2023: The year of the employee in healthcare

Three steps to driving organizational improvement by rethinking staffing strategies.

Provider organizations face a myriad of financial challenges in 2023—most of which are simply out of their control. Trends associated with declining reimbursements rates continue as the new year ushered in the latest round of cuts with Medicare’s 2023 Physician Fee Schedule. Couple that with rising operational costs and inflation, and the financial outlook for today’s healthcare organizations will continue to be a source of angst for the executive suite.

Maintaining a healthy operational margin has never been more critical, and labor costs are a major factor. As labor deficiencies continue to plague the industry, the one key difference between this challenge and the rest is that providers can control it. While many employers are at a loss with all the chatter about “quiet quitting,” “the Great Resignation,” and “acting your wage,” the solution is simple. The way to combat this new workforce mentality is to recognize, reward and retain your top performers.

In today’s competitive labor climate, attracting and retaining high-quality talent is at a premium. For this reason, healthcare organizations will need to shift their focus in 2023, embracing strategies that elevate employee effectiveness by incentivizing staff to perform at their highest level. As healthcare executives consider how to level-up staffing models, they should consider these three foundational components to building the right strategy.

1. Understand how employee priorities have changed and what motivates them

Remember Maslow's hierarchy of five key human needs? A growing body of evidence, such as this recent Wall Street Journal article, suggests that today’s workers are not necessarily working for the same reasons as their parents, such as security, stability and meeting physiological needs. While getting a paycheck to address the basic physiological and safety needs were previously the primary expectations of a workplace, today’s employees now see those areas as a given and are much more focused on esteem and belonging. As a result, today’s employees are more apt to seek rewards, recognition and status like they find in various forms of media.

The top of the triangle, self-actualization, has become something only few people strive to achieve. So, what if we try to bring that back into the equation and inspire staff to go beyond their historic performance baseline? By motivating employees to essentially “compete against themselves,” and push the boundaries of their perceived capabilities, they can gain satisfaction from knowing they have performed at their highest capacity and be recognized and rewarded.

2. Evaluate ways to incentivize your top performers

Strategies that invoke positive encouragement and competition can deliver big ROI on both the financial performance and employee satisfaction fronts. Consider billing processes, for example, where a charge entry employee averages 1,000 transactions per day. What would it take to get 10% more out of that staff member, and how would that impact the bottom line?

To encourage that competitive edge, healthcare executives should consider an incentive or reward program. Incentive-based strategies and gamification techniques are powerful ways to motivate staff to perform at their best and keep them happy. In particular, gamification is one approach that can go hand and hand with incentives and is growing in popularity as financial leaders enhance performance through friendly competition. By turning mundane processes into a game-like experience, healthcare organizations can drive better engagement with staff, which, in turn results in better overall performance.

3. Implement tools that allow you to recognize, reward and retain top performers

The reality is that healthcare technology was never designed to drive employee engagement, effectiveness, or the desire to achieve more—and the primary reason is that PM and EHR systems don’t collect the data necessary to understand employee work effort and measure the outcomes of their production. This is one of the reasons why incentive programs and gamification have not taken off in healthcare the way they have in other industries.

To move the needle on staff performance, providers must have access to data that reflects the daily work effort of all staff. EHRs and other software applications in healthcare are simply not capable of measuring people in an objective way. This level of visibility can only be achieved with a workforce automation solution that tracks every unit of work and staff effectiveness.

With insight into work effort, managers can set benchmarks on an individual or a team level to understand which staff members are going beyond status quo. Once managers identify the top performers, they can implement more structured incentive programs that motivate staff towards improvement. Keep in mind incentives can come in many forms. In addition to bonus and raises, examples include: awards, prizes, lunch, branded items, gift cards, PTO, or other creative ideas.

It’s easy to get mired in the woes of a difficult financial climate. However, rather than focusing on the converging storm of financial issues, provider organizations should concentrate efforts on the areas they can impact. With staffing being one of many challenges poised to keep healthcare executives up at night, many executives may find when resources are used effectively, that the real labor problem is not a shortage at all.

The key is understanding who the top performers are in an organization and rewarding them accordingly to ensure loyalty and sustainability. It also means identifying ways to incentivize employees towards performance improvement and implementing the right incentives and infrastructures to proactively address the problem. The bottom line is, healthcare organizations will need to level up their staffing strategies and prioritize effective use of staff and resources to achieve success in 2023.

Matt Seefeld is the EVP of MedEvolve