Invest in front-line healthcare workers to improve quality, strengthen engagement

Healthcare workers gathering by a window in a hospital
Photo credit: Getty/Jochen Sands

Front-line health workers like nursing assistants, community health workers and housekeepers make up about half of the healthcare workforce and perform a variety of crucial tasks--but recruiting and retaining such staff members remains a challenge.

Now the National Fund for Workforce Solutions has released a five-part CareerSTAT report titled “Guide to Investing in Frontline Health Care Workers” offering resources and best practices for healthcare workplaces to strengthen and grow their front-line staff.

“Workers in low-paying direct care and ancillary roles are often treated as dispensable, resulting in a cycle of high turnover and low commitment,” according to the report (PDF). “Although the pressure to rely on low-wage, less-skilled employees will not dissipate overnight, healthcare employers increasingly recognize the costs of these hiring practices and are investing in frontline workers as a long-term investment in their own bottom line.”

The report notes a number of tangible benefits (PDF) to investing in front-line workers, including:

  • Growing the available workforce: Programs that develop front-line employees can fill gaps more easily and have access to more potential staff members.
  • Developing better employees for future advancement: Those same programs can help groom front-line staff members for more skilled positions in the future.
  • Strengthening employee engagement: Employees that feel they have job security and who are doing meaningful work are more likely to stay on long-term.
  • Improving patient engagement: Investing in programs that strengthen front-line employees’ customer service skills can improve the patient experience.
  • Connecting better with the community: Health facilities are often an “anchor employer” for the community, and employees that feel supported are more likely to invest back into their local region.
  • Improving quality and safety: High-performing employees lead to better patient care.

Programs that hire and grow front-line employees should use several “best practices,” according to the report (PDF): an inclusive hiring plan, accessible learning and training protocols and opportunities for advancement built in. Having career counseling and coaching services available to staff can help guide their potential advancement choices. System or facility leaders should be actively engaged in the process, according to the report, and human resources policies should be clear and supportive.

Another key for organizations to consider: Integrating workforce development into the overall business operations. The report notes that this shows staff that leadership is committed to providing potential advancement opportunities and that there is room for career growth.