The impact of e-rostering on clinician well-being

When a clinician arrives at work, they remove any jewellery and change into their scrubs; many compare this process to a feeling of losing their individuality or identity. If a clinician wants a weekend off for a birthday or trip away, their rota is confirmed so far in advance that it may not be possible. As a clinician and rota manager talk about an upcoming schedule that works for them both, it’s rare that this time-consuming admin will result in a mutually beneficial outcome – due to highly pressured environments and a shortage of available workers. All of these scenarios leave clinicians feeling like just a number in a system.

Rostering in the NHS is outdated and needs addressing – to ensure clinicians feel valued and empowered in their work, organisations must embrace a system that is fit for 2024 and beyond.

The burden of traditional rostering

Let’s set the scene…

A clinician may have a family holiday booked for the summer. They have been trying to contact their rota co-ordinator about getting the week off, but the rota was locked in months in advance and the clinician is told to find swaps instead. But the clinician is fairly new to the organisation and doesn’t have any contact details for any of their colleagues. They now can’t get the time off. This is a real world example, with similar scenarios happening around the country all year round. The rota co-ordinator is not at fault – they do not have the necessary time or tools at their disposal, but the clinician is still left feeling helpless. The result of this is hard to quantify, but record numbers of clinicians leaving the NHS is telling. There are also more and more studies into the unhappiness of medical professionals and it’s not hard to understand why there is so much discontent – to feel powerless without any autonomy or control in a role as intense as frontline healthcare must be incredibly frustrating.

Long, hard working days were what clinicians were aware of when signing up to work in the NHS, however, fundamentals such as a healthy work-life balance are currently seen as a benefit and not a basic requirement. There is no one individual at fault. It’s a systematic and structural issue, but one that’s imperative to address. We must look to challenge ways of working before more workers experience burnout or leave the service – and fixing current rostering processes is a good starting point.

The healing powers of e-rostering

Setting out to improve work-life balance, enhance job satisfaction and empower clinicians in one fell swoop undoubtedly feels ambitious. But one thing that lies at the heart of these challenges are the schedules through which clinical staff are rostered. Although it’s not a simple case of implementing a new rostering system and the issues go away, it is possible to drive improvements by using the right system that has been built to genuinely support clinician well-being.

A very simple but important consideration is annual leave management. An e-rostering system should provide a clinician with a single source of truth, ensuring they have greater control over their time and capacity planning – and an automated leave process should form a key part of this. A healthcare worker submits annual leave seamlessly, enabling the rota co-ordinator to then keep track of all approved requests on one system – reducing the administrative burden for workers and rota coordinators alike.

An effective e-rostering system should also accommodate the individual preferences of clinicians where possible, and make it as easy as possible for rostering teams to manage the part-time schedules of LTFT workers. This flexibility is a key factor in promoting clinician empowerment, as it recognises the diverse needs and preferences of healthcare professionals – making them feel less like just a number in a system.

A rota coordinator must be supported by the technology they are using, rather than being hampered by clunky systems and manual workarounds. Similarly, clinicians shouldn’t feel left in the dark about the status of their rota, or have to rely on constant back and forth communication with an individual either. Replacing current systems and processes with a user-friendly digital rostering solution would enable workers to see updates to their schedules in real-time, giving a sense of control back to the clinician.

This transparency provides workers with visibility of their schedule further in advance and at their fingertips, making it much easier to make any changes through shift swapping (another feature that a best-in-class e-rostering system should facilitate). Clinicians can then effortlessly request or advertise swaps to colleagues in their team, while ensuring any swaps meet compliance and regulatory requirements. This process reduces the administrative burden, while allowing clinicians to navigate and control their own schedules in a safe and compliant way.

Exception reporting is an example of a necessary aspect of working as a junior doctor, but one that is so often overlooked or managed ineffectively by many e-rostering systems. When a doctor needs to work longer than their shift time or their assigned hours change, they should be easily and fairly compensated – without having to go through an admin-heavy process. Built-in exception reporting within an e-rostering solution can enable this, saving a rota co-ordinator the time in reviewing and approving reports, and empowering doctors with an easy tool to more efficiently submit requests. Being able to complete the entire exception reporting process directly on one system means clinicians are more likely to feel at ease and satisfied that all is in hand after a potentially longer or challenging shift. It is the little things that can mean a lot, and impactful e-rostering is full of features that can benefit clinicians throughout their working day.

As documented, e-rostering addresses some of the challenges in workforce management, yet, effective e-rostering should also be agile and constantly evolving to ensure the clinician is valued as circumstances and policies shift. As a clinician’s schedule changes and their preferences to learn more or train further in a particular discipline develops, an e-rostering system should accommodate this. We can’t rely so heavily on managers to manually cross check the rota with each trainee’s development goals. Adopting an e-rostering that can effectively bridge the gap between service plans (demand) and educational programmes, will enable organisations to embed a holistic approach to employee well-being and personal development into their workforce planning.

For instance, recognising that teaching is always scheduled for a Wednesday afternoon means an organisation could look to align a consultant’s job plan to ensure particularly interesting or specialist clinics don’t clash. It could also be that the organisation can avoid scheduling an F2 on a night shift prior to a theatre list that the F2 has shown an interest in, meaning the F2 can attend the session well-rested and make the most out of the learning experience. By understanding these very core elements of rota-planning, we not only enhance the trainee experience but also address potential barriers, ensuring clinicians can actively participate in vital training and educational opportunities without compromising their requirements of the rota. This proactive approach to rostering reflects a commitment to supporting continuous development and nurturing a workforce culture that values both service delivery and personal and educational growth. This level of care and consideration that is being built into good e-rostering systems showcases a dedication to looking out for the clinician rather than simply filling a schedule.

We’ve highlighted just a few examples of how smart e-rostering can benefit clinicians, but there are so many benefits that can be realised for rostering teams and workers alike. As technology advances and organisations are more open to collaboration and adoption, the potential of e-rostering is exciting. Clinicians need to be taken into account when building a solution that will ultimately directly impact them, to ensure they feel supported and empowered through any change to their rota.

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