During Tough Economic Times, It’s Time to Get Tough

Over the course of 2008, the U.S. economy hit several rough patches while on the road to recovery and most businesses are still feeling all the bumps and trying to avoid all the potholes. Of course, this shouldn’t come as news to anyone — unless you haven’t read what’s written on the Internet or in the newspaper, haven’t turned on the TV or radio, or otherwise live in a cave or under a rock.

But what the news means to your organization depends on how you handle a crisis. For example, in tough economic times, many manufacturers lapse into a state of near-hibernation — they slow production, rein in sales teams, curtail spending, etc. — hoping and waiting for an upturn to occur, so they can resume business as usual.

But what if a continuing economic crisis constitutes “business as usual”? Most signs point to the fact that the current situation will not let up in the near future. Although belt-tightening is not necessarily a bad strategy during such times, it shouldn’t lead you to cut back on all activities. In fact, the smart organizations know that a down time is a great time to take away market share from competitors, and this applies to staff recruiting, too. Many businesses curtail hiring during a downturn, often opting to let some staff go, and those who act fast can usually pick up the talented people left stranded.

More important, recruitment should be considered an evergreen activity: it has no “off’ season and requires constant attention yearlong, despite the condition of the company or the economy. And in no sector is that more apparent than in healthcare, where most hospitals and healthcare facilities face a continual shortage of labor and high staff vacancy rates, especially among nurses. Some organizations have approached the current one-two punch — a nursing shortage coupled with a nationwide recession — with targeted strategies and exceptional recruiting tactics, while others are still struggling to find some direction.

What is your outlook for 2009? Are you prepared to handle the continuing crisis that has befallen the economy in general and the healthcare industry in particular? Do you have what it takes to maintain your current staff and be in the position to hire new recruits? Before you answer, you should consider the following questions:

Can a recruiting agency solve my recruiting problems?

The simple answer to this question is yes and no. Many hospitals with high vacancies rely on nurse agencies to provide the required staffing ratio for patient care. Why? Most agencies have recruiting expertise, particularly in areas that you might not have, a pool of talented applicants to draw on and highly specialized recruitment tactics. Also, staffing organizations recruit all year, so qualified nurses are available for hire in your facility when the need arises.

However, working with an outside recruiting agency can often be quite expensive and, in uncertain economic conditions, may simply be an investment your facility cannot afford to make. An equally effective, and potentially more efficient, tactic may be to work with a company that provides a long-term and permanent solution — onsite, rather than on an outsourcing basis. Onsite recruiters work directly with your organization’s staff to reduce nurse vacancies, create an experienced nursing workforce, and provide you with the tools and know-how you need to maintain it.

What steps should I take to develop an experienced recruitment team, trained specifically to attract qualified nurses to my organization?

You should start with an extensive analysis of your needs. Then devise a hiring strategy to rapidly fill your nursing positions with qualified and experienced candidates. The most important ingredient, no matter how many nurses you need — whether 50 or 500 — you must find someone who is willing and capable of taking complete responsibility for your nurse recruitment.

You also should consider streamlining your nurse recruitment process. Adding an outside agency, especially one that isn’t affiliated with your organization and doesn’t understand how you work, can actually slow down your process and place a strain on the bottom line. Seek the expertise of individuals who know the industry, understand your organization, and provide tools developed over years of nursing recruitment experience. That way you can ensure your nurse recruitment program will be self-sustaining, with a low vacancy rate.

How can I optimize my recruitment strategy?

The first phase of any successful nurse recruitment program is analysis. You must evaluate the current state of your recruitment program before you can develop the resources and methods your team needs to implement or improve your strategies. You need to identify the barriers to effectively expanding your pipeline and then develop best practices to overcome them in order to capture today’s nursing professionals.

A comprehensive nurse recruitment analysis should cover the following areas:

  • volume of nursing applicants
  • current vacancy rates
  • applicant-to-interview and interview-to-hire ratios
  • current recruitment processes
  • responsiveness to candidates
  • retention rates
  • competition for qualified candidates

There are other areas to consider, as well, and a qualified, experienced recruitment specialist can help identify them for you — especially one who has taken the time to work with your staff and become familiar with your organization from the inside out.

Remember that desperate times don’t always call for desperate measures. Generally, the best strategy is to remain focused, assess your needs and act rationally. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore the situation and hope it resolves itself. No, you have to act, even if you have to act quickly.

Remember too, that you don’t have to act alone. Before making any decisions that will affect the way you travel down the road over the coming year, seek the advice of a recruitment expert. He or she can provide the right maps and custom maneuvers to keep you moving forward toward success.