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Why we can’t afford to wait for the healthcare staffing crisis to end

Coauthored by Jeff Doucette, Chief Nursing Officer

It’s no secret that staffing challenges are weighing heavily on the shoulders of healthcare organizations. However, waiting for this “storm” to pass before addressing quality and safety issues is not the road to take.  

Zero harm—to patients and the workforce—must be our core value in healthcare, and we can’t lose sight of this despite the current staffing issues. As healthcare organizations face a nationwide caregiver crisis due to the pandemic, engagement and employee retention in healthcare have never been more critical. A renewed focus on quality and safety can help fortify these engagement and retention efforts.

5 key drivers of employee retention in healthcare

If you examine the graph below, you’ll see that there are five key drivers—or “healthcare must-haves"—that are the top determinants in an employee’s decision to remain at an organization after being offered another job.

The employee is less likely to leave an organization if that employee:

  1. Likes the work they do
  2. Finds their work meaningful
  3. Feels that their work makes a real difference
  4. Sees every patient client as an individual with specific needs
  5. Feels the organization provides high-quality care and service

These drivers—numbers 3–5 in particular—relate to quality and safety.

(Click here to enlarge.)

The engagement-safety connection

The connection between employee engagement and a culture of safety cannot be overstated, especially given the current staffing challenges in healthcare. Better performance in both arenas accelerates advances in quality, patient experience, and efficiency outcomes—a concept known as the "virtuous cycle." Employees that feel safe at work exhibit higher levels of engagement, and engaged employees are more aware of threats not just to patients, but to coworkers too. So, safety leads to engagement, and engagement leads to safety. The two become an engine that drives improved efficiency outcomes throughout healthcare.

Press Ganey’s data and insights can help your organization during this challenging time by demonstrating correlation through comparative performance aspects, and by examining specific safety culture item performance against where respondents rank in engagement. We'll then show you how to develop and implement a strategy to both enhance the employee experience and boost patient safety. For example, leader behaviors such as High Reliability Rounding™ and tiered huddles all drive safety performance as well as employee engagement. In fact, high reliability principles and practices are a chassis by which organizations can improve across multiple domains, including engagement, safety, quality, and patient experience

Staffing issues will be with us for the long term. So we cannot wait to optimize safety and quality. Today’s healthcare staffing shortages mean we need to look at new and innovative ways to deliver care, including new care models, care redesign, and process improvement.

Leaders must visibly commit to quality, safety, reliability, and service. This will lead to enhanced engagement and employee retention in healthcare, as well as improved outcomes for patients.

To learn more about how Press Ganey is improving the safety climate across the healthcare industry, check out our Safety 2025 pledge.

For help conducting a safety culture assessment at your healthcare organization, or to learn more about the Press Ganey safety culture survey, get in touch with a Press Ganey expert.

About the author

As Chief Safety and Transformation Officer, Dr. Gandhi, MPH, CPPS is responsible for improving patient and workforce safety, and developing innovative healthcare transformation strategies. She leads the Zero Harm movement and helps healthcare organizations recognize inequity as a type of harm for both patients and the workforce. Dr. Gandhi also leads the Press Ganey Equity Partnership, a collaborative initiative dedicated to addressing healthcare disparities and the impact of racial inequities on patients and caregivers. Before joining Press Ganey, Dr. Gandhi served as Chief Clinical and Safety Officer at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), where she led IHI programs focused on improving patient and workforce safety.

Profile Photo of Dr. Tejal Gandhi, MPH, CPPS