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Understanding The Changing Drivers of Employee Retention in Healthcare

Understanding the Changing Drivers of Employee Retention in Healthcare

In the wake of the many disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare organizations thrust onto the front lines have faced unprecedented retention and attrition issues. Although the risks posed by the pandemic appear to have diminished in recent months, problems with attrition and retention have not. The 2022 Elsevier Health “Clinician of the Future”  report found that 31% of clinicians globally and 47% of U.S. healthcare workers intend to leave their current positions within the next two to three years.

Perceptyx’s own recent research report – The Healthcare Employee Experience in 2022: A Data-Driven Perspective – supports this finding. 33% of healthcare workers surveyed by Perceptyx are considering leaving their jobs, with 19% looking within healthcare and 14% thinking about entering different fields. 42% of nurses are also contemplating leaving their jobs, with 30% looking within the healthcare field and 12% looking outside.  

The Future of Healthcare Staffing

Taken at face value, this data paints a dire picture of the future of healthcare. It suggests looming short- and long-term gaps in staffing that could undermine healthcare organizations both domestically and throughout the world. On the other hand, this challenge presents an opportunity for healthcare organizations to focus on the drivers of employee attrition and develop data-driven action plans to prospectively address staffing issues. 

Based on our research, here’s what you need to know about the ten most acute drivers of attrition in healthcare – as well as four ways to retain your highly skilled workforce.

Current Drivers of Healthcare Employee Attrition 

By consulting Perceptyx’s healthcare database – which contains survey responses from 1.56 million healthcare workers across more than 200 different employee perceptions – we found that negative employee sentiment regarding these ten perceptions (shown below in order of importance) can serve as predictors of attrition in an organization’s workforce:

  1. I feel like I really belong at our company.
  2. I feel valued as an employee of the company.
  3. I have confidence in Senior Management.
  4. This organization cares about my health and well-being.
  5. There are career opportunities for me at the company.
  6. I believe feedback from this survey will be used to make improvements.
  7. Senior Management communicates a clear vision for the future.
  8. People at our company trust and respect each other.
  9. I am appropriately involved in decisions that affect my work.
  10. Our company's employees practice open, honest, and direct communication.

The data tells a clear story – four key themes impact retention in healthcare the most:

  1. Trust, inclusion, and belonging,
  2. Value contributions, ideas, and opinions,
  3. Future optimism for one’s self and the organization to succeed, and
  4. Health and well-being.

When employee sentiment about these ten perceptions moves in a positive direction, retention increases. When sentiment moves in a negative direction, attrition increases.  

We did see some movement in terms of overall importance with regard to a few of these drivers during the middle of the pandemic, with the statement “this organization cares about my health and well-being” moving to the highest position of importance during the fall of  2020 before dropping slightly by the end of that same year. Also during the fall of 2020 into the fall of 2021, access to resources, information, and cooperation rose in importance, with healthcare workers leaving organizations when they did not feel empowered to perform their roles successfully. 

In contrast to this other movement, the statements “I feel like I really belong at our company” and “I feel valued as an employee of the company” are consistently the top drivers of retention in healthcare organizations, impacting decisions to stay or leave before the pandemic, during the height of the pandemic, and today.

Four Ways to Reduce Attrition

By focusing on these four themes driving attrition, healthcare organizations can effectively deal with this industry-wide issue.  

  • Promote trust, inclusion, and belonging (“I feel like I really belong at our company,” “People at our company trust and respect each other”) – Healthcare organizations should invest in and promote DEIB to attract and retain talent – a strategy that rising generations of workers, like those in Gen Z, consider important to their employee experience. By fostering belonging, people experience deeper human connections, a desire many are seeking both personally and professionally today. Building trust will also increase the confidence of retained employees that they will be dealt with fairly regardless of whatever unforeseen circumstances may arise.  
  • Value contributions, opinions, and ideas (“I feel valued as an employee of this company,” “I believe feedback from this survey will be used,” “I am appropriately involved in decisions that affect my work,” “Our company’s employees practice open, honest, and direct communication”) – Employees want to ensure their opinions matter, that they have involvement in important decisions, and that they have open communication with managers and leaders – all issues that can be addressed to some extent by continuous listening and action. Valuing contributions through recognition and reward is also critical as shown by a March 2022 Perceptyx study of 1,000 healthcare workers which found that 72% believed turnover could be reduced by higher pay. Out of the ten turnover-reducing suggestions presented, this was ranked as the most important action that an organization could undertake – and is certainly a direct way to show employees their contributions are valued. Although increasing pay may not always be feasible, the impact pay is having on attrition today cannot be ignored and efforts to improve perceptions of pay equity are critical (for example, have the job responsibilities increased but pay remained flat?).
  • Communicate a bright future (“I have confidence in senior management,” “There are career opportunities for me at the company,” “Senior management communicates a clear vision for the future”) – Employees are more likely to stay with a healthcare organization when they anticipate a positive future for themselves within that organization. Our research shows that when senior leadership keeps employees informed, models organizational values, and explains reasons for their decisions, optimism about the future will increase. Growth opportunities are also critical to help employees anticipate and realize their career goals.

  • Care about health and well-being (“This organization cares about my health and well-being”) – Caring about employees’ health and well-being not only reduces attrition risk but is also the right thing to do. Even before the pandemic, health and well-being was an important factor driving retention, with employees indicating they were much more likely to stay when organizations prioritize their whole selves. Organizations should actively remove job stressors that could contribute to burnout as well as foster environments that support both physical and mental well-being.

Many organizations have acknowledged the gravity of these attrition concerns by creating  “retentionist” positions intended to retain and develop employees, and research shows this type of role has considerable upside potential. Efforts to foster meaningful connections, continuously listen to and act on employee feedback, and provide internal career mobility are also critical to retaining the talent needed for business success.

Perceptyx Can Help You See More So You Can Do More About Attrition

To understand how to retain their employees, healthcare organizations need to first ask for their input, then respond to their insights with decisive action. Perceptyx helps healthcare organizations create listening programs that facilitate retention and engagement. 

For more information on how your healthcare organization can utilize our expertise to address attrition issues, schedule a meeting with a member of our team.

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