The future of work for healthcare

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Tune into this episode of PwC's Next in Health to hear PwC Health Research Institute's Trine Tsouderos, and Strategy& Principal, Igor Belokrinitsky, in discussion with HRI's Crystal Yednak, on the results of PwC's Pulse survey and the future of work for healthcare organizations and pharmaceutical companies, including how leaders are considering and navigating decisions around:

  • Varying return to work plans
  • Workforce shortages
  • Flexible and hybrid workforce models
  • Employee vaccine mandates

Topics: healthcare workers, pharmaceutical, life sciences, COVID-19, health, return to work, vaccine mandates, PwC pulse survey

Read the latest insights from our PwC US Pulse Survey: Next in work

Episode transcript

Find episode transcript below.

Trine Tsouderos (00:03):
Welcome to HRI's Next in Health podcast. I'm Trine Tsouderos and I lead PwCs Health Research Institute. I also lead the firm's Business Insights Sectors Team, which produces thought leadership on everything from financial services to energy, to technology.

Igor Belokrinitsky (00:20):
And I am a Igor Belokrinitsky a Principal with PwC's Strategy&, and I work with leading health organizations on their strategies and operating models. Trine and I are here today with Crystal Yednak who's a Senior Manager in our Health Research Institute. Crystal with us today to talk about PwC's pulse survey and the Future of Work specifically what healthcare executives are telling us about their plans for the workplace.

Trine Tsouderos (00:45):
Welcome Crystal.

Crystal Yednak (00:46):
Thanks, Trine and Igor.

Trine Tsouderos (00:48):
So this is a really good time to talk about this because at the beginning of the summer, if we had had this conversation, I think it would have been a very different conversation. And here we are, we're at the end of the summer, beginning of, you know, so the fall upon us and things have really changed in the pandemic in many different ways. And the workforce overall, the healthcare workforce has really been stressed and strained. And there is a sense that there is no immediate end in sight. I think that healthcare providers have been challenged, caring for waves and waves of COVID-19 patients. We have a lot of mental health challenges for folks working in hospitals and health systems. We have the pharmaceutical industry, which has sort of pulled out of a hat, lifesaving, vaccines, and therapeutics. And we see all of this playing out in the survey that we did in August of the healthcare workforce and what is being planned, what expectations are. And so that's what Crystal's here to talk to us about. And I think really the timing could not be better.

Igor Belokrinitsky (01:52):
Excellent. So Crystal as health organizations look to what we're thinking of as the long COVID and the month and years of fallout and challenges, how are they thinking about preparing their workplaces and their workforces for the long haul?

Crystal Yednak (02:10):
So one of the areas where we saw health leaders differ from other industries is that they were more likely to say that employee preference was the most important factor to them in developing their return to work plans. About a third of health executives that PwC surveyed said that this was the most important thing when they were thinking about the year ahead. And that's compared to about 25% of executives and other industries and Trine's right. This is an area where maybe health workers experience the pandemic differently than other industries did as they bore the brunt of it and were part of the front lines. And here employers have an opening to build and enhance trust with their employees by recognizing what they've been through and really listening to employees. And we're seeing that show up in these survey results that employers are really thinking about that.

Trine Tsouderos (03:00):
Yeah. I think one of the things that we're hearing from clients, particularly many hospital and health systems is that they're seeing shortages of clinicians that are available to work. And so I think this idea, you know, we really need to pay attention to our workforce with their needs, our retention, making our workforce attractive to stay and come to. It doesn't really surprise me to hear what you're saying Crystal, before we go on. Why don't you tell us a little bit about who PwC surveyed for the pulse survey and what was the survey overall focusing on?

Crystal Yednak (03:32):
Yes. So the pulse survey is something that PwC does periodically to gauge changing sentiments and priorities for business executives. And this one was focused on the future of work. And as we've noted, this is kind of a pivotal moment for how we think about work, because a lot of us had to suddenly change how and where we work. And this is really an opportunity for employers to redesign and rethink what their workforce looks like and where work takes place. PwC surveyed about 750 U.S. executives, including CFOs and leaders and human capital, tax risk management, kind of across the board. And at HRI, we wanted to dig in a little deeper at what health leaders were saying of course so that we could understand what healthcare providers, health insurers, and pharma and life sciences company executives were thinking.

Igor Belokrinitsky (04:24):
So Crystal from the survey, what did you learn about how the health leaders are planning for the return to work? That's what everybody wants to know.

Crystal Yednak (04:33):
Right. And they all want to know what each other is doing before you make their decisions. Health organizations are mostly looking at a mix of work locations for the fall about a third of the health leaders that we surveyed said their workforce plans will be a blend of in-person, hybrid and then fully remote. And on top of that, there's another 22% a group that says they're going to focus on hybrid. So certainly there's the issue that some health industry roles, you just have less flexibility about where the work can take place know with pharmaceutical manufacturing and taking care of patients in the ICU, employees have to be onsite. But during the pandemic health leaders did find those areas where were, could be done remotely, such as health insurers that might shift their back office operations to remote roles or some R&D and commercial work that could be done remotely by pharma companies.

