A 2021 study by the American Ambulance Association found that American EMT crews experienced total annual turnover rates as high as 30%. This extraordinarily high turnover rate threatens many EMS organizations that are already struggling to fill crucial ambulance crew positions. Given the difficulty of finding new hires, many EMS providers are now improving workplace conditions in an attempt to increase employee retention. Here’s how some EMS providers are creating a more positive and fulfilling workplace environment.
1.) Encouraging Camaraderie
A workplace where everyone shares a close bond is one that employees want to keep coming back to. Using an EMS mobile app with specially designed social spaces can be used to foster a sense of camaraderie among the crew and office staff around the clock—and regardless of each employee’s geographic location.
These apps are already being used by EMS providers to bring employees closer together, especially now that a growing number of back-office EMS employees are working from home or have opted to stay in areas with lower living costs away from busier EMS service areas. These apps are also being used to take team polls, swap shifts, request substitutions, and other important inter-employee activities.
2.) Providing More Flexible Work Conditions for Office Staff
While ambulance crews have to be located close to a specific service area, this is not always true for dispatchers and other back-office personnel. However, the busiest service areas are usually the ones with the highest population densities, which means high living expenses and real estate costs. This can put a burden on employees who want to save money.
Improved EMS management systems allow organizations to create virtual offices, effectively expanding the possible work arrangements that could be made for back-office employees. Dispatchers and other non-ambulance staff can be located in less expensive areas or even their own homes, allowing them to potentially achieve a better work-life balance.
3.) Consistently Recognizing Employee Achievements
The pace of EMS work usually pushes less immediate activities like employee performance evaluations by the wayside. In many cases, managers may not even be able to give employees the guidance or recognition they deserve. This lack of recognition can make it difficult for employees to stay motivated or advance in their careers, eventually causing them to quit.
Prioritizing performance reviews and coaching sessions is a straightforward solution to this issue. EMS organizations can also use employee management systems that are specifically designed for their industry. These solutions will often have functions that simplify employee metrics measurements within the context of emergency services, allowing for fairer, more frequent evaluations and coaching.
4.) Leveraging Technology to Reduce Workloads
Paperwork, data entry, and manual data reconciliation are, unfortunately, a fact of life for EMS crews. An astounding amount of work is often needed for each patient, just to ensure that they receive the appropriate care they require. Over the course of a day, this type of work may occupy much of the crew and back-office staff’s time.
The added cognitive load and repetitive nature of this type of work can erode the mental health of EMS crews and staff, ultimately degrading the workplace environment. Additionally, time spent on paperwork and data management will inevitably result in fewer service calls per day in addition to lower service levels. Fortunately, EMS software and mobile apps are solving all of these issues.
Modern EMS software solutions like EHR (electronic health record) systems and EMS ePCR software (electronic patient care reporting software) are designed to speed up data entry and even remove some steps entirely, allowing crews to focus on saving lives. With a few taps, crews at the scene can complete checklists and send data instantly to the necessary parties without the need for further data reconciliation. Forms could be filled out automatically, speeding up patient processing time, reducing the chances of human error, and helping crews and back-office staff maintain their mental health.
5.) Not Allowing Crews to Push Themselves Beyond the Limit
As far as workplaces go, EMS organizations are somewhat unique in that crews are often allowed to have as much overtime as they want because of chronic understaffing. Many EMTs and paramedics might jump at the opportunity, particularly if they are in a financially difficult situation.
While some people can handle it for short periods, no one can sustain 12- to 16-hour days, six or seven days a week. Yet, in EMS organizations, it is not uncommon for some individuals to regularly work 24-hour shifts. Unfortunately, allowing such shifts regularly not only results in poor job safety outcomes but also harms job satisfaction and emotional health. While overtime is a fact of life for EMTs, too much of it is unsustainable for crews.
Given this, EMS organizations should be wary about letting crew members take all the overtime or shift swaps they want. While permitting unlimited overtime may seem an easy decision given the dire staffing situation faced by EMS providers, limiting working hours and maintaining a decent quality of life is important to prevent crew burnout and to keep patients safe.
EMS providers face the daunting task of maintaining excellent working environments given their limited funding. However, it’s becoming clear that the goal of saving cash and keeping crews happy are not necessarily opposed to each other.
The better staffing flexibility, faster patient processing, and improved employee evaluations made possible by new EMS mobile apps and systems also empower providers by reducing the cost of serving each patient. The cash can then be reinvested into the business to improve salaries and benefits, allowing the provider to retain employees in an unusually tight EMS labor market.
Ultimately, updating to new systems results in multiple benefits to providers that help them keep experienced crews and enable them to do much more with much less. Most crucially, these new apps and systems also help EMS providers in their core mission, which is to save lives.