The healthcare sector shed hundreds of thousands of jobs this spring as many providers reduced staffing during the height of the pandemic. Across the summer, healthcare has a seen a wave of rehiring, as doctors’ offices and outpatient surgery and testing centers reopened. But despite the ongoing recession and high unemployment rates, competition for talent remains fierce. In particular, hiring into lower-level clinical support roles is more difficult than before the pandemic, as potential applicants weigh the risk of being exposed to COVID.
In the past, applicants for non-degree positions were attracted by good benefits and a clear career path, but “someone looking to make $15 per hour as an entry-level phlebotomist or patient care associate is now choosing the Amazon warehouse or delivering for DoorDash,” one health executive told us recently. “They’re worried about COVID, and they see the hospital as a place where they’re more likely to get it, even though that’s probably not the case.”
A second health system leader mentioned they have posted hundreds of new job openings in the past two months. According to the COO, “these may be the most important hires we’ve made in decades.” Ensuring this new class of recruits feels safe and supported in the pandemic, and is entering a culture of pride and respect, will lay the foundation for the “post-COVID generation” of the healthcare workforce.
Though critical to operations, chief financial officers are finding new roles or retiring at a blistering pace. What that means to firms.
Rewriting corporate budgets seemingly daily. Bargaining with banks over broken loan covenants. Answering constant calls from investors and board directors. And, in extreme cases, figuring out how to make payroll. All while working with no colleagues around. Is it any wonder now that so many chief financial officers have recently said, “It’s time to do something else”?
The number of CFOs—usually the second in command at a corporation—who are leaving their current job or looking for something new has surged over the summer. In just one week in early August, the high-profile CFOs at General Motors, Cisco Systems, and Avis Budget Group announced they were departing. According to one survey, 80 finance chiefs of S&P 500- or Fortune 500-listed firms left their positions through the start of August, compared with 84 at this point last year–a remarkable figure, experts say, because there was a period of about six weeks during the spring when there were almost no CFO changes.
It’s a trend that experts believe will likely continue as the pandemic continues to disrupt the finances of organizations in every industry everywhere. “This crisis will create a demand for radical, creative thinking that has often been lacking from finance leaders,” says Beau Lambert, a Korn Ferry senior client partner in the firm’s Financial Officers practice.
Experts attribute the surge in movement to a variety of reasons. Some CFOs, after helping their companies get through the period where lockdowns crippled revenues, have decided they’ve had enough. “They’re saying, ‘I have an amazing career—I’m taking the chips off the table and going home,’” Lambert says.
The lockdown period was a time when CFOs were working nonstop just to keep their organizations afloat, or if that was impossible, guide them into bankruptcy. Now these top finance leaders have had a chance to self-reflect, something they may have never done before because they’ve always been “knee-deep in the mess,” says Barry Toren, leader of Korn Ferry’s Financial Officers practice. The process has left some energized and looking for a new challenge at a different organization.
That recent career decision hasn’t always been in the CFO’s hands, however. Some company CEOs, recognizing that the financial road ahead is not going to look like it did before the pandemic, are looking for new financial talent they think is better suited to the task. “We see seasoned CFOs stepping down—of their own volition or otherwise—in order to allow a new, perhaps better-equipped, generation of finance leaders to navigate through the uncertain present and future,” says Katie Gleber, an associate in Korn Ferry’s Financial Officers practice.
Experts say the pandemic has accelerated some trends impacting CFOs that were already in place. Organizations were already looking for CFOs who could do more than just sit in the back office and handle the money. Modern-day CFOs need to be as well or more skilled in business partnering as they are in financial engineering, Lambert says. Today’s CFOs also need to have a much higher tolerance for ambiguity and the ability to inspire others.
One of the offshoots of the pandemic pushing millions to work remotely is that it has made it easier for CFOs to explore the job market. In the past, CFOs usually had to travel for a couple of days to their prospective employer to meet the senior leaders of the organization. Now, Toren says, those job-hunting CFOs can talk to CEOs and directors at two organizations in one day without leaving their house.
Continuing our series of Gist member convenings to discuss the “Brave New World” that awaits in the post-pandemic era, we brought together a group of senior human resources and nursing executives this week for a Zoom roundtable.
Several themes emerged from the discussion. First, there was general consensus that the COVID crisis exposed a workforce that had become over-specialized and inflexible. Said one chief nursing officer, “Our workforce is much more brittle than we thought.” A key lesson learned is the need for increased cross-training—especially for nurses, and especially in critical care. Systems should work now to increase the supply of nurses comfortable in an ICU environment to enable hospitals to flex staff across settings and roles to deal with future waves of the virus.
Not surprisingly, layoffs were top-of-mind for many. Executives were of one mind on the need to safeguard clinical staff as much as possible, and many systems are now considering deep cuts to management and administrative ranks: “It’s easier to stand in front of your clinical staff and be able to say you’ve stripped millions from administration before turning to clinical cuts.”
There was broad consensus for the potential for artificial intelligence and robotic process automation to enable greater reliability and productivity at lower cost in areas such as billing, coding, and even some clinical functions—and that the pandemic will accelerate plans to implement these solutions.
On a more optimistic note, one executive shared that “relationships between clinicians and administrators have never been stronger. The pandemic has forced us to have difficult and constructive conversations we would have never had the courage to have before.”
Another noted the pandemic has spotlighted new leadership talent who might otherwise have been overlooked, and plans are now in place to formally recognize and retain newly crisis-tested talent for the work of restructuring the system.
On the whole, the discussion was far more upbeat that we had expected—as difficult as the crisis has been for many teams, the opportunity to rethink old ways of doing business seems to have created renewed enthusiasm even in the face of daunting financial and operational challenges ahead.