Four Things Healthcare Teaches About Flexibility in the Workforce

Four Things Healthcare Teaches
When we think about industries most likely to offer flexibility to the workforce, we tend to think of tech and not health care. The truth is health care has a lot to teach us about workplace flexibility. Hospitals have incorporated round-the-clock operations for hundreds of years, so they’re extremely well-versed in non-traditional working arrangements. Let’s review a few key industry insights. Measure workers by their contributions and not the clock The 24/7 demands of hospital operations mean a good portion of healthcare leaders already think well outside the nine-to-fo five box. This is just one of the reasons why healthcare was among the first sectors to offer workers perks like compressed work weeks, split shifts, and flex-time. Of course, just because healthcare is strong on flexibility doesn’t mean it’s always had a great record on work-life balance. In some U.S. states, the pressure is mounting on health systems to reduce the number of consecutive hours doctors and nurses can work. Calls for more public transparency around patient outcomes and pricing are increasing as well. Paradoxically, all this emphasis on the need for more structure and data in health care may actually make it easier for healthcare employers to provide even more flexibility to workers. When supervisors can easily see that a range of performance goals are being consistently met, particularly around patient outcomes, they may feel more comfortable approving customized schedules and other flexibility perks. To introduce more flexibility in your own organization, look for new ways to measure workers by their contributions versus hours. Emphasize skills over roles An aging U.S. population, as well as economic challenges in healthcare, has inspired fresh thinking in this sector. One study published in the Journal of Human Resources For Health raised the question of whether certain “therapeutic partitions” in healthcare may be getting in the way of a more efficient, patient-centered approach. For example, a nurse practitioner may not be allowed to perform a particular nonsurgical procedure based primarily on her title. This makes things inconvenient for patients because they have to navigate more referrals. Lately, healthcare systems have been asking, is there a way we can streamline things while keeping the quality of care high? A new emphasis on skills over roles may be the answer. When staff members are able to provide a wider range of services, patients can more often get what they need in a single visit. This introduces flexibility by expanding the range of things workers do on the job. (And the vast majority of employees want more training and development opportunities from employers, so that’s a win-win.) To offer more flexibility to your team, look for ways to expand the number of things they’re empowered to do while keeping a close eye on quality. This approach may even help some companies boost revenue by increasing the overall volume of services they can deliver on a yearly basis. Make training programs more targeted You may have heard about organizations moving to a competency-centric approach for talent management and development. This means defining and standardizing all the skills you need to run your company, then using that information to assess and train the workforce. One large health care system that did this saved nearly ten million dollars over four years. It started by creating a comprehensive library of the 6500 skills used by nurses across the organization. Then, it launched a digital platform that would allow nurses’ skills to be assessed in the clinical setting based on the new library. Suddenly, supervisors were able to quantify how much new and transferring nurses already knew. Over time, that allowed them to train to the gaps in a nurse’s knowledge versus the more general approach the organization had been taking. A massive quantity of unneeded training per year was eliminated. Staff members were able to start working on their own more quickly. This introduced more flexibility and autonomy for nurses during the critical first weeks of tenure. It also made nurses feel more appreciated because the organization was recognizing their skills. Companies in regulated industries can benefit from this approach as well as those that rely heavily on workers with specialized skills. Use a competency-centric approach to boosting mobility We can’t say it enough: today’s workers strongly value flexibility and mobility. As Millennials and members of Gen Z make up an increasing share of the working population, they’re influencing every aspect of workplace culture from scheduling and dress codes to tech adoption and even office layout. With such a premium placed on mobility, the ability to offer workers a chance to try new locations and roles within the organization can act as a powerful talent magnet. Once again, taking a more rigorous approach to assessing and tracking workforce competencies can help here. The same healthcare system that eliminated $10 million in training found that introducing a competency-centric approach made it easier to let workers try new cities and departments within its system. Once it was possible to quantify exactly how qualified workers were for a new role, everyone’s skills just became inherently more transferrable. Supervisors and HR reps felt more comfortable offering proven staff members new opportunities in new locations. This can be an especially impactful strategy in industries that compete heavily for talent such as aerospace, energy, manufacturing, tech, and construction. If your company has a wide variety of locations and departments around the country or the world, consider that a massive recruiting asset and start using it as a part of your employer brand. Interested in learning whether a competency-centric approach can introduce more flexibility for your workforce? Let’s chat.
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