How Nurse Leaders Can Ensure Fairness in Workforce Scheduling

March 20, 2023
March 20, 2023

Supportive Leadership Can Combat Toxic Culture of Favoritism

Having an effective and healthcare-specific workforce scheduling system is an essential component to helping nurse leaders foster a fair and inclusive environment for their staff.

Research indicates that favoritism exists within the nursing profession between supervisors and their nurses. Some managers knowingly play favorites with the nurse staff, while some do so inadvertently. Regardless of the intent, favoritism in a healthcare environment should be avoided because of its negative impact on an organization’s culture and, ultimately, on patient care.

“It can be problematic in leadership when the nurse leader is perceived by staff as treating some people better than others, especially in giving assignments and shift scheduling,” wrote Rose O. Sherman, EdD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, in a 2021 Emerging Nurse Leader article. “The implications of favoritism are far-reaching in their influence to promote a toxic culture that destroys engagement, commitment, and integrity.”

Nurse leaders who are supportive and promote fairness in the workplace help create an environment where all staff feel safe and engaged in their roles. It cannot be overstated how much of an influence a nurse leader’s actions have on staff morale and patient outcomes.


Signs of Favoritism and its Consequences

Have you ever noticed that certain nurses always seem to be allocated the best shifts, have their pick of the most desirable annual leave slots or have a less demanding workload than the rest of the team? Or have you observed that certain nurses always get called in for overtime (and incentive pay)? Do you know if your scheduling practices are causing your healthcare team to feel the burden of picking up last-minute shifts?

Now is the perfect time to ask yourself these questions and evaluate whether the processes used to schedule the staff in your facility can be improved.

One thing to consider is that the nurses who are called most often for overtime might feel burnt out and irritated. A study published in JAMA Network Open in 2021 discovered that burnout is highly prevalent among U.S. nurses who leave or who are considering leaving the profession. Their data showed that nurses who worked more than 40 hours per week had a greater likelihood of identifying burnout as a reason they left their job compared with those who worked less than 20 hours per week.

“Health systems should focus on implementing known strategies to alleviate burnout, including adequate nurse staffing and limiting the number of hours worked per shift,” they recommended.

Meanwhile, resentment and frustration can be building among staff whose schedule requests are rarely granted, as these practices can be perceived as favoritism and, in some cases, even be deemed as discrimination.

“Hospitals need to take both long- and short-term measures to address critical workforce issues so they can continue to provide safe, high-quality care now and in the future,” Deborah J. Bowen, FACHE, CAE, president and CEO of American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE), said in a


Staff Favoritism Exacerbates Healthcare Workforce Challenges

Workforce challenges are considered the top issue on the list of hospital CEOs’ top concerns in 2022, the ACHE said. One key concern is the healthcare personnel shortage. In 2021, the turnover rate for staff RNs increased by 8.4 percent, resulting in a national average of 27.1 percent, according to the 2022 NSI National Health Care Retention & RN Staffing Report.

“The nurse scheduling problem (NSP) has received a great amount of attention in recent years,” researchers wrote in a Journal of Industrial Engineering International study.

Favoritism, whether it’s perceived or actually happening, is one factor contributing to nursing turnover and the more it exists within an organization, the more often nurses leave. It should also be noted that favoritism can sometimes exist in the eye of the beholder. So even the appearance of preferential treatment can create tension among staff members.

“Higher levels of favoritism within the organization are strongly linked with nurses' turnover intention,” according to a 2020 study published in the Nursing Forum journal. “Improving the channels of communication among the healthcare team is vital to promote inclusivity among healthcare workers and enhance organizational viability.”


Benefits of Healthcare-Specific Scheduling

As healthcare facilities make an effort to curb favoritism in scheduling, they will recognize the benefits of having a healthcare-specific scheduling system.

It’s not uncommon for healthcare organizations to utilize scheduling systems that are not specific to the industry. If your facility relies on those tools, it could create more complications than you might have expected. Non-healthcare systems often do not have the sophistication needed to handle the complex scheduling needs of healthcare workers.

ShiftWizard(™), by HealthStream, is created specifically for healthcare and has an easy-to-use messaging center designed to improve work-life balance and streamline communication. Additionally, because ShiftWizard was developed by healthcare professionals, it has been carefully designed to help leaders quickly and easily identify who has the ideal credentials for each shift, how many hours each staff member has worked, and who is available to pick up last-minute shifts. These features combined allow the tool to help managers create a fair scheduling process.

And with mobile access and user-friendly apps, ShiftWizard gives team members access to their schedules anytime, anywhere and allows staff to swap or pick up shifts conveniently.

ShiftWizard’s tool fosters an environment of fairness and transparency:

  • Fairness – By streamlining communication, centralizing credentialing data, and compiling staff availability, ShiftWizard can help you more evenly distribute the workload among your staff, particularly for last-minute shifts.
  • Transparency – ShiftWizard elevates the visibility of schedules for everyone on your staff. It allows users to access schedule details via a mobile device; the ability to view which staff are working any given shift; self-scheduling; and shift-swapping.

When it comes to scheduling, supporting your staff is critical to maintaining team morale. That’s why ShiftWizard has been crafted to improve the scheduling process for you and your team. Whether your facility is a smaller healthcare setup, a single department, a team of nurses, or an entire hospital system, we’re ready to show you exactly how ShiftWizard can streamline scheduling, improve staff satisfaction, and increase fairness.

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