Facility Managers: Defend Your Staffing Levels

by | Jul 31, 2018 | Administration, Empowerment, Leadership | 0 comments

In facilities management, labor costs are one of the largest expenses in an operating budget (typically 25 percent); consequently, facility managers are often faced with hard questions concerning their staffing levels. In healthcare, 85-90 percent of a facility’s life-cycle costs are associated with operation and maintenance. Decisions that impact these costs (including staffing) should not be taken lightly.

Industry professionals at every level tend to make critical business decisions based on the status quo, what their peers and competitors are doing, and patterns recognized through their individual work experiences. This type of pattern-based decision-making can have detrimental consequences if the drivers for those decisions are not well understood.

Therefore, facility managers must also use data-driven models based on cognitive reasoning, empirical evidence, and objective calculations. This approach is especially effective when determining optimum staffing levels that comply with budget requirements and mandated reductions in operating expenses.

For benchmarking, pattern-based decision-making looks like this:

What did we do last year?

What are our competitors doing?

The industry standard is approaching 70,000 SF/FTE – should we use this?

What does my administration want?

Avoid doing the wrong thing. Make decisions based on tools, data, and objective calculations. It’s easier and simpler than it sounds.

Many healthcare facility managers rely on benchmarking results for direction on the right resourcing (insourcing + outsourcing) mix for their hospital. Commonly used tools and reporting mechanisms include those created by ASHE, IFMA, Truven Health (ActionOI), APPA, and UHC. Some healthcare facilities have even developed their own customized benchmarking tool.

The IFMA model is straight-forward and primarily based on floor area. It offers an FTE (full-time equivalent) per square foot number that isn’t necessarily specific to healthcare facilities. The ASHE model, available to all ASHE members at no cost, is more sophisticated. This tool incorporates the IFMA metrics and offers recommendations in 5 discrete categories – staffing levels, staffing costs, materials, service contracts, and utilities (energy). It also provides staffing levels by trade, represented in 14 job categories.

Whatever tool is used, the dataset must be carefully reviewed and analyzed. If a facility chooses to compare its data to a peer group, then certain factors must be considered. For example, physical variables like geographic location, weather, number of buildings, campus acreage, etc. greatly affect staffing levels and service contracts. Operation and maintenance for a high-rise hospital in an urban environment is going to drastically differ from a horizontal campus in a suburban area.

Obvious? Maybe. But these variables are frequently ignored or overlooked.

Whether a facility is benchmarking against itself, its peers, the national standard, or all the above, the benchmarking process will highlight strengths and weaknesses in multiple areas. Facility managers can use this insight to (1) communicate to leadership what they’re doing well and how they’re doing it and (2) focus on opportunities for improvement within their own department – utility management, individual skill set, service contracts and consulting fees, repair costs, etc. Regardless of the opportunity, the point is that it’s identified, and therefore can be improved upon. 

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve (manage) it.” Peter Drucker

If an identified area for improvement happens to be in labor costs, the best answer might not be to reduce staffing levels. As an alternative to across the board staffing cuts, it’s sometimes possible to cross-train staff and reallocate resources appropriately to achieve the desired outcome.

During this reallocation process, some supervisors encounter the realization that their facilities management team lacks the complete skill set they need to be successful in their adjusted roles. For example, if a technician’s adjusted role demands a higher proficiency level or broader knowledge base to include a new trade, he will lack the expertise to perform his job effectively.

A technical evaluation can be used to determine the proficiency level of each staff member at his or her area of expertise and expected job competencies. Qualitatively, supervisors know the skill level of their teams, but they oftentimes don’t have the quantifiable data to validate this knowledge. A technical assessment is an effective way to benchmark all staff to a common metric.

Beyond evaluating the team’s knowledge, additional measures can be taken through mentorship programs and training. Through the assessment process, individual areas of opportunity and strength are made evident through quantitative data, irrespective of role or tenure (qualitative attributes). The leadership team can use this information to pair individuals together through a partnership or mentorship model. Either formally or informally, training programs can also be implemented to target the weaker areas and begin filling in these knowledge gaps. This model is especially attractive to facility managers that choose not to heavily rely on outsourcing (service contracts and consulting) for operation and maintenance. 

The assessment tool not only creates a platform to evaluate current staff, but it can also be used for hiring and succession planning. As candidates present themselves for new roles or promotions, a common assessment is used to identify the individuals’ respective skill sets and expertise as they relate to the desired position.

All that said, sometimes training and knowledge just aren’t enough. I often hear facility managers refer to their jobs as “firefighting”. They have a limited number of hours in the day, and their time is best spent fighting the hottest fire. That’s why data analytics and operator dashboards have been gaining popularity across the healthcare industry. Facility managers are leveraging technology to improve their staff’s productivity.

Through strategic investments in technology and by deploying effective operator training, a facilities management team is well positioned to conquer preventative maintenance, optimize equipment performance, improve energy efficiency, and enhance the patient experience of care.

Additionally, these improvements can be quantified through an annual benchmarking exercise – a good practice to adopt regardless. If a facility manager chooses to deploy an operator training program and/or invest in a specific technology, annual benchmarking results should reveal a reduction in overall operating expenses. Simply use the same benchmarking tool each year, compare the results against the most recent dataset, and communicate the effectiveness of the program/project/technology to leadership. 

The benchmarking process can make you feel overloaded with information.

It’s important to focus on the end goal. For facility managers, this goal is oftentimes defending staffing levels and equipping their team with the right tools and knowledge to be successful. Keep the outcome in mind, and the work to get there will be more than worth it in the end.

About me:

I have over 8 years of experience in the healthcare engineering and construction industry, and most of this time has been dedicated to working with facility management teams as the liaison between the boiler room and the board room. I have been responsible for the development and management of over $370 million in specialized energy solutions and infrastructure projects. Since starting my career in healthcare engineering consulting, I served as Director of Facility Management Services and Education. In this role, I provided healthcare facility managers with the tools and resources they need to make data-driven, well-informed decisions that improve their energy efficiency and facility operations. The most recent of these solutions is a healthcare facilities operation and maintenance training program, the first of its kind in the industry.

Let’s connect: If you have a success story in healthcare facilities management, I’d love to hear about it and learn how you made it happen. 

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