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Nursing retention

Survey finds hospitals face high turnover, loss of veteran talent

BY: John Roszkowski on September 13, 2017

High turnover rates, loss of veteran nurses impacting hospitals ability to provide care

Hospitals across the U.S. face growing challenges on a variety of fronts. The Affordable Care Act has provided health insurance to millions of more Americans, many of whom are seeking care at the nation’s hospitals.

At the same time, many hospitals are struggling with staffing shortages due to retirements of veteran nursing staff and high turnover rates. This is affecting their ability to maintain high quality care with the increased demand for services. These staffing shortages come at a time when healthcare organizations of all sizes are seeking to implement difficult initiatives to improve patient care, restructure organizational governance and adapt to new regulatory concerns and payment models.

Nationwide survey

Many of the staffing challenges facing hospitals were outlined in a recent report by the healthcare staffing firm Leaders for Today, which conducted a nationwide survey of C-suite executives, clinical and non-clinical administrators, doctors and nurses at many U.S. hospitals and healthcare organizations. The survey was conducted in April 2017, and included responses from 852 hospital employees.

“The magnitude of the challenge is astounding,” said Leaders for Today CEO Bill Haylon. “It’s clear the healthcare industry is facing a significant issue over the retention and supply needed to fill open spots, and often key open spots, in many organizations.”

The survey found several key issues facing hospitals including:

Lack of employee continuity: Nearly 43% of respondents reported they have been with their current organization for fewer than two years, and almost two-thirds had been with their current organization for fewer than five years, the survey found.

Veteran employees near retirement age. The inexperience problem facing the industry is expected to worsen as health systems brace for a wave of forestalled retirements. At the onset of the Great Recession, a large cohort of nurses and other healthcare professionals were eligible to retire, but many opted to defer retirement and continue working because their savings and investments had been depleted. Now, nearly a decade later, Haylon said those individuals are planning to retire, along with others who are near or at retirement age. The survey found nearly 50% of respondents indicated they plan to retire in the next 10 years. Haylon said this will place even greater pressure on healthcare organizations to attract and retain the talent needed to keep the industry healthy.

High turnover rates. The survey revealed hospitals are staffed by a significant number of employees with little to no institutional knowledge – even at key positions – due to a high level of turnover, according to Haylon. At the same time, the survey indicated even those employees may not stay with their current organization very long: 37% of respondents said they intend to leave within two years and nearly 70% said they plan to depart within five years.

Poor working environments lead to turnover. Haylon said the survey indicated 27% of respondents left a job for “a promotion or better opportunity for advancement,” while more than 58% say they left to escape poor or frustrating work environments. Only 14% said they left a job for more pay.

Problems in the hiring process. Survey respondents cited speed and transparency as their two top frustrations with the hiring process. More than 50% reported never hearing back from the organization, and 46.1% of respondents complained the hiring process took too long.

Haylon said the survey confirmed many of these problems stem from a lack of investment by healthcare organizations in training and advancing staff, even for key administrative and executive positions.

Human capital

While hospitals are investing in new modern technology, equipment and programs, he said their “human capital strategy is 30 years behind at most organizations,” leading to a lack of advancement opportunities for staff.

“It’s an incredible game of musical chairs,” Haylon said. “Jumping ship has become the norm because that’s just about the only way to get ahead.”

To address these problems, Haylon said healthcare organizations need to develop coherent strategies, beginning with being real about the worth of each position to a particular organization and to its bottom line.

He noted, for example, that a little more than half of all hospital revenue comes from the operating rooms.

“Any time you’re without an OR director, the whole department deteriorates, and you’re killing yourself, so to speak,” Haylon said. “They should know whether the OR director intends to stay, and if not, have a plan in place to fill that position instantly.”

The same is true of key clinical positions such as those overseeing infection control, he said.

Modernize hiring practices

At the same time, Haylon recommended hospitals ramp up investments in modernizing hiring practices, as well as programs and personnel needed to develop and retain talent.

“Make sure you understand what’s important to your people,” Haylon said. “Money will be important, but it’s not the main issue in ensuring people stay.

“The biggest question your people want you to answer is, ‘How can you give me the skills, experience, visibility and opportunities to move up [in the organization] now?’” he said.


Freelance writer Jonathan Bilyk contributed to the writing and research of this article.

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John Roszkowski

John Roszkowski is content manager of healthcare recruitment for the Advertising Solutions division at OnCourse Learning. He creates and manages content for the Nursing Recruitment Source blog, newsletters and Digital Resource Guides. He has developed content for healthcare and financial services at OnCourse Learning for the past four years. He has more than 25 years of writing and editing experience and previously worked at weekly and daily newspapers.