You Will Never, Ever Be Fully Staffed

Catherine Burger, MSOL, RN, NEA-BC | Updated/Verified: Feb 23, 2024

That’s a hard truth to swallow. Many of us have experienced the “cycle” enough to know that it always ebbs and flows. Does it, though? Does it flux in 2023, after a pandemic, with record burn-out, following a certain degree of villainizing healthcare workers for one reason or another (after hailing them heroes practically the day prior), and so much more?

It seems that this part of the cycle, where staffing is at its lowest and most challenging, has endured – for years. Have you also noticed the domino effect? It’s never a single resignation. You always lose several staff members within a window, intensifying the scheduling struggle; read more about the nursing shortage.

Here are a few things that can help you “embrace the suck” and get through while fostering a strong, healthy, loyal team and continuing to provide safe and standard patient care.

Give Them a Voice: Communication Is Key

Let your team be heard! Bring them together as a team, be transparent regarding the challenges with staffing and scheduling, and let them be a part of the solution. Not only does it empower them (they are “helping” rather than “being told”), but they may be willing to flex and be creative beyond your expectations. They may also have valuable feedback and ideas you wouldn’t have thought of. Bottom line: You don’t know what you don’t know.

Quid-Pro-quo: The Only Time It'll Ever Be OK

If part of the challenge is a group of employees with various special scheduling needs, bring them together, much like suggested above, and let them be a part of the solution. Make it clear that there must be give-and-take – you can try to accommodate individual requests if they are willing to work with their team to benefit everyone. Firm, fair, consistent – all or none.

Resource Maximization: Cross-Train

If you cross-train your staff as much as possible, you will have a more versatile team to jump in and help at any time. You will no longer be limited to covering your night shift vacancy from a specific and limited pool. You may have a day shift nurse willing to help provide night shift coverage on their day off but unfamiliar with the shift routine and finer details. Lack of confidence is a common barrier resulting in losing out on valuable help. Rotating your staff through different shifts and days of the week to help with coverage will prevent them from burning out on one shift routine or area.

Incentivization: Stop With the Pizza Parties, Already

There have been plenty of memes, jokes, and scorn in the media regarding the fact that pizza parties don’t offset the many burdens on our nursing workforce. However, pizza parties are still good. They’re still popular. People love food, especially free food. Most people love freebies of almost any kind. Incentivization is essential, even if your staff is willing to pitch in without incentives. Also, consider monetary incentivization. This can be hourly bonus pay or shift bonus and will sweeten the deal if the staff is already working overtime. Amounts should vary by shift and day of the week because nights and weekends are tough!

Leadership: It’s Everything

Loyalty and respect are critical to employees persevering and supporting their team and leader when things are complicated. Engage with them genuinely – let them see your “human” side. This helps you be relatable and approachable. Work in the trenches, but your boots on the ground WITH THEM. A motto of “I’m not going to expect my team to do something I wouldn’t be willing to do” is the secret. They will stand with you and have your back, as you have with them.

Staffing will continue to be a challenge for nursing and the rest of the world. We have entered a new era of nursing, healthcare, nursing education, the workforce, and the world. If you believe in and lead your staff, they will believe in you and follow – and will stand by you through all the ups and downs of healthcare.


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