Hiring & Retention
March 1, 2024

How Hospitals Can Channel the Flexibility of the Gig Economy

As the dust settles on the past few years of pandemic-fueled healthcare upheaval, hospitals and health systems continue to face ongoing staffing shortages. In fact, the average hospital has turned over 89% of its workforce since 2015. It’s not hard to see why hospital turnover has become so rampant: a perfect storm of burnout; an aging workforce without enough new recruits to fill in; and shifting worker demands are all leaving a large gap of healthcare workers at hospitals nationwide. 

The consequences of these shortages are far-reaching. Hospitals are forced to reduce capacity, meaning fewer beds are available for patients who need them. This leads to longer wait times in emergency rooms, scheduling issues, and overworked staff—all of which can potentially impact patient outcomes. One study revealed that for every additional patient assigned to a nurse’s workload, there was a 6-9 percent increase in readmissions for conditions like pneumonia and heart failure.

With healthcare’s push towards value-based care, improving patient outcomes and reducing hospital readmissions are more important than ever. In order to achieve these goals, you have to find ways to solve staffing shortages and boost retention—all while maintaining a competitive edge in the fight for talent.

Gig marketplaces offer inspiration for recruiting & retention

Healthcare systems that want to recruit and retain enough staff to deliver high-quality care would be wise to take a page from the gig economy’s playbook. And it’s not just partnering with gig platforms and staffing firms to bring in talent. In addition to partnering with firms to fill temporary gaps and access specialized skills, many health systems and hospitals are embracing a hybrid approach to meet the growing demand for care, looking to in-source and shore-up their full-time employee base. But as today’s healthcare talent have a multitude of workplace options to choose from including traditional healthcare employers, short-term contracts, and app-based work, health systems need to  examine their offerings relative to what gig marketplaces are providing their independent contractors. 

Many nurses, for example, have left full-time positions at hospitals to become travel nurses in the wake of the pandemic. They realized they could earn more money and have more control over their schedule by working with a gig platform than they could with a traditional position at a hospital. This shift in healthcare represents a larger trend that spans across industries: your organization is now competing largely with gig marketplaces who are able to offer workers more of what they want now: flexibility, freedom, and earning potential. 

So how can you leverage findings from the gig economy in order to make your hospital a destination of choice for labor? Improve your recruiting and retention by focusing on these three strategies that the gig economy is winning with: 

Provide more freedom and autonomy

Workers across industries have called for more autonomy, taking more ownership over their work, hours, and earnings. This has been easy to deliver in fields where remote work is possible, and it’s also been accessible for gig workers or independent contractors. After all, independent contractors are essentially their own small business. The freedom that comes with picking and choosing their own schedule can be empowering—and your hospital staff deserves these options, too.

Delivering this might look like providing the opportunity for workers to more easily pick up shifts or choose their own hours. You can use apps and programs that allow them to trade shifts among themselves instead of having to go through a tedious manual process. Offering this flexibility is a great way to not only boost shift coverage but also improve retention and better recruit the next generation of talent—many of whom prioritize that freedom more than ever when looking for their next job.

Promote adequate work/life balance

Overworked hospital staff are facing burnout in unprecedented numbers thanks to the ongoing labor shortage. In fact, clinical burnout and workforce pressure are the top threats healthcare organizations face in 2024 according to a report from healthcare operations leader symplr. To combat this burnout and promote a better work-life balance, hospitals and health systems should consider ways to alleviate the burden their hospital workers are facing.

This might look like providing the option to work shorter shifts, or fewer days in a row. Many hospital workers put in long hours, work overnight shifts for at least part of their career, or have back to back shifts that require them to stay up for a few days at a time. This is a recipe for burnout, and isn’t sustainable as a long-term model for your workforce. Offering shorter shift times and providing more days off can help your hospital staff refocus, get adequate rest, and come back to work feeling more balanced. 

Another way to support your hospital staff in achieving a more balanced lifestyle could be expanding the mental health resources you offer your staff. Working in a hospital can be physically, mentally, and emotionally draining—being able to provide your hardworking team with ways to process their feelings and talk through their stress can go a long way in preventing burnout.

Offer same-day pay

Faster access to earnings should be a major consideration for any hospital or health system looking to recruit and retain more workers. You’re now effectively competing with gig platforms for talent, meaning that in order to continue to recruit and retain your staff you need to keep up with the pace of pay that independent contractors are capable of earning. The typical two-week pay cycle has become outdated in today’s labor market, but especially in healthcare, where employees can easily start working for a gig platform that pays them the same day they work.

The benefits of same-day pay are numerous: same-day pay helps hospital staff achieve greater peace of mind with increased cash flow, and can motivate them to pick up more shifts. Happier, more engaged employees can cut down on absenteeism and turnover, boosting your retention in the process—and helping your hospital be a destination of choice for hospital workers. 

A positive cycle that leads to better retention & improved patient care

When you can offer your staff the flexibility, work/life balance, and fast access to earnings that they can achieve from gig platforms, they’ll be more motivated to stay—and you’ll become even more attractive to the next generation of potential recruits. From the hardworking custodian who cleans each hospital room to the nurse administering an IV, when your workers stay with you for longer and are more satisfied with their jobs, it can create a positive cycle that not only keeps things running smoothly but can benefit patient care and outcomes, making it a win-win for everyone involved.

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