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3-minute read

The Big Story: The gig economy is trying to solve health care’s burnout crisis

Nursing on demand? Is it shape of things to come?

Startups are building platforms to plug nurses looking for shifts into organizations with shifts to fill. Sorta like if you needed a ride and there was an app to connect you to a driver. (Someone should look into that.)

Point is, tech platforms can ostensibly help organizations staff up to the levels they need while giving nurses more control over where and when they work.

What It Means for Provider Organizations

Seeing caregivers leave for more flexible roles is one of many things putting a pit in the stomachs of healthcare executives. It’s painful for acute care providers, yet the idea of a nursing gig economy makes a lot of sense when we look at the convergence of two ongoing trends. And the ball is in organizations’ court to respond in a way that attracts, retains and supports those looking for more control.

We know nurses are burned out. Many feel disconnected from their employers. And 40 percent of healthcare workers employed within a health system don’t see that environment as their ideal. Instead, they’d prefer travel nursing, health tech, maybe even those enticing flexible gig jobs.

We also know hospitals are getting flak for being greedy Big Business. A recent New York Times video blames the deficit of hospital caregivers on hospitals’ intentional understaffing to increase their margins. These examples go right to the heart of what our research shows is a perceived gap between hospitals’ missions and their approaches to the business of healthcare. And that gap is part symptom and part source of the unsettled workforce.

When it comes to nurses, the problem is that if you can’t give these thoughtful, mission-oriented individuals an environment where they feel supported, connected or even sure that you’re prioritizing patients over money then they’ll look to leave for higher pay, a more comfortable work environment or both. Who wouldn’t?

This presents a brilliant opportunity for health services and health tech companies. If healthcare workers aren’t sure a big hospital is their ideal, then other types of providers can that professional home. Which means that today the competition between provider organizations is real and, unfortunately, there’s a zero-sum element to the whole thing.

Question is: How can we use this great reshuffling and try to get away from a zero-sum recruiting battle? Can we better support caregivers and help the right people land in the right roles, whether that’s at a huge national system or an innovative specialty clinic?

We think so, and the approach is right up Marcom’s alley:

Build personas. Consider the people you need in those nursing roles and who might want them. Younger nurses may be harder for hospitals to recruit now if they’re not tied to one place and would like to travel and make more money while doing it? Others may relish an exciting stint as a staff nurse in your level one trauma unit. Nurses with families or later in their career may be looking for the stability and consistency. Different personas are looking for different things. Know what those things are.

Learn about preferences. The best way to find out exactly what people are looking for is to ask. Yes, money may be one of the things that comes up, and it’s fair to note the discrepancy between a staff nurse’s hourly pay and that of the travel nurse filling a vacancy in the next room. But it’s not always money. We’ve heard from health systems that, based on their surveys, what employees are looking for is relatively simple. They want to be heard and recognized for the work they do. And they want to know what’s going on with the organization. Yes, financial compensation is sometimes part of it, but not all.

Show what you can offer those targeted personas. Maybe it’s the benefits and career advancement available in a large system. Or the entrepreneurial vibe and relative independence of a young health services company. Highlight how you’re unique and speak directly to those who find those characteristics compelling. Basic marketing.

Solidify your culture. Concurrent with your recruiting efforts, reinforce your good culture so current employees stay and newcomers join – and stay. You can’t fake culture. For hospitals, that means not just paying lip service to something like “having a direct relationship with our nurses.” It’s actually having a direct relationship with nurses and being able to point to exactly how you’re doing it.

A note on sustainability: Building meaningful culture requires talking and listening to employees on a regular basis. It entails aligning your recruiting and HR efforts. Organizations with success in their staffing campaigns have a chief nursing officer working closely with HR and the strategy team. With the reality of limited resources, efficiency will be a watchword in healthcare going forward. Make sure you’re aligning everyone towards the common goal of staffing.

Want more? Listen to partner Kim Fox and senior vice president Tim Stewart discuss culture and communications in our latest podcast.

This piece was originally published over the weekend in our Sunday Quick Think newsletter. Fill out the form to get that in your inbox every week.