HR planning often missing in health sector

Lack of time, lack of staff availability and cost, these are the obstacles stopping health-care agencies from implementing strategic human resources activities, a report exploring Ontario’s non-hospital health-care labour market states.

Around 60 per cent of agencies said they engage in strategic HR planning. Of the 40 per cent that don’t, some HR strategies are in place, such as performance appraisals, continued quality improvement planning, re-evaluation of HR practices and exit interviews. The Health Care Labour Market Survey, conducted by Ontario’s district health councils, polled 860 agencies about non-physician, non-nursing staffing needs.

Those who do participate in strategic HR do it out of necessity. For example, 80 per cent of the agencies doing strategic HR are doing so to address problems of infilled positions.

With the recruitment and retention problems the health-care sector is facing, it’s becoming quite clear that being proactive is the effective way to reduce vacancies, said Kevin Barclay, chair of the survey’s steering committee.

“Organizations are taking on a number of activities in HR planning,” said Barclay. “Those that are striving to create an environment of learning and growth are doing a better job at addressing their vacancies.”

Three-quarters of the health provider agencies in Ontario had vacancies within the last year and the majority (64 per cent) say recruiting and retaining new employees is a major challenge.

The report found health-care workers are not primarily interested in money as an incentive to be recruited or retained by their employer. Agencies offering financial incentives had the same difficulty as other agencies in recruiting new workers, the data confirmed. However, employers offering in-house training have less difficulty hiring new staff. Mentoring programs were also cited as a successful incentive, although only 41 per cent of agencies offer it.

Self-scheduling (44 per cent), flexible work hours (39 per cent) and assisting employees with work-life balance (35 per cent) were also initiatives many agencies found effective. Some respondents indicated the implementation of organizational policies, such as benefits and paid mileage, improved recruitment and retention.

To Donna Rubin, the HR problem in the health-care sector is more complex than being proactive and finding out what recruitment tools work best.

“We have a dwindling number of young people going into the profession,” said Rubin, CEO of the Ontario Association for Non-Profit Homes and Services for Seniors. “There are so many more choices out there than in the past. Health care has become less attractive because of the long hours, the wages. There are strategies to try and address this but it’s never going to be a simple fix.”

Inadequate remuneration and the inability to provide full-time employment were the two main reasons why prospective health-care workers turned down employment offers, as cited by respondents.

Rubin said it’s hard to offer full-time employment when the budget can change dramatically from one year to the next. She said it’s a tough call to make.

“Do you put money into giving people long-term care or orientation for staff? HR is seen as necessary but in terms of resources and funding, it has to take a back seat sometimes,” she said.

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