Feeling the Crunch of Nursing Labor Shortages? Become an Employer of Choice

As the healthcare industry continues to evolve, so too does the workforce that is required to support it. Unfortunately, this growth has not always been accompanied by an equally dynamic approach to understanding the factors that negatively impact a crucial subset of healthcare workers: Nurses.

The COVID-19 pandemic had a profound impact on global healthcare systems. For one, it left nurses in short supply, while the demand for their services greatly increased. The shortage of nursing labor continues today and exacerbated an issue that pre-dated the pandemic: Hospitals find themselves spending more on salaries without seeing commensurate retention of nursing staff.

The World Health Organization predicts a possible global shortage of 5.7 million nurses by 2030.

Additionally, there are a number of macro-trends affecting the industrial workforce, and subsequently, nursing labor:

  • A shrinking piece of the pie. Organizations in the healthcare space (i.e., travel nursing) are vying for the same, increasingly limited pool of qualified workers. A more crowded market often prompts leaders to take shortcuts, such as pivoting to contract staff or increasing nursing assistants to plug the staffing holes. These short-term gains can result in disastrous effects on full- and part-time employees’ well-being and performance.
  • Pressure to do more with less. Organizations are also struggling to retain ancillary staff—such as housekeeping labor. This means nurses and other highly trained clinical staff are taking on additional responsibilities. As workloads rise—especially out-of-scope assignments—job satisfaction and motivation tend to spiral downwards. Unsurprisingly, this trend has a detrimental and measurable impact on patient care. For instance, a recent American Journal of Nursing study found that hazard of death increased by three to five percent per day for patients on units facing significant nursing staff shortages. Conversely, as little as one additional hour of devoted RN care decreased hazard of patient death by three percent.
  • The need to be heard. Nurses, and other shift-economy workers, increasingly feel unsupported, unheard, and undervalued. They are often subject to rigid employee experiences, work schedules and untargeted benefits (e.g., gym memberships, childcare assistance) that do not consider nurses’ unique needs. These factors—which exacerbate retention and talent attraction problems—are partially due to foundational misunderstandings between leadership and front-line workers. The result? Organizations take on the unnecessary cost of irrelevant benefits while their nurses feel underappreciated, ultimately leading them to seek more supportive work settings.
Registered nurses available by state
Registered nurses available by state. Source: University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences

As healthcare leaders look to tackle these challenges head-on to attract and retain top talent, the path forward will be strengthened by a workforce management framework rooted in four guiding principles—autonomy, connection, convenience, and mastery. When these principles are applied, healthcare organizations can become Employers of Choice in today’s climate.

Employer of Choice: Four Guiding Principles
  Autonomy Connection Convenience Mastery
What it is Ownership and control over one’s work. Emphasizing the connections between individuals’ performance and organizational successes. Accessible employee benefits that enable focus and productivity at work. Domain expertise that increases role proficiency and reliability.
Why it matters Employees who perceive a high degree of work autonomy also report higher levels of satisfaction and motivation. When nurses and colleagues feel connected both to each other and their organization, it is reflected in their levels of organizational loyalty and engagement. Efficient access to convenient resources and support benefits both employees and healthcare employers, including higher levels of job satisfaction and well-being.   When nurses feel like they are continually developing and growing in their role, they are more likely to be engaged and motivated.


In the next section, we’ll explore tactics healthcare organizations can leverage to bring the four principles to life to become an Employer of Choice. We'll look at the ways healthcare leaders can implement a solid workforce strategy and plan, enhancing well-being by enacting adaptive leadership, and improving on-the-job performance.

Workforce strategy and planning

Healthcare organizations need an intentional workforce plan to combat nursing labor shortages. That is one with targeted recruitment (designed to attract the right nurses at the right time), well-planned interview processes, and robust operations training.

To build a strong workforce strategy and plan, leverage data & analytics (D&A) to identify the most in-demand skills and qualifications. Additionally, implement assessment tools to screen candidates. Leaders can also provide new hires with comprehensive operations training as part of the onboarding process to position talent for success early on. While focusing on the beginning of the employee lifecycle is critical, to retain nurses in today’s environment, training and career development opportunities should present themselves throughout nurses’ organizational tenure. Finally, offering incentives and bonuses for referring new employees can help to attract top talent.

Leadership and well-being

Leaders play an important role in combating labor shortages when they are responsive to the needs of the workforce and intentionally create a positive organizational culture. This promotes employee well-being, which is key to attracting and retaining top talent.

One of the best ways for healthcare organizations to improve well-being, per the Employer of Choice framework, is by strengthening the intersection of life and great work. This means creating a culture where nurses feel supported and valued, and where their voices are heard. It also means offering flexible work schedules and benefits packages that are tailored to the needs of nurses. Finally, it means ensuring that there is consistent and effective communication between leaders and front-line workers. 

Also consider offering flexible work schedules and competitive benefits packages, as well as providing access to wellness programs. Ultimately, the best solutions to labor shortages are developed when leaders are able to identify the elements of employee experience that matter the most.

Technology and automation

Finally, technology and automation can help to improve labor planning and scheduling, as well as performance management and incentives.

This includes using data and analytics to track employee productivity, implementing self-scheduling systems, and providing employees with access to online learning platforms. Additionally, deploying robots and other forms of automation can help free up nurses’ time to focus on higher-priority tasks.

By tracking employee productivity, organizations can identify areas where nurses are being underutilized. This information can be used to make changes to the labor planning and scheduling process. Additionally, by implementing self-scheduling systems, nurses will have more control and autonomy over their work schedules. This can lead to increased satisfaction and motivation. Finally, by providing employees with access to online learning platforms, nurses will be able to continue developing their skills and knowledge.

Final thoughts

Healthcare organizations must shift their approach to nursing labor if they are to overcome today’s challenges. Some of the most glaring gaps include the need for more adaptability, positive workplace culture, and access to the right technology. As an organization, you can become an Employer of Choice by implementing these changes through actions such as targeted recruitment efforts, robust learning and development opportunities, and dedication to promoting employee wellbeing. Additionally, you can use analytics to improve labor planning and scheduling, as well as performance management and incentives. These steps not only help to retain top talent and improve nurse satisfaction, but also yield dividends in the form of quality of care and patient outcomes.