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Workforce optimization

Health systems are facing unprecedented workforce challenges. Mica Mione, Senior Director, Organizational Development, Optum, says that overcoming these challenges will require new strategies and partnerships.

Mica works with health system partners to ensure cultural alignment between our organizations by engaging the talents of staff and leaders to realize our shared business goals. We sat down with Mica to discuss accessing resources, attracting and retaining a high-quality workforce, and efficient staff utilization.

What are some workforce trends or new obstacles you’ve noticed in your work with health systems?

It’s no secret that health systems are experiencing significant workforce challenges. Given the current climate and labor market, we’ve witnessed the balance of power shift to employees over the last year. An unprecedented number of workers struggle with burnout. They’ve become unsatisfied with their benefits package, and the pandemic has them physically and mentally exhausted — with many deciding to leave their jobs.

Many of us have heard the phrase, the “Great Resignation,” and that’s due to burnout and the desire for an alternative work schedule, higher earnings and better work-life balance.

This is improving work-life balance. It’s reducing commute times. It’s creating more flexibility for people to focus on themselves, their families and others. And this shift really had a profound and lasting impact on employee retention and recruitment efforts.

We’re finding that employees would like to continue working from home. A recent survey from Gartner found that 82% of workers who can work remotely would like to stay remote at least half of the time.

In the health care industry and within its respective administrative services specifically, remote and hybrid work environments can be regarded as a challenge and an advantage. In fact, according to a recent Healthcare Financial Management Association survey, a majority of the revenue cycle workforce is working entirely virtual or in a hybrid model.

This same survey found that 30% of health care organizations plan to completely restructure and increase permanent work-from-home capabilities post-pandemic, so this really is the new normal.

The trend toward remote and hybrid work is opening the job market to new employment opportunities. Employees can find jobs across the country, sometimes even globally. But it also allows health systems to search for talent using a larger net and recruit beyond their local communities.

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Do you see these trends and obstacles as blips on the radar or more as long-term issues that health systems need to account for in the years to come?

I see these workforce trends as long-term issues. Data suggest that this is a long-term challenge that started before the pandemic and that it will continue as we move into the future due to factors like workforce shortages across the U.S.

We have an aging workforce and high levels of retirement. This means there will be much greater competition for recruiting talent, which impacts wages. Additionally, employees seek a more flexible work environment where they are also challenged and have opportunities to develop professionally.

The pain of the “Great Resignation” is real, and it’s pushing companies to examine their compensation models and their employee experience initiatives. For example, employees seek a workplace that cares about their health and wellness, including their mental health.

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What are some of the solutions organizations can leverage to address workforce productivity, burnout and staffing shortages?

Many providers are focused on improving how the work gets done through process revitalization, real-time analytics, automation for repetitive tasks and bringing in experts to go deep and focus on strategic initiatives.

Some are also finding strategic partners to help them achieve their mission. These partners may help create standards for operating discipline and automating processes in a way that brings in new technology and analytics.

Some of these efforts may have already been underway. In these cases, health systems are accelerating these projects by reprioritizing their business objectives and bringing in partners as trusted advisors and industry experts.

Health system leaders recognize that to be successful, to recruit and maintain their performance standards and expectations, they need to bring in partners and advanced technology. They must take a holistic workforce approach that brings together an optimal employee experience while increasing quality and automation to reduce workload and enhance satisfaction.

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What does the strategic partnership model look like for a health system if they are to expect a high-performing workforce?

Whether a strategic partner will support a health system’s revenue cycle business, IT or clinical efforts, cultural alignment must be a key consideration. Organizations need to have a shared vision and aligned expectations that enable long-term partnership health.

A partner that leverages technology innovation to drive efficiency and cost-effectiveness is key. And a partner with a global workforce that can insert staff in different areas and in times of need can ensure that productivity continues even when surprises happen.

A good partner delivers a blended workforce approach using existing staff and brings in experts for special projects as needed. A good partner also blends institutional knowledge with best practices.

You mentioned culture alignment. How important is culture alignment between health systems and their strategic partners?

Culture and strategy alignment are the most critical components of a partnership. Organizational culture refers to a company’s mission, objectives, expectations and values that guide attitudes and behaviors, which then become operating norms.

To be successful in a partnership, you need to understand each other’s culture, including the similarities and differences. Intentionally mapping your cultures brings to light expectations around leadership, decision-making and communication. Culture and strategy alignment influence governance design, management structures and goal-setting.

Partnering organizations, whether that’s Optum or someone else, need to invest the time into establishing a shared vision for success and set guiding principles to help guide achievement of that shared vision.

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What practices should health systems consider in attracting and retaining new talent?

Some of the best practices we’re seeing right now in the market for recruiting and retaining new talent are focused on offering flexible work hours. With increasing use of telecommuting and work-from-home options, people have become accustomed to and now expect to have a level of flexibility as they’re seeking career opportunities.

People are also looking for employers that really care about them as a whole person. Job seekers may be looking for wellness support such as gym memberships or other benefits that focus on values, communication, team building and professional development.

Employees are asking how employers can help them develop in their roles. Is there an opportunity for upward mobility? And can a health system articulate how they help their employees achieve their full potential?

Employees want clarity around their productivity targets. They want to know what’s expected of them. We talk about that in terms of clarity of direction. They want to know where the organization is going and how what they are doing contributes to the organization’s mission. They want clarity about what’s expected of them from a delivery standpoint — especially if there’s an incentive plan in place. They want to be confident that they can earn that incentive.

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What are some things health care executives should focus on and prioritize when it comes to workforce optimization?

Over the next 12 to 18 months, I would recommend that leaders within health systems take a step back and think about how they are staffing their administrative functions. They should look at IT, revenue cycle management and business analytics to ensure they have the right combination of talent and investment in advanced technology.

A lot of this work can be done through automation, artificial intelligence or through other technologies and with partners.

Be creative. Look outside the four walls of the system and really think about how you can run your business differently.

 

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About Mica Mione, Senior Director, Organizational Development, Optum

Mica Mione has more than 20 years of organizational development and change management experience, with a focus on building cultural alignment, employee engagement, social responsibility and change adoption. She currently leads large-scale partnership integrations as part of Optum Market Performance Partnerships.

With a blend of non-profit, government and private sector experience, she brings a unique perspective on what it takes to create the momentum needed for a transformational partnership. Mione has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Naropa University and holds a Master of Science degree in organizational development from University of San Francisco.