Filling open shifts is often a thorn in a provider organization’s side. A necessary practice, filling open shifts can be a time-consuming and frustrating process. Resulting in unnecessary overtime and increased labor costs, a high rate of vacant shifts also leads to poor staff morale and burnout, which inevitably negatively impacts patient care.
Many provider organizations struggle with how to successfully fill open shifts, and approaches are varied. Some organizations choose incentives to reward staff for picking up shifts. If you decide to incentivize, there are several elements that you must consider before you go live with an open shift program.
Consistent application of standardized practices is always important when it comes to workforce operations. Operating outside of policy can have destructive consequences including compromising data for analytical purposes. Consistent data is necessary in order to understand staff behavior and the efficiency of the program. Additionally, deviating from the standardized incentive amounts for certain staff members not only undermines the purpose of the program, but also risks damaging staff morale and creating a negative environment.
Once it has been determined to implement an incentivized open shift program and policies have been set in motion, it is critical that managers and leadership are completely committed to the program to ensure its success. Leaders set the stage for how the program is received by staff. It’s often hard to stick to something new when it is so much easier to go back to what you know. And when unit managers are in a bind, it can be very tempting to veer outside of business rules in the hope of getting shifts filled. Once expectations have been set, everyone must stay committed to them in order to reach organizational goals.
Strong Leadership and Change Management
Executing a change in any program – but especially one that involves staff members’ pay – requires strong organizational alignment and change leadership from the individuals that will be fielding the direct concerns and feedback from employees. Change requires new habits, and leadership should set the example for employees to follow. Knowing how to effectively lead through change is vital to keeping everyone aligned with organizational objectives. Maintaining positivity and keeping staff focused on the new reality will work to ensure a smooth implementation.
The scheduling process should be automated whenever possible and is vital if choosing to incentivize open shifts. This helps ensure fair practices are applied across the system. With automated scheduling software powered by predictive analytics, open shifts can be automatically posted to staff in their competency areas once the manager has scheduled staff to their FTE. Open shifts are ideally posted 30 days in advance and updated in real-time.
Additionally, an incentive model of decreasing financial incentives as shift dates approach is a recommended best practice. Attractive monetary incentives well in advance of the shift that decrease as dates draw closer satisfy both staff motivators of money and flexibility; they pay well, yet also enable staff members to plan their lives around their schedule by exchanging flexibility for dollars as shift dates approach.
Understanding the Financial Impact
If you are choosing to incentivize your open shifts, it is important to understand that it could cost more in the beginning, but should reduce labor spending in the long run. At the startup of an incentivized open shift program, organizations may set a higher dollar amount for shifts to encourage staff to participate. Once the program has been adopted by employees and staffing improves, reviewing your budget and setting appropriate incentive amounts is necessary to curb excessive costs.
Many organizations have found that incentivizing their open shifts is an effective strategy to improve their fill rates. But it isn’t a plug-and-play solution. It’s a culture shift that requires strong change management. Every organization is different and an incentivized open shift program requires some fine tuning to make it cost effective and successful.