HIMSS 2022: To retain staff, health systems need more insight into workers' needs and career goals

ORLANDO, Florida—As numerous hospitals and health systems across the country scramble to offset a pandemic-fueled labor crisis, experts encouraged organizations to invest more into understanding and meeting the needs of their existing employees.

Speaking earlier this week at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society Global Conference in Orlando, Florida, health system analytics and digital officers said there’s more room for organizations to take a data-driven approach to workforce retention, development and wellness.

In much the same way that healthcare companies are tapping customer relationship management tools to identify the needs of their patient populations, medium and large systems can turn their lens inward to learn about and address employees' pain points before they leave for greener pastures.

Mary Clancy, chief digital officer at Ohio-based Premier Health, said her system recently conducted a retention initiative that involved polling their workforce. Work schedules and workloads were unsurprisingly among the top issues cited, leading the system to take a look at computer task automation and predictive staff scheduling as potential fixes.

The unexpected finding from their data, Clancy said, was that workers’ calls for schedule flexibility didn’t always favor a less-than-12-hour workday. Incorporating that feedback—which could well be specific to the nurses and caregivers within Premier Health, or even just individual units—into the predictive staff scheduling pilot has now “brought some optimism” to those employees, she said.

Albert Marinez, chief analytics officer at Intermountain Healthcare, said similar data collection among the Rocky Mountain system’s staff found empathetic components such as team member relationships and diversity as key values to its workforce.

Understanding that these channels were weighing on caregivers already under “immense pressure” due to the pandemic helped the system prioritize diversity during recruitment and encourage empathy-minded policies that helped support and retain staff, he said.

Particularly as the pandemic has limited face-to-face interactions and fueled more digital communications, greater data-based insights can help managers support team member needs that might otherwise have gone unaddressed.

“[Leaders are] having trouble communicating offline, communicating online, connecting with their teams—trying to give them ways to know who picked up extra shifts, who’s been calling off and what might have been some of those core reasons for call-off,” Clancy said. “Using the data that we’re already capturing about our team—I think it was coined earlier today as ‘patient wisdom’—we’re trying to use ‘employee wisdom’ to be able to help our leaders connect more and recognize and reward our teams in a way that’s very different than they’ve ever been able to before because we’re using our analytics to serve that up and make it more transparent.”

From proactively offering an employee extra days off around their birthday to knowing whether an individual would enjoy public recognition for their hard work, this type of “situational awareness” could be the difference in whether employees feel like they’re part of a team or are simply logging hours for a paycheck, the executives said.

What’s more, organizations can lean on these data to find the right internal opportunities for staff. Being able to connect individuals to projects within the organization that foster the specific skills they’re interested in can help employees meet their career goals when they may otherwise have left the health system to find advancement, they said.

That type of matchmaking can be “very hard to do across 12,000 employees, but very doable if we start to gather the insight for what they actually are looking for and being able to provide that,” Clancy said. “It used to be about who did you know, [but] in the virtual environment, it’s not so easy to network with everyone or catch them in the hallway … so you can get some face time. So, trying to find ways for that professional growth and development was one of the things we found our workforce unilaterally wanted, so we’re trying to find ways to serve that up in our digital analytics.”

With these types of analytics-based advancement strategies, Marinez said it’s important that organizations focus on the developed and potential skills that are available within their workforce rather than “the traditional job descriptions or titles that individuals have.”

It’s led his large system and others to create “talent marketplaces” where workers can review the skills required for current and future job openings and, if they’re interested, begin preparing themselves for the role they would like to achieve.

“Individuals can go and say, ‘You know what, I’m here today. Here’s a potential pathway to a different opportunity, maybe a C-level opportunity—what kind of skills do I need to learn to get there, and importantly what opportunities are there in the health system to maybe be a little bit of an apprentice, or take on an internship role temporarily while I’m doing my job?'” Marinez said.

“These are powerful opportunities that we can extend to our caregivers, and when you layer on analytics, our AI ability, machine learning abilities, we learn more about individuals. We understand more what kind of profiles are successful and how we identify those individuals who are showing a propensity toward that success, and [we can be] a little bit more aggressive about [extending], proactively, those opportunities to learn and be engaged,” he said.