“Uberization” is a catchphrase that has quickly become part of common parlance in discussions about the pandemic-induced economy. Uberization is the movement by organizations to “replace fixed wage contracts with ‘dynamic pricing’ for labor” (Davis, & Sinha, 2021). It is transforming many elements of the economy and replacing employees employed by the organization with a type of self-employed or contract employee. In essence, it allows businesses to “recruit labour at a large scale in new ways” (Davis, & Sinha, 2021).
The global business community has had a range of responses to the trend of uberization (Babali, 2019), as has the healthcare industry in particular. Yet as health systems emerge from the pandemic, Bloomberg reports that “the ongoing elevated costs of [healthcare] workers are causing profit warnings” (KHN, 2022; Court, & Coleman-Lochner, 2022). Regardless of one’s resistance or acceptance of uberization, healthcare employment is in crisis. Change must occur to keep health systems from financial disaster.
It seems that the tide of uberization in the healthcare industry is already rising. An increasing number of employees are contracting with hospitals and health systems via a staffing agency. This trend is likely to evolve, with a portion of staff employed directly by the hospital, and the remaining employees self-contracting with hospitals or health systems with short-term or even daily contracts. In fact, hospitals are reporting that rather than temporary “travel nurses” coming from other states to work on a contract basis, nurses are taking short-term contract work at hospitals a short drive from their own homes rather than pursue permanent employment with these organizