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Stop Throwing Money at the Problem: 7 Ways Leaders Can Recruit and Retain on a Budget

Analysis  |  By Amanda Norris  
   October 03, 2023

Bolstering the workforce while keeping budgets low was top of mind for c-suite leaders at our recent HealthLeaders Exchange.

Editor's note: This article appears in the October-December 2023 edition of HealthLeaders magazine. 

CFOs at healthcare organizations of all sizes are feeling the heat when it comes to offering competitive salaries to attract and retain top talent—but leaders of small- and medium-sized hospitals are really feeling the squeeze.

This was a major theme at HealthLeaders’ inaugural Teams Exchange which brought clinical and financial c-suite leaders together in Nashville to talk shop.

The concern for the workforce is not new—in fact leaders have been strategizing for years on how to retain and attract talent, even before the pandemic. What is newer though, is the fact that hospital margins are continuing to deteriorate while the need for in-house staff is skyrocketing.

Labor expenses were a top concern for most of the CFOs at the event, so pulling back on agency use is a top priority, especially since the money CFOs pumped into contract labor during the pandemic is now majorly stressing the bottom line. But this means organizations need to recruit and retain talent in house and on a budget.

Gone are the days when CFOs of smaller organizations can throw money at the problem—i.e., salary increases and bonuses—to attract and keep talent, especially when a hospital 20 minutes down the road can pay their nursing staff 700% more for the same job (a true story shared by a CNO at the event).

So, what can leaders do to bolster the workforce while keeping expenses low? Placing an emphasis on culture and scheduling flexibility is a great place to start, the attendees agreed.

Here are several budget-friendly strategies that emerged from the event that both clinical and financial leaders can employ to bolster their workforce:

Asses your employee benefits and perks: Offer a comprehensive benefits package that includes health insurance, retirement plans, and additional perks such as flexible work schedules, wellness programs, or tuition reimbursement.

One CFO at the event said employee benefits is one of the largest expenses for their organization, but balancing offerings that are both cost effective and robust will make your hospital more attractive to potential employees and improve overall job satisfaction.

Prioritize training and staff development: Provide budget-neutral ongoing training and professional development programs. Staff value opportunities to enhance their skills and advance their careers, so offering educational support, workshops, or mentorship programs can demonstrate your commitment to their growth. Cross-training employees in various roles within the organization is also a great way to enhance schedule flexibility and help bridge staffing gaps.

Form recognition or reward programs: Implement a robust recognition and rewards program to acknowledge and celebrate employee achievements. Non-monetary rewards, like public recognition, awards, or personalized thank-you notes, can boost morale and motivation.

Emphasize work-life balance: Promote work-life balance by offering flexible scheduling, remote work options (where feasible), and paid time off. Emphasizing the importance of a healthy work-life balance can help attract and retain staff. Some attendees even entice their nursing staff with a few days of remote work via virtual nursing technology.

Implementing wellness initiatives to support employee health and reduce burnout can also help in this area too. These programs can include stress reduction workshops, access to fitness facilities, and mental health support.

Create career advancement opportunities: Create a clear career path within the organization. Staff are more likely to stay when they see opportunities for advancement. Encourage internal promotions and provide training for leadership roles.

Streamline existing technology: Be creative in ways to bolster the technology and tools you already have to streamline workflows and reduce administrative burdens. This can improve staff efficiency and allow them to focus more on patient care.

Prioritize community involvement: The attendees agreed that many healthcare professionals—especially those in more rural areas—are motivated by a sense of purpose and making a difference in the community, so highlight your hospital's role within the community and engage employees in community service or outreach programs.

Incorporating a combination of these strategies can help small and medium-sized hospitals strengthen their workforce, improve staff satisfaction, and remain competitive in the healthcare industry without solely relying on salary increases.

HealthLeaders Exchange is an executive community for sharing ideas, solutions, and insights. Please join the community on LinkedIn.

To inquire about attending a HealthLeaders Exchange, email us at

Amanda Norris is the Director of Content for HealthLeaders.


HealthLeaders’ inaugural Teams Exchange brought clinical and financial c-suite leaders together in Nashville to talk shop.

One major trend from the event was reducing labor expenses while continuing to invest in the workforce.

So, what can leaders do to strengthen their workforce while keeping expenses low? Placing an emphasis on culture and scheduling flexibility is a great place to start, the attendees agreed.

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