The struggle against COVID-19 is far from over. But we are now at the stage where we can begin to reflect on the lessons learned from the crisis, and consider what should be changed and improved. As a healthcare provider, how you respond will not only have an important bearing on the quality of care you offer, but also your ability to attract and retain talent. 

Drawing on interviews with doctors, nurses, and other healthcare employees in more than 30 countries, the Randstad Employer Brand Research provides valuable insights into what sector employees want from their employers, what concerns them, and what motivates them to stay in or switch jobs. This year’s research includes specific questions about employees’ experiences of working through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Priorities for action

From analysis of the findings and their implications, four priorities for action stand out:

1/ tackle stress through active engagement, and a readiness to respond to concerns

The pandemic has highlighted the resilience and resourcefulness of healthcare workers in the face of seemingly impossible demands. As the Randstad Employer Brand Research underlines, what employees want in return is full support from their employers – active engagement, open dialogue, and a readiness to respond to concerns. 

Encouragingly, most healthcare organizations would appear to have got this right – 67% of healthcare employees now feel more loyal to their employers as a result of the support they’ve received during the pandemic. However, it’s clear that support and resulting loyalty are much lower in some regions than others, notably Europe (47%) and the CIS region (22%).

Without the necessary support, an inherently stressful environment can turn into a toxic one. This will in turn exacerbate the already unsustainable levels of burnout within the sector. The mental health pressures could encourage many professionals to leave their jobs or abandon the sector altogether. 

2/ create a compelling working environment and work-life balance

For the doctors, nurses, and most other healthcare professionals we interviewed, attractive pay and benefits is the most important attribute when choosing an employer. But work-life balance is just behind, and pleasant work atmosphere just below that.  

While the shift patterns within healthcare can limit flexibility to some extent, there is still room to flex hours, while encouraging employees to work in more agile ways. Nearly three in ten healthcare employees are attracted to organizations offering remote working – video connectivity means that this can include frontline medical practitioners as well as administrative staff. In turn, workflow systems and greater use of contingent talent could help to meet peaks in demand without overloading permanent employees.

Where the working environment and work-life balance come together is in support for wellbeing and mental health. The strains of the pandemic have highlighted the importance of monitoring individual stress levels, encouraging people to talk about their concerns, and intervening early. The past year has also underlined the value of being able to step away from the stresses of work. Employers can support this through training, wellbeing programs, and clear boundaries in areas such as email response. 

3/ help anxious workers to feel more secure about their jobs

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a significant proportion of the healthcare employees we interviewed (14%) report working longer hours than normal. What we didn’t expect to see were such high levels of job insecurity. One in five employees who’ve continued to work as normal during the pandemic are anxious about losing their jobs in 2021. This is a reminder that contract terms within healthcare can often be loose and uncertain, especially further down the pay scale. As the Randstad Employer Brand Research shows, these less qualified and lower paid health workers are also among those most likely to prize job security when choosing an employer. The need to boost security is heightened by the fact that the fearful workers are nearly three times more likely to plan to change jobs over the next six months than more secure colleagues.

4/ promote the benefits of technology to win workforce buy-in

Technology can play a key role is helping to make workloads more sustainable. Over the past year, HealthTech has highlighted its potential by enabling general practice and outpatient consultations to keep running. It’s also helped to reduce the backlog building up in non-COVID-19 referral and treatment. Emerging opportunities include ‘digital front doors’ that open the way to remote screening and consultation.

Yet use of the latest technology is near the bottom of what makes an employer attractive among virtually all the different types of healthcare worker we interviewed. It’s therefore important to explain the benefits of technology more effectively. This includes how it could help take care of the routine work and enable employees to make more productive use of their time.

The next important focus

Commenting on the findings, Tania De Decker, Randstad’s managing director enterprise clients, highlighted the importance of building on the lessons learned: “During the pandemic, the physical protection of both permanent and temporary workers has been a top priority for our healthcare clients. This especially applies to people who have to work onsite and cannot do their job remotely. However, we all underestimated the impact on mental wellbeing, and I see this as the next important focus moving forward."

To find out more about what healthcare talent wants and how to attract them, download the Randstad 2021 global healthcare professions report.