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Strategies to Reverse the Great Resignation in Healthcare Before It’s Too Late

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Great Resignation in healthcareThe Great Resignation has been sweeping its way across the country since the pandemic began. As consumers, we’re all impacted by the shortage of workers. Like when there are plenty of tables open at a restaurant, but you have to wait an hour because they don’t have enough servers. Or when your favorite Starbucks closes at 1 pm because again, not enough staff. But what happens when there’s a shortage of healthcare professionals? Now it’s not just finding the doors to your favorite Starbucks closed at 1 pm. It’s finding your local hospital doors closed too. More than just missing out on your favorite latte, when the Great Resignation happens in healthcare, a shortage of healthcare professionals impacts the lives of our moms, dads, spouses, partners, children, besties, and ourselves.

How bad is the Great Resignation in healthcare?

Since August 2021, there’s been a more concerted effort to quantify the mass exodus of people who are just no longer willing to work in their role or for their organization. The numbers are shocking, with the data revealing numbers that we’ve never seen before. Healthcare is no different.

  • 1 in 5 healthcare professionals have quit since February 2020 and 30% of the ones who stayed are considering quitting [source].
  • The American Nurses Association predicts a shortage of 1.1 million nurses in 2022.
  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, we lost almost half a million healthcare employees since the pandemic began in February 2020.

While a shortage, especially a nursing shortage, isn’t anything new, if these numbers stay on track or get worse, we’re likely to see shortages like we’ve never seen in the history of healthcare. Like a slow leak from a rusty faucet, before you know it, you’re liable to experience a gusher if you don’t take care of it now.

How bad is the Great Resignation impacting hospitals?

A colleague of mine who is in a senior leadership role shared that in their 25-bed post-surgical unit, they had two nurses one day – that’s it. Just two. Do the math. That’s 12.5 patients per nurse. Normally each nurse is responsible for 4 patients. They had to cancel surgical cases, which angered the surgeons, which caused a lot of conflict among the team. Can you imagine being one of the nurses who had to care for more than double their “normal” amount of patients? What if one of those patients was your dad?

Another colleague, an Emergency Department Manager, told me that every day when he hears a knock on his door or is approached by one of his employees who “needs to talk with him”, he braces himself to receive yet another resignation.

Where are healthcare professionals going?

  • They’re leaving the profession altogether
  • They’re leaving to take traveling jobs because it pays more money
  • They’re finally deciding to retire because they’ve done “enough”

And there’s a fourth reason.

It’s because they are no longer willing to work in an environment where they don’t feel that anyone cares, where they don’t feel supported, and where bullying & incivility is tolerated by their leaders.

They’re also leaving because of the culture.

What affect has the pandemic had on bullying and incivility?

For decades, we’ve been trying to reduce incidents of bullying and incivility in healthcare. Study after study shows the negative impact disruptive behaviors have on employee retention, engagement, and patient outcomes. Yet, the problem continues.

And now enter a global pandemic into the mix.

Since the pandemic began in early 2020, there’s been an uptick in bullying and incivility. More and more leaders have been reaching out to us for help. They’ve been telling us that they’re seeing an increase in complaints about bullying and are struggling to hold employees accountable for their behavior, especially now during the Great Resignation because a “bad nurse” is better than no nurse.

However, when the leaders ignore the bad behavior of their employees, for any reason, the good employees leave, and patients don’t get the care they deserve.

Same problem we’ve always had but now, the pandemic and subsequent Great Resignation has kicked it up a notch.

How do we stop the Great Resignation in healthcare?

At the Healthy Workforce Institute, we’ve been working with healthcare leaders for more than a decade and know that while the numbers do matter, the number of staff still isn’t as important AS the staff and how they treat each other.

Culture is still more important than the numbers. And who is ultimately responsible for the culture? Yes. It’s the leader.

The good news is that by adopting just three strategies, leaders can take back control of their department, reduce the mass exodus, and slowly start to rebuild a team of highly dedicated, engaged, and committed healthcare professionals.

These 3 strategies will help prevent a leaking faucet from becoming a full-on gusher!

  • Find out what matters most to your people

One of the ways we hardwire healthy workforce into the very fabric of departments with our clients is to establish one-on-one meetings with employees. Brace yourself – we recommend meeting one-on-one with every employee, every month.

During these meetings, we recommend starting with this one, simple question, “Tell me what matters most to you right now.”

No matter what they say, find opportunities to support them on what matters to them. For example, if an employee says, “Getting out on time so that I can be there for my family.” Then make it a point to connect with that employee and ask, “Hey. Just checking in to see how your day is. Is there anything I can do to help you get out on time today?”

Doing this shows them that you truly care about what matters to them.

  • Communicate like your life depends on it

The number one complaint I hear from employees relates in some way to poor communication from their leadership team. Many leaders throughout this pandemic spent more time in meetings, leaving their staff to figure things out on their own. And trust me, staff made a lot of false assumptions and spent an incredible amount of time speculating potential scenarios – none of them good.

Here are just a few key communication strategies you should start right now:

    • Address the rumor mill – During huddles and meetings, ask, “What rumors are you hearing?” And then, either validate, “Yes. That’s true.” – invalidate, “Nope. That’s false.” – or investigate, “Hmm. I haven’t heard that but let me check.” And then get back to them.
    • Keep people informed about your efforts to recruit more employees. We recommend sending a weekly summary with a status update as a way to communicate what you’re doing. Because if you don’t, they will assume you’re doing nothing. For example, in a weekly email summary you could say, “We interviewed 2 nurses this week, 1 we’re offering a position to. We’ve received 3 applications this week and will be scheduling interviews next week.” Etc.
    • Don’t rely on your executives to communicate big ticket items, like vaccine mandates. YOU need to communicate – repeatedly, at nauseam. Bring up the topic in every huddle and every meeting, send and resend emails, print and post – everywhere (especially the staff bathroom). If you have a social media page, share there. If you have a group text, share there too. The key is to communicate important changes, challenges, and big-ticket items (anything pertaining to the pandemic), over and over again. Sending one email doesn’t work.
  • Stop tolerating bad behavior – period

I get it. You ignore bad behavior because you either understand it or because you’re too afraid to lose another employee. But what you’re not understanding is that every time you tolerate an act of bullying or incivility in your department, you’re building a case for your remaining staff to leave. Just like that slow leak from a rusty faucet, if you don’t address it, you’re going to come “home” to a mess.

Set very clear behavioral expectations, especially with your employees who are so good at their jobs but may be a toxic force in your department. Like Peter Belcher said, “Nothing will kill a great employee faster than watching you tolerate a bad one.”

The Great Resignation is certainly upon us. However, we do have some control on how long it lasts. While you can’t necessarily compete with the high dollar payouts nurses are getting from traveling, you do have control on whether or not they will come back, and they will, if you’ve created a healthy work culture.

It takes courage to manage and sustain a healthy environment, especially when faced with massive staffing shortages. However, culture and the way people treat each other at work is just as important and will always be more important than the numbers.


To learn how you can reduce incidents of bullying and incivility in your organization, contact us at Wecare@healthyworkforceinstitute.com.

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The Healthy Workforce Institute is the global leader in addressing disruptive behavior in healthcare. Through our cadre of services, we provide the strategies, skills, and solutions to address any incidences of disruptive behaviors that show up in healthcare.

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