The Overcoming Nursing and Midwifery Workforce Challenges Forum on June 20, 2023, in Sydney saw RLDatix hosted roundtable discussions where we asked the question, “What does the healthcare workforce want?”. Led by Michael Prentice from RLDatix, participants in each roundtable came from a wide range of health and care backgrounds from across Australian Healthcare including Directors of Nursing, Nurse Unit Managers and Workforce Planners.
So, what does the healthcare workforce want?
As you’d expect, there wasn’t just one single answer. Our participants gave various answers, with varying levels of complexity underpinning them. To summarise, we’ve categorised the answers into six key areas.
- Work/life balance
- Job satisfaction
The new generation coming into healthcare workforce don’t just want a good work/life balance. They are demanding it. But this is not always conducive to the rising rent costs with some graduate nurses juggling three jobs to get by. To attract people to a choose a career in healthcare, something needs to be done to offer this.
Both groups that participated in the round table unearthed the need to diversify – whether it was being considerate of diverse backgrounds (culturally or generationally) or in the ways of working.
One participant looked at the needs and expectations of workers from diverse backgrounds discovering that healthcare ran in the family a lot of the time. By supporting the employment of a couple within a single healthcare organisation not only encouraged this family to put down roots in a rural area and solidified the retention of those employees. All the while supporting them in creating an appropriate work/life balance and ensuring enough work to combat the rising costs of living.
Being flexible in the rostering of your staff to support the diverse ways the individual would like to work can improve their job satisfaction, but how does that work into patient need? Or the operational needs of a business to continue providing care?
Disrupting the status quo with flexibility in rostering while ensuring the care provided was safe and keeping within budget was something that most of the participants of the round table were considering but can be complex and may not be supported by the corporate teams who aren’t exposed to the frontline people.
Supporting part time contracts, questioning why we are providing specific types of care at specific times and childcare services were both considered by participants as ways to support diverse ways of working – but an unwillingness for staff to night shift was a reoccurring issue.
Healthcare workers need a feeling of job satisfaction and achievement that is supported by further education and career progression. Healthcare workers want to diversify their skills and knowledge and work to their full potential - requests for dual assignments from nurses to try to meet their full capacity and job satisfaction was noted by one participant.
Units that support career progression were seen to have increased retention of staff, which may be contradictory to the thinking that experience staff will move on the bigger and better things.
Managers educating themselves on how they can financially support their staff’s development is a huge step in the right direction. Leverage generational experience across health networks to learn creative ways they help fund staff development.
A positive culture underpins healthcare workforce satisfaction; it gives people purpose.
Executives and management need to take their workforce on a journey of accountability for the organisation’s vision. One participant explained how their organisation put a large effort into disseminating the organisation’s vision throughout their workforce, implementing an award for the employee that exemplifies the vision. This brought the organisation’s vision into the lives of the frontline workers, rather than being an abstract concept.
Enrolled Nurses were surveyed and asked what they wanted from their workplace:
- A sense of belonging
- A support network
- Career pathways
By listening to these wants and making changes within the culture of the workplace to support them, it can support the happiness of your workforce. One participant said that “people won’t leave if they’re happy”, which is evident in the retention of many healthcare workers in Aged Care, as culture will outweigh remuneration in most cases.
Very few healthcare workers preference is to work night shifts, but they are a necessity in healthcare. Communicating the need for particular ways of working and taking your staff on the journey of why the need to compromise is integral to providing the care required and supporting a happier workforce.
Communication goes both ways. It was expressed that the corporate side of healthcare organisations was misaligned with the reality of frontline workers. Helping communicate the reality up the line of command is equally as important in understanding the why behind policies and expectations.
To support communications, two participants attended regular forums with peers to help inform decision making around workforce challenges. They meet and discuss ideas, success and changes which they have found hugely beneficial. One example of this is QNMU's Positive Practice Environment who will be surveying healthcare workers across Queensland next year.
Old school thinking has seen health accustomed to the paper medical records, the punch cards for roster and can be underpinned by “a fear (of technology), that greater than reality”.
We often focus on software training when implementing a new solution, but with personal computers only coming into our day to day lives in the 1980s, the computer literacy of healthcare workers is often over-estimated. One participant explained that implementing basic training of technology and providing cheat sheets can help alleviate the fear of change and new technology.
Leveraging the knowledge of the generation entering the workforce in technology to help the workers who are hesitant to adopt new technologies on the frontline, day-to-day could help bridge this gap.
The issue of setting boundaries with the use of personal devices to communicate about work and having access to appropriate hardware to support new software solutions is an ongoing issue, but with the appropriate communication, training and culture within your organisation, take your workforce on the journey and find a place that they feel comfortable.
In summary, healthcare organisations and the people that work in them need to go on a journey together; supported by change management, communication and underpinned by fairness, transparency, and equity.
“Just because this is the way it’s always done, doesn’t mean it’s the right way to do it”
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