Crystal Yednak (05:27):
And so they're taking the lessons from that to determine where remote and hybrid work can continue. But we also saw in the survey that health leaders are concerned about future waves of COVID creating challenges for those hybrid plans. They're worried that the variants are going to cause more restrictions, school closings, and that people might be forced to go back to full remote work. We saw that 35% of health leaders were citing the possibility of that kind of lockdown situation, again, as a major challenge to their hybrid plans. And that's compared to 21% across all industries.

Trine Tsouderos (06:03):
So they're far more worried about a return to remote than overall business leaders, which I think is really interesting. I wonder about this other issue that we're seeing across the board in the U.S, But in healthcare, we are hearing it from clients over and over. And that is what I mentioned before the shortages of providers of clinicians. And I wonder if you see any signs in the survey of health leaders thinking about this to address shortages.

Crystal Yednak (06:31):
Yes, we did. We saw that they're focusing in, on offering flexibility and within the health sector, executives were most likely to cite scheduled flexibility is something they're looking at offering and location flexibility to retain and attract talent. And as you mentioned, Trine health providers have been struggling with shortages of certain clinical roles. And then pharma companies have been competing with other industries for high tech talent. So companies have been looking for ways to improve the relationship with existing employees. One way that they can do that is by focusing on the employee experience. And that includes wellbeing programs that take into account some of the mental health burdens that you mentioned earlier, and also as they plan for the future of work. One thing that we heard employees saying throughout the pandemic is I miss connecting with my colleagues. I miss networking. And some companies are looking at alternative ways to offer those experiences without requiring employees to be full-time onsite. So you're not having that permanent expense of bricks and mortar, but still finding ways for them to have that connection.

Igor Belokrinitsky (07:43):
Crystal, as I hear you describing these findings. It seems that it's important to create flexibility, but that you also need to plan around it. To plan when you're going to flex and how you will navigate this flexible model in a way that creates inclusion and a sense of belonging for your workforce, because it's kind of a double-edged sword on one end, you're able to create more flexibility for more individuals, including for example, clinicians that are leaving the workforce, retiring early, perhaps as many physicians have been doing or just entering the workforce or going through life changes. But at the same time, you have to be thoughtful about how you continue to have this free decor and maintain a culture and commitment and inclusion. As people are spread across a broader geography and don't see each other in person. So it's a very interesting time that we're in for and an interesting set of changes.

Trine Tsouderos (08:38):
Exactly. And I think the point you made about creating this inclusive feeling when you might have workers in all kinds of different locations, some that are still getting that day to day in-person interactions. And then if you're in a meeting and then other people are coming in by zoom, how do you create that? And so that's a big question for a lot of employers right now is how to create that. So I think one of the last questions that seems to be popping up a lot is around vaccine mandates and employer vaccine mandates. Recently, we had been doing some work looking at what healthcare organizations and pharma companies have been doing around that. It's really interesting to see the sort of effect of all these mandates starting to be put into place. So it's increasing, especially after the most recent full approval for a COVID-19 vaccine in particular.

Trine Tsouderos (09:27):
And so I wonder Crystal, is there anything in the survey that kind of shows whether health industries in general is higher or lower in terms of support for our employer, vaccine mandate compared to other industries? I'm curious about that. I have my hunch about where that landed, but I wonder what we found.

Crystal Yednak (09:45):
Yes, we did ask this question. And this was an area where we saw health industry leaders, kind of diverged from the rest of the groups of industry leaders, 43% of the health executives that we talk to want their companies to have a vaccine mandate for employees. And across all industries, It was 30%, as you said, we've been monitoring what healthcare companies are doing and there's different pathways that are emerging. And just because we say vaccine mandates, some companies are saying not every employee needs to be vaccinated. Some are saying just the in-person roles have to have vaccinations. And others are saying only if you're at this location and you're seeing clients. So we are seeing the companies are feeling their way through this and trying to figure out what their vaccination policies should be. And I think we'll continue just in the past week, there's been as flutter of activity since the vaccine approval. And I think we'll continue to see companies try to shift suddenly in response to the changes with the variants and changes with vaccination rates.

Trine Tsouderos (10:50):
Yeah. I think there's sort of a building effect where if organizations, peers put these into place, then others feel much more comfortable doing the same. And so you have kind of a domino effect. And I think we're seeing that right now happening. I just want to mention a sort of an interesting observation that was doing some reading about the 14th century recently in Europe and the black death. And one of the most interesting aspects of the outcome of the sort of cataclysm that happened during the black death is a huge shift in the way that people worked. It really transformed the economies of the communities that were impacted by the plague. And it opened up all kinds of changes that were not possible pre catastrophe. And I think in a way that's one of the most inevitable outcomes of a crisis like this, is that it really shakes up the way people work. And I think this survey is sort of capturing us amidst the beginning of that change or emits the change that we're experiencing out of this crisis. And so thank you so much, Crystal for sharing all that interesting information and the way that it's affecting the health industry in particular, it was really a pleasure.

Crystal Yednak (12:02):
Thanks for having me.

Igor Belokrinitsky (12:03):
Thank you, Crystal. And we will link the full survey that has lots of great information in it, in the notes for this episode. And for more on these topics and other health industry insights, driven by policy innovation and care delivery changes. Please visit our website @ until next time, this has been Next in Health.

Announcer (12:32):
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