Healthcare industry: Will the pandemic help propel HR?

Updated: Nov 26, 2021

While its challenges and negative impacts are top of mind right now, experts say that the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic could yet have some serious upside for HR professionals in the healthcare industry.

Lisa Askwith, a human capital management consultant from Apex BRS, believes the pandemic may have kicked the HR sector up a gear. “We tend to only view COVID in terms of negatives but the pandemic has helped digitise and accelerate positive HR change,” she says. “That’s particularly in relation to workplace flexibility and communications, all without necessarily the need to travel.”

The overnight dismantling of corporate travel has forced many to question its original value. Essentially, Covid-19 has led to new ways of working, while also generating enormous revenue for healthcare companies. “The questions are now how to channel that revenue into ways that promote employee engagement, and how to redistribute those massive travel savings into objectives for the future,” Askwith tells Chief of Staff Asia.

Askwith says that to achieve these results HR leaders must first seize a seat at the boardroom table of their respective organisations — they should be recognised as an equal accountability player, not just a business partner. “People are all different with different belief patterns and experiences driving those beliefs,” she says. “If HR is not given the opportunity to really work as a C-Suite member then a company will never be able to exploit the full capacity of its people.”

The pandemic, with its disproportionate impacts on the human side of healthcare organisations, has helped drive the HR profession further towards this important goal, and shine a spotlight on the ways that HR and workforce strategy have helped to push organisations through the current crisis.

One key example is in the area of employee engagement. Studies are consistently showing that only about 30% of employees are engaged with their jobs, even in the naturally hands-on healthcare industry. Askwith states that in healthcare, a potential rise in engagement could have an exponential effect on patient outcomes.

“I have seen many times the benefits of highly engaged healthcare employees translating not to the revenue line, but to key business differentiators like continuous improvement and agility,” she says. “These two key items allow engaged employees to feel secure in raising their ideas or challenges to management, and helping them to find a solution.”

When an open atmosphere is promulgated, and employees are engaged, patients’ lives are directly impacted. This may allow a drug to be delivered or tested more quickly, radically improving patient outcomes and of course, also bottom line results.

In 2017, US pharmaceutical developer Eli Lily replaced its manufacturing plant’s entire human-machine interface operating system. This decision was made based on feedback from the factory floor that allowed development of a new system that reduced production lulls from the 24-7 cycle. Askwith says this made the system more user-friendly, allowing staff to be untethered from workstations and run many components remotely.

It’s this sort of tangible impact that open and engaged workforces can bring to their organisations.

Communication at a crunch

Two-way communication between staff and the organisation, including HR, is also of critical importance. Providing people with a voice, and the freedom to use it, is critical to a company to be able to engage and ultimately retain great people.

“Today’s healthcare industry workforce comprises highly mobile, value-driven employees (and) leadership training and development need to be constant,” adds Askwith. “We all know great people leave bad managers, not bad companies, so it is now more critical than ever to ensure the leadership team is authentic, and leads with integrity and consistency.”

In healthcare, it’s not hyperbolic to suggest that an agile leader who is engaging and supporting their people can result in matters of life and death. “Every time a leader supports achievement in their people, it translates to an opportunity for a product to be better, or a trial’s discovery allowing critical patients a chance at life.”

Dictatorial management techniques, which though debunked as toxic are still common across Southeast Asia, are another challenge that HR must overcome. In healthcare, where hospital directors, business owners and other senior executives will often have professional medical (and not business or strategic) backgrounds professionals and do not necessarily carry with them a business management background, the impacts of toxicity can be felt throughout the organisation.

“If HR doesn’t have a plan, the organisation will be one of the many hit by what is being termed the ‘Great Resignation’,” Askwith warns. “Organisations in healthcare need to have a plan for re-inventing their businesses to not only attract great talent, but to be able to retain and most importantly develop it for the future.”

This feature was extracted from Chief of Staff Asia's report on HR in the Healthcare Industry. For further coverage, and access to the full report, please see any of the below links:

HR in healthcare: Fighting on many fronts (full report)

Healthcare staff face long-term risk: Chief of Staff report (news highlight) November 16, 2021

To retain and protect: HR's big role in the healthcare industry (feature) November 18, 2021

Healthcare industry: Will the pandemic help propel HR? (feature) November 22, 2021

Digital health passes: HR's big collaboration with tech (feature) November 24, 2021

Digital health passes: Flying into big technology history (case study) November 26, 2021

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