Make Workforce Management a Priority in 2021
Workforce management is an ongoing challenge for healthcare organizations that strive to balance high-quality patient care with financial efficacy. After all, labor costs account for about 60% of hospital expenses, and that number has been rising for the past decade.
However, in recent years, a new wrinkle has appeared in the workforce management equation: the move to value-based care and reimbursements that are increasingly tied to patient outcomes. The shift means it's more important than ever for health systems of all sizes to effectively manage their workforces to ensure employees are as productive, effective, and efficient as possible. To aid the efforts, workforce operations tools and automation are delivering positive results like never before.
What is workforce management?
Simply put, workforce management in healthcare is a process that aims to achieve optimal staffing levels to positively impact patients, employees, and the organization’s bottom line. symplr’s unique workforce management strategy, for example, includes balancing outcomes across five key areas:
- Clinical (e.g., improving patient safety by reducing hospital-acquired conditions)
- Financial (e.g., reducing avoidable staff overtime)
- Staff engagement (e.g., improving staff’s work/life balance)
- Patient satisfaction (e.g., improving HCAHPS scores)
- Compliance (e.g., comply with changing regulations and align with union rules)
Today, effective workforce operations require capturing and tracking provider and staff time, creating schedules, making agile staffing decisions, and automating the management of critical employee information and payroll funds for data-driven staffing decisions. As a result, making mobile a part of your workforce management strategy in 2021 is a must.
Go from volume to value by optimizing your organization's most value asset—but also your most costly operating expense—your workforce.
Workforce management software & financial accountability
A poorly managed workforce can result in myriad financial challenges, and one of those challenges stems from poorly optimized staffing. Many managers struggle to adjust staffing levels based on their current patient needs. Instead of considering daily or shift-by-shift variances in patient census and acuity levels, many staffing plans rely on static budgets and historic averages.
The result are departments that are either dangerously understaffed or wastefully overstaffed. In fact, 60% of finance executives said that flexing staff was a challenge for their organization, according to a Becker’s Hospital Review survey.
Premium labor costs, such as overtime, also pose significant challenges. The financial consequences of failing to adequately manage these costs can add up in surprising ways. For instance, it might not seem like a major concern when employees clock in a few minutes early or miss their lunch breaks, causing them to accrue chunks of overtime that are less than an hour long.
But this type of incidental overtime—also called incremental or "creeping" overtime—adds up quickly in the aggregate, and employees can easily rack up huge overtime costs while managers barely notice. symplr data shows that incidental overtime typically accounts for 5–10% of overtime costs at U.S. health systems.
Other staffing-related financial challenges include:
- staffing silos that prevent employees from moving fluidly between departments as needed
- failing to adequately measure productivity
- neglecting staff engagement in scheduling
Address costly workforce challenges
Each of the above issues presents an ongoing challenge. But each can be successfully managed by combining smart technology and data solutions with proactive—rather than reactive—workforce management strategies that also bolster staff and provider performance improvement. For instance, gaining visibility into real-time data can enable flexible, real-time scheduling that puts the right staff or provider in the right place at the right time for the right patient.
That's the case at a health system on the East Coast, where a dashboard helps leaders develop staffing plans that consider volume metrics, such as real-time census data, patient acuity, and the number of lab tests being ordered. Once managers identify those over- or understaffed units, workforce management software tools can make it easier to apply flexible scheduling in financially smart ways. “Because we’re comparing actuals, our unit managers and staffing office can easily see if we’re under- or overstaffed and make the necessary adjustments," said the system's CFO.
Clear visibility into scheduling data—combined with time and attendance data—also helps health systems pinpoint and prevent projected overtime, as well as reduce costly incidental overtime. For instance, a regional health system in the Midwest had nearly 900 instances of staff missing their lunch breaks during each two-week pay period, resulting in skyrocketing costs without any patient care benefits.
By examining the data and using it to better manage lunch breaks, their symplr workforce management software system was able to help the organization realize these dramatic savings within just one month. Significantly, that workforce management stability project:
- Dropped the number of missed lunches by 35%
- Saved the organization more than $4,700 each pay period
- Saved the organization nearly $125,000 annually, with potential savings of over $185,000 annually if those missed lunches were pushing the employees into overtime
Health systems can also monitor staff productivity and apply that data to attendance, staffing, and scheduling plans in real time, rather than retrospectively. “Our labor analytics technology gives us the ability to look at the data as it’s happening within the pay period and then make corrections proactively so that we can get the results we’re hoping to achieve," said the vice president of finance and CFO at the regional hospital in the South. "Instead of using a rearview mirror approach where you look at outcomes days or even weeks after the pay period has ended, our managers can affect the outcome of the pay period before it ends.”
Did you know that symplr Workforce Time and Attendance is a long-time Best in Klas winner? Learn more.
Build a holistic workforce management strategy
Health system leaders might be tempted to cherry pick their workforce management problems by tackling one issue at a time, but that's a mistake. Siloed workforce management strategies often backfire, and so do siloed approaches to solving those problems. Attempting to change one problem area while ignoring the rest might have unintended consequences, creating a negative ripple effect that could take even longer to identify and address.
Workforce management issues are inherently intertwined, and leaders who address those issues across an entire organization will have a strategic advantage over ones who don’t. This big-picture approach uses workforce technology and data to create integrated, holistic solutions that balance people, processes, and technology in a way that helps everyone.
For example, a large health system in the Carolinas consolidated its disparate float pool nurses into a single centralized regional pool. They use staffing and scheduling technology to deploy those floaters exactly where they're needed, when they're needed.
This silo-breaking scheduling strategy has yielded two game-changing results: The health system was finally able to implement flex scheduling and did so using their own employees, instead of relying on expensive contract labor or incentive pay to fill open shifts. "Accomplishing all of these goals was next to impossible with a pen and piece of paper," said the system's senior vice president and system nurse executive.
This approach can also help solve problems before they start, as the COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated. In a crisis, leaders need a clear understanding of which resources are available and where those resources are most needed.
A holistic, data-driven approach to workforce management fills that need. Leaders can see which staff members are available within the entire organization, as well as their qualifications, credentials, and special skills, and deploy them smartly and strategically. With this information at their fingertips, leaders can create dynamic, patient-centered staffing plans that respond to the needs of the entire organization. It can also help systems respond more nimbly to staffing needs, which makes sense from both a patient care and financial perspective.
“If one hospital had three or four critical care nurses out sick, they may desperately need critical care nurses, even spending huge dollars in premium labor and staffing incentives to get those shifts covered when, ten miles down the road [at another facility], we might be sending people home because we didn’t have enough patients. Being able to pull resources from other units or locations is a tremendous benefit," said the senior vice president and system nurse executive at the health system in the Carolinas.
Control workforce management, control your financial future
Workforce management issues can easily spin out of control, resulting in a host of negative financial consequences. These include bloated overtime costs, poorly optimized staffing, and staffing siloes that prevent the organization from efficiently using all its available resources.
That's why using a holistic, data-driven approach to workforce management—which includes modern workforce management tools—can help organizations resolve challenging financial problems while creating an environment that's dedicated to patient safety and staff satisfaction.