical data and other factors. These predictions allow us to make more informed decisions – that is, if we trust them.

For people who have done tasks such as scheduling in a certain way for so long, it can be intimidating to bring in new technology that shakes things up. As mentioned earlier, accepting change is a process and requires new habits to align with organization objectives. While there is a learning curve that comes with every new concept, managers and leaders must have faith in the system to achieve the expected outcomes.

Underlining these five guidelines is the necessity of healthcare leaders to utilize open communication and transparency with staff. Being a good leader is less a popularity contest and more about being a person who does what they say, inspires and empowers people along the right path, and holds others (and themselves) accountable.