Among the many issues healthcare administrators are coping with the current recession – and the looming possibility of a full-on depression. To prepare, HR leaders are taking steps to anticipate and address workforce consequences of a troubled economy, including layoffs and furloughs related to financial constrictions and labor shortages exacerbated by burnout.  

“From a talent leadership standpoint, a recession is particularly problematic because nearly all of the same challenges will exist even as systems become more financially constrained in addressing them,” notes David Wilkins, HealthcareSource’s Chief Strategy Officer.

“We know from many discussions with clients and in looking at hiring data across thousands of locations that the increase in available talent from layoffs and hiring slowdowns have barely moved the needle in reducing time-to-hire for critical roles,” he adds. “And attrition driven by the intense working conditions during the pandemic will just make that worse.”

The first step is to make time for planning. With everything else going on as we battle Coronavirus, it may not feel right or even possible to look ahead. But with a long road ahead and uncertainty about what “normal” will be, preparing now increases the likelihood your organization survives, delivers a competitive advantage and a creates sense of security among staff, patients and other stakeholders.

Making Your Talent Management Strategy Recession-Ready

Start by forming a task force to develop talent management strategies. Consider involving members from across the organization – finance, nursing, administrative and safety/maintenance – to devise a comprehensive response plan and earn buy-in before you have to execute. 

Key tasks for the team include:

Scenario Planning. Creating recession scenarios (a short dip, a long-term trough, headcount reductions, shifts in utilization, etc.) and challenging assumptions helps you create a more informed and ultimately successful response plan. Consider how economic challenges might affect your patient population. Will utilization by patients on Medicaid and Medicare change? How will recovered COVID-19 patients impact chronic care needs? Do you expect patients who had to seek acute or urgent care elsewhere to return? Will the need for urgent and acute care increase? How will EAP and employer-provided health insurance expenses increase? How will attrition from burnout and other mental health outcomes impact headcount?

Recession Review. Ask a team to dig into the numbers from the last recession and report on how it impacted utilization, headcount, recruiting and retention. You may be surprised at what you find. For example, just before the Great Recession, patients utilized certain services more, getting their annual physicals and having elective surgeries while their financial situations were still good. Looking back at your organization’s utilization in the months before the last downturn can help you anticipate staffing needs before the next one.

HR Investment. It’s easy to overlook the impact on your own team when thinking about recession staffing. “Talent teams will likely be asked to do more with less, yet recruiters are already working 50% more reqs than they should be, recruiting as a function is still investing at 25% of the rate of other industries, and succession planning and career development programs are historically underfunded across the board for anything other than senior leadership,” Wilkins notes. “So if talent demand remains constant, but talent teams are going to be asked to ‘get lean’, that’s going to be tough because they are probably already leaner than they should be – at least in terms of personnel and resources.” Invest now in technology and training that improve operational effectiveness, and secure funds today for future recruitment marketing and talent development.

While we won’t be able to avoid a long-term COVID-19 recession, we can be better prepared for it. Use this advice to make sure your healthcare organization is recession ready.

For additional COVID-19 resources, please visit our Coronavirus Resource Center.

Margot Carmichael Lester

About Margot Carmichael Lester

Margot Carmichael Lester is a North Carolina-based freelance business journalist who has been covering healthcare and staffing for more than 20 years. She also writes about moviemaking for the International Cinematographers Guild, specializing in action cinema. Margot co-authored the award-winning teen writing book Be a Better Writer with her husband, Steve Peha. She earned her BA in journalism from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and is a rabid Tar Heel basketball fan.