Even before the pandemic, the gig economy had grown in ways we could never imagine. In 2017, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the gig economy comprised about 57 million workers—36% of the labor force. Gig workers are expected to make up 50% of the U.S. workforce by 2023.
As those numbers indicate, the demand for on-demand work isn’t going away. Although unions and some corporations disagree, we view this shift to on-demand talent as a positive for many industries, including healthcare.
Having a network of clinicians available on demand allows healthcare organizations to adopt a more flexible staffing model: one that combines full-time employees with a higher ratio of on-demand, per-diem workers. A flexible workforce model allows healthcare organizations to staff up and down as demand rises and falls, ensuring they always have the right amount and mix of staff to meet patient needs.
A flexible workforce has transformed transportation, food services, construction, and retail, all of which use on-demand workers to fill short-notice shifts. As more companies look for new ways to scale their workforce, more of them are turning to temporary and contract workers. Healthcare is next in line for workforce transformation.
While the shift to more flexible staffing and schedules started well before COVID-19, the pandemic accelerated the desire and the need for both employers and employees. Now, like telemedicine, Instacart, and work-from-home arrangements, a flexible workforce model is here to stay.
The COVID effect
When shelter-in-place orders took effect in mid-March 2020, online ordering and home delivery of everything spiked. Unfortunately, unemployment also skyrocketed as manufacturing plants, retail, and other businesses shut down and laid off staff.
The newly unemployed and others who wanted to make extra money turned to gig work. During the pandemic, Instacart grew its base of personal shoppers from about 250,000 to more than 750,000.
As stay-at-home orders continued through 2020, a new market of individuals turned to gig work to pay the bills. People who left the workforce to home-school children or take care of elderly loved ones picked up shifts and projects when they could.
Meanwhile, desk workers Zooming from home got their first taste of a flexible schedule. Some people couldn’t wait to get back to the office and a “normal” routine. Others wanted this flexibility long term. In many cases, their employers responded.
A Gartner survey found 80% of companies surveyed planned to continue work-from-home arrangements after the pandemic. A FlexJobs survey reported 65% of the respondents wanted to keep working from home post-pandemic.
Why more professionals are going independent
Since the Great Recession, when the gig economy started, companies have offered flexible schedules as a benefit with increasing frequency. When unemployment dropped to some of its lowest numbers in decades, flex time and remote options became crucial for attracting top talent. Flexibility became more than a perk. It became essential.
According to a MetLife report, 67% of full-time employees expressed interest in gig work over their current jobs. It’s not that they long to buy groceries or drive for a living. They long for work-life balance. They long to work when and where they want.
An October 2020 survey of CareRev professionals found 64% joined CareRev because they needed a flexible schedule and 58% planned to pick up shifts occasionally. About half (42%) have a full-time job. Providing flexibility has allowed CareRev to attract top talent you can’t find through agencies or traditional hiring methods.
The financial side of the gig economy
In and outside of healthcare, gig work serves as an easy way for people to earn extra money for rewarding, flexible full-time work. Businesses also benefit.
In times of crisis (like now), companies rely on gig workers as a cost-effective staffing solution. By turning to independent contractors, they get access to skilled workers while saving on payroll taxes, unemployment insurance, benefits, and onboarding costs.
As crises ease, they can hire as needed. However, in times of labor shortage — a constant in nursing — businesses depend on gig workers to fill skills gaps. According to a pre-pandemic 2020 survey from ADP, the share of independent contractors at U.S. businesses grew 15% since 2010.
For this arrangement to work well, contractors have to budget smart. They have to set aside funds for health insurance, federal and state taxes, retirement, and vacation days.
They also have to prepare for regular ebbs and flows in business. If gigs slow down for a week or more, they need to have a financial cushion to pay the bills until it picks up again. On the other hand, independent contractors often have more leeway in raising their income. They don’t have to settle for a small, annual cost-of-living increase. They have the freedom to pick up extra shifts, turn down low-paying work, and seek out higher-paying contracts. We’ve seen that in healthcare with the soaring cost of travel nurses, where many earned $3,000 per week - or higher - during the pandemic.
Why the flexible workforce model works for healthcare
A flexible workforce model addresses the everchanging fluctuations in supply and demand that occur in hospitals and outpatient facilities—during and after the pandemic.
Most healthcare organizations strive to provide the highest quality care at the best value. To meet those goals, they have to match the right clinician with the right license to the right patient at the right time. This requires ongoing analysis of individual patient needs and staffing mix.
When healthcare organizations staff using a flexible model—for example, staffing to 60% capacity and augmenting with per-diem talent—they maintain proper nurse-to-patient ratios without excessive labor costs. Patients continue to receive high-quality care from physicians and clinicians with the right mix of experience.
Healthcare professionals also benefit from this model. It prevents full-time staff from taking on an excessive workload, preventing burnout and lowering turnover. Per-diem talent maintain the flexibility they want, which allows them to show up to your facility rested and motivated. With a full team of engaged clinicians, patient outcomes improve. Everyone wins.
Clinicians are leaving full-time employment for per-diem careers or lucrative travel contracts. Rather than resist the changing workforce, embrace it. Offer your employees the flexibility they want. Let CareRev fill in the gaps—on demand, in minutes.