June 9, 2019

How Poor Workforce Scheduling Costs Healthcare Companies Millions (and What to Do about It)


Effective employee scheduling is a multi-faceted challenge for the modern healthcare organization. The process needs to balance seemingly irreconcilable factors: the consistent, yet dynamic need for patient care, the diverse skill sets of specialized professionals, their availability requests and preferences, as well as flexibility toward often unexpected circumstances.

Still, many medical enterprises rely on legacy workforce management systems that are based on manual scheduling tools, such as spreadsheet software. Although it might seem simple to use, the primary purpose of this tool isn’t shift scheduling, especially not for the complex needs of hospitals and other healthcare institutions. 

The shortfalls of manual scheduling are evident not only in lower productivity, with unexpected absences and missed shifts, but also in the bottom line, through costs of overtime work and employee turnover. Given that the anticipated shortage of nurses and physicians is bound to increase labor costs significantly, keeping the labor budget under control seems more critical than ever.

Why manual scheduling is not the right solution for shift-based work

Firstly, static scheduling tools fail to give insight into the labor budget and employee availability, so managers end up having to consult multiple employee data sources before they even start assigning shifts. Regardless of how thorough the supervisors are, making mistakes is almost inevitable, as there’s no way to instantly resolve scheduling conflicts or unexpected absences. Considering that the employees have limited capability to participate in the scheduling process, or even just view the latest changes, it’s no wonder that last-minute schedule updates go unnoticed, resulting in missed shifts. Moreover, without accounting for variances in patient demand, manual scheduling often results in chronically over- and understaffed shifts. The compound effect of these issues is particularly detrimental because it can compromise the quality of patient care and safety. 

Worse yet, the resulting poor schedule isn’t the effect of managers’ lack of commitment—static tools steal hours from their work day—but the method itself is inefficient.

On the administrative side, decentralized, manual scheduling makes it difficult to keep complete and accurate records of employee attendance. These inconsistencies put companies at risk for being penalized for labor law violations—another hidden cost of poor scheduling, but one that can result in both financial repercussions and damaged reputation.

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How poor scheduling affects employees

Each time an employee must face overtime or cover an understaffed shift, their engagement drops as they feel they’re unfairly carrying the weight of the organization. Actively disengaged workers not only lack the commitment and loyalty toward the organization’s goals, but they also undermine the entire team. While providing care, they can act detached, borderline unkind, leaving patients feeling neglected and doing a disservice to the hospital’s reputation.

For employees relying on multiple part-time jobs or short-term projects, irregular shift schedules put a significant strain on their work-life balance. If they don’t have control over their working hours, sooner or later they will be forced to miss work, even if they’re dedicated to the job. 

On the flip side, the “hire and fire” policy comes at a high price in the long run— replacing a healthcare professional can cost around $60,000, but this cost largely depends on occupation, seniority, and location. It’s clear that scheduling optimization is a smarter investment, particularly in industries like healthcare, which are traditionally facing high turnover rates.

The specialized solution instead of a subpar tool

The majority of CFOs and operations executives in healthcare predict an increase in labor budgets, but they also recognize productivity and workflow redesign as the main areas for improvement, a Navigant/HFMA survey shows. One of the methods to introduce is deploying innovative tech solutions specialized for automatizing workforce management processes, such as shift scheduling.

Humanity offers a cloud-based employee scheduling platform that accounts for employee’s skills, preferred working hours and absences, so managers can create conflict-free schedules more efficiently and keep employees in the loop in case of changes. Real-time monitoring of labor budget ensures effective cost control, while instant warnings pertaining to regulatory requirements enable supervisors to keep their schedules compliant. Humanity is also integrated with the industry-leading Human Capital Management companies, so all key employee data is available in a single system of record.