Finding Flexibility in Healthcare

July 26, 2021
Doctor sitting on blocks reading a clipboard, healthcare chapter card ebook
This is the first of our four-chapter ebook, The Evolution of Workforce Flexibility. Here, we delve into the new age of flexibility within the healthcare industry and suggest a few ways for the industry to expand its horizon moving forward.

This is the first of our four-chapter ebook, The Evolution of Workforce Flexibility. To read the entire ebook, click here

We already know that healthcare is vitally important. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become painfully obvious that when push comes to shove, the healthcare workforce embodies the definition of essential workers. One would assume that healthcare is an industry that has little room for flexibility. It seems like it’s a fixed model that, due to its importance, can’t really be adjusted. Though there is an obvious need for on-site and around-the-clock work when it comes to healthcare, that doesn’t eliminate the field from an array of opportunities to be flexible. It does, however, require a level of creative thinking and technological innovations to bring it to fruition. A lot of other industries already have the opportunity to provide flexibility for its workforce, so why not healthcare? 

Is Healthcare Already a Flexible Field?

Given that healthcare employees are required to adapt to constantly evolving circumstances, sudden changes, and working with limited resources, it would be fair to say that they already meet the criteria for general definitions of workplace flexibility. Healthcare workers are multifaceted, possessing diverse skill sets. They regularly deal with crises, accounting for unique patient circumstances and coming up with solutions on-the-fly. They work around the clock, meaning that there is at least some opportunity to flex hours and work shifts that satisfy the needs of their personal lives. Generally speaking, hospitals adjust their scheduling throughout the day to meet levels and patterns of demand. It seems that the healthcare system by nature offers levels of flexibility not afforded to most other industries.

With that in mind, why is there so much conversation in healthcare HR about flexibility?

First, let’s identify the importance of added flexibility to the healthcare workforce. In the International Centre for Human Resources in Nursing’s Flexible Working Practices in Nursing, authors emphasize the necessity to add flexibility in the field, arguing it adds to the quality of the healthcare itself. “Flexible work options for substantive nursing staff can be a win-win situation for health care organizations and nurses.” They continue, “For organizations, these work options provide more staffing flexibility with nurses who know their patients, the organization and each other.” In other words, when a healthcare organization's workforce gains flexibility, the quality of patient care (and organizational reputation) has the potential to go up.

How Does the Healthcare Workforce Currently Exhibit Flexibility? 

We’ve gone over ways in which the healthcare industry is inherently flexible, but how does flexibility currently manifest itself? Here are a few examples:

  • Float Pools: Members of a nursing staff included in float pools operate as multifaceted stop-gaps in areas of urgent need on short notice. Take one example from the University of Rochester’s School of Medicine, where their float pool is “a unit made up of well-trained and experienced nurses who have the unique ability to adjust, or “float,” between several different critical care areas across the nursing spectrum – often within the same shift.” 
  • Telecommuting: While a great deal of healthcare workers aren’t afforded the opportunities to work from home, there are noncritical departments that can. Recently, we’ve seen a shift for administrative workers who need nothing more than an internet connection and telephone to do their jobs. There’s a variety of benefits that include “[the] release of valuable hospital space, reduced employee turnover, and increased productivity. The time away from the institution may provide administrators with valuable planning time, free from interruptions.”
  • Job Sharing: Say you need one full-time nurse added to your staff, but you have two nurses willing to split hours. One nurse is looking to retire soon and is slowly winding down on the weekly workload while another is finishing their degree. Job sharing allows these two nurses to split the workload and combine for the hours needed to fulfill the organization’s needs.

How Can the Healthcare Industry Be More Flexible Moving Forward?

We’ve shown that healthcare workers have a unique set of circumstances that inherently grant a level of flexibility. We’ve also gone over a potential benefit of added flexibility for healthcare workforces and ways in which the industry is already implementing measures of flexibility. However, here are some suggestions for healthcare organizations to continue offering flexible options for their employees:

  1. Keep Embracing Flexible Scheduling: A great deal of prospective employees value flexibility, and a cornerstone of flexibility is the ability to work a variety of shifts based on personal needs. This is amongst the easier aspects of flexibility for shift managers to provide their employees as the healthcare industry is far from a traditional work schedule profession to begin with. Not only does scheduling flexibility promote a healthy work-life balance for employees, but it serves as an effective employment attraction and retention strategy.
  2. Provide Locational Flexibility When Possible: Whenever you can provide opportunities for locational flexibility, do it! As we noted earlier in this chapter, administrative staff given the opportunity to work remotely have shown increased productivity and can free up much needed hospital space.
  3. Add More Per Diem Staff: Per diem staff in healthcare work on a flat-rate, per shift basis. This type of staffing encourages both scheduling and locational flexibility as they aren’t constrained to working for any one hospital, employment agency, or healthcare system. Per diem jobs make for the ideal career choice for those who want to truly work on a schedule that works for them.

This is chapter one of our ebook, The Evolution of Workforce Flexibility. To read the rest of the ebook, click here!

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