Healthcare workers are exhausted. The pandemic, which continues to claim victims, is overwhelmingly pressuring the health system and the lack of personnel for primary care is complicating the situation considerably. As it is the case in several other sectors of activity, the field of healthcare has experienced labour shortages for many years now. But what do we really mean by labour shortage? Above all, how do we prevent other sectors of reaching the limits of their human capacity?

According to Jacques Gagnon, the CEO of Imagem, a firm located in Saguenay that specializes in the development of technologies in the healthcare sector, workforce issues would have more to do with management issues.

Gagnon says that managers must ask themselves serious questions. Too often, the reason an employee doesn’t do the job right is because they have not been well integrated or they have not found their strengths nor have they been able to utilize them. No matter the organization or the work to be done, no employee is able to train himself or herself alone. Someone must take the time to guide them and to help them grow within a firm.

Imagem embraces this type of ideology. The firm, which has developed and designed the software suites Interview and Postscriptum, which help organizations respond to the challenges linked to managing diagnostic imaging and to producing medical reports, has seen over the past 25 years a significant increase in its workforce. This pleasant challenge has led the administrators to look at best practices in the field of human resources.

Interpersonal skills and good judgement say a lot about a person. The diplomas a person has also are of value; they show a person’s ability to summarize, analyse and achieve results. Those are qualities that Jacques Gagnon looks for in employees.

Selected foremost for their human qualities, the candidates who have secured a position at Imagem over the years have been able to make a place for themselves thanks to the time and the energy that was invested in their integration and training.

Beyond qualifications per se, individuals and human intelligence must be valued. One can develop know-how; it can be worked on. Often, expectations managers have are unrealistic and the criteria they use to evaluate candidates are inadequate.

— Jacques Gagnon, Chief Executive Officer of Imagem

Break the mould

The message “In search of new talent” taken directly from a dozen job offers gets an eye roll from Imagem’s CEO. According to him, talent is something that is developed and cultivated with time. Employers who are seeking rare gems or “all-purpose” people can only experience disappointment. No one can expect that candidates can fit perfectly in a stiff mould.

Gagnon mentions that beyond qualifications per se, individuals and human intelligence must be valued. One can develop know-how; it can be worked on. Often, expectations managers have are unrealistic and the criteria they use to evaluate candidates are inadequate.

Managers would also benefit from recognizing that the true value of their organization lies on their employees. The healthcare sector is a modern-day example. Without nurses, doctors, personal support workers (PSW), healthcare professionals, the system simply collapses.

Employee Retention: A Challenge to Overcome

For Jacques Gagnon, there is no doubt that retaining employees once an employer has recognized their value also presents a challenge. The key? Valorizing their work, recognizing their abilities as well as their personal and professional qualities. According to a poll based on a sampling of 17,000 Quebeckers that was conducted by Léger, a Canadian market research firm, self-actualization, work relations and recognition bring more happiness at work than individual responsibility, salary and a sense of belonging.1

Gagnon notes that everybody needs to know they are important. Recognition is essential. We can offer higher salaries, but sooner or later it won’t make a difference if employees don’t feel that they are reaching their full potential and are appreciated. Using the healthcare personnel example, Gagnon refers to the situation of personal support workers. According to him, it is obvious that the value of their work is underestimated.

Many people would be completely unable to do to what PSWs do on a daily basis. They perform ungracious, but essential tasks. We should look at ways of integrating them with different teams and raise the profile of their role.

With respect to the fast-track training to become a PSW and the grants provided for training by the Québec Government, Gagnon finds that the approach was overly simplistic and hurried. According to him, lasting solutions must be sought in the long run. Without continuous training in the field, without support, without integration in the work environment, it is likely that few new PSWs will hold on to their job beyond the 12-month period imposed by the government as they are, after this period, discharged of the obligation to repay the $9,000 grant received during their training.

In an article published in the newspaper Le Devoir, on December 3, 2020, the FSSS-CSN (the health and social services federation in Québec) mentions that the lack of staff in the field is a concern for both old and new personal support workers. Also, there is another problem says Jeff Begley, the president of the FSSS-CSN: the salary of $26 an hour is still being negotiated.2

1 Léger, Workplace Happiness Index, November 2018 and March 2019.