By Neill Marshall, Chairman
As the pandemic eases into an endemic phase, healthcare executives face many operational challenges, especially related to the workforce. From 2020 to today, healthcare organizations large and small have experienced the negative aspects of The Great Resignation — a record number of healthcare workers either retiring or leaving their jobs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 71.6 million people left their jobs from April 2021 through April 2022, an average of 3.98 million monthly. In June 2022, the number of people quitting spiked to 4.2 million.
Nurses and other staff have been frustrated with the work environment for years. The frustration stems from staffing shortages and feeling underpaid and their employer’s lack of respect or concern for their safety and well-being. This has created an environment ripe for unions and others to be their voice. Much has been written about this phenomenon, but not much has been said about how this movement is morphing into other stressors on the workforce. A recent statistic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) underscores the troubled nature of today’s healthcare workforce with 46% of health care professionals reporting higher levels of burnout and poor mental health compared to before COVID-19.
“The Quiet Revolution in healthcare staffing isn’t just about the noise of leaving or the silence of staying—it’s about listening to the undercurrents of workforce dynamics and responding with a leadership that orchestrates balance and well-being,” Ed Fry, founding partner of HealthSearch Partners (HSP), says.
When we ask CEOs and other C-suite executives what keeps them up at night, the universal answer is staffing and its various components — shortages, labor costs, morale, engagement, and union activity. What has emerged is a new jargon to describe how employees and employers are reacting to current dynamics.
Quiet quitting. As the pressures of the pandemic grew at healthcare organizations, employees began to assess their work environment and their satisfaction with their work overall. Many felt overworked and under-appreciated, especially as more and more of their colleagues became sick. This led to what I refer to as the Great Reevaluation. While many left their jobs, others decided to stay, but with a different commitment to their work. Quiet quitting became a phenomenon as caregivers and support staff decided to do the minimum required of them to keep their jobs. The passion and desire to go the extra mile vanished. Studies have shown that burnout was a significant contributing factor to quiet quitting. The desire for work-life balance also gained traction as employees were required to work double shifts, and many on the front line didn’t see their families for weeks or months as they isolated to protect their loved ones and others during COVID.
Ivan Bartolome, HSP’s president and CEO, notes, “The phenomenon of quiet quitting reflects a deeper call for a workplace culture that resonates with respect, recognition, and a genuine commitment to the health of those who care for our health.”
Quiet firing. While not a new phenomenon, the stress of the new reality of COVID magnified managerial behavior that made performing work miserable and managers mistreating their staff, resulting in people quitting rather than continuing to be subjected to untenable conditions in the workplace. While there are no hard statistics on how many people were victims of quiet firing, there is no doubt thousands left their jobs because of it.
Loud quitting. Becker’s Hospital Review has published several articles on other HR forces impacting healthcare organizations. According to an Aug. 23, 2023 article, “What is loud quitting? Healthcare labor action may be one example,” Gallup defines loud quitting as those who are actively disengaged. This includes disengagement from their work and their employer. Loud quitting often manifests itself in labor actions such as strikes against hospitals. It draws attention to employees’ concerns about their workplace conditions. The article points out how social media has shed light on terms like “loud quitting” by showing it to millions of people.
Quiet hiring. A Jan. 13, 2023, article in Forbes, “How quiet hiring will shape the workplace,” explains that quiet hiring describes when an organization acquires new skills without hiring additional full-time employees. It usually means giving existing employees more responsibilities beyond their current job description. While quiet hiring saves the organization time, money, and resources, employees may be dissatisfied with taking on new responsibilities or roles with which they are unfamiliar.
Quiet cutting. Closely aligned with quiet hiring is a trend called quiet cutting. In an effort to trim jobs without sustaining actual layoffs, companies are reassigning employees to different roles. In an Aug. 28, 2023, Becker’s Hospital Review article, “Companies lean into ‘quiet cutting,” from Aug. 2022 to Aug. 2023, mentions of “reassignment” or similar phrasing during company earnings calls more than tripled. The article points out that reassignments can be a strategic way for organizations to cut costs by placing top talent in new roles better suited to help them meet future organizations’ goals. It could be a way for companies to avoid letting people go. But, it could also be a soft nudge to get employees to quit
Assembling the right executive team has never been more critical. Working with clients committed to putting the right people in the right places in the C-suite is at the heart of our executive search engagements. Finding the proper chief human resources officer or chief nursing officer who can understand and embrace an organization’s culture, mission, and values is an essential first step in addressing the current forces weighing on your employees. We encourage our clients to be clear about selecting the candidate that is the right fit for the organization, the executive team, and employees. Patience, understanding, the ability to listen, to be flexible, and to be innovative are all keys to successfully maneuvering the workforce trends I’ve outlined above.
If you’re searching for the executive that’s the right fit for your team, I welcome the opportunity to talk to you. You may reach me at email@example.com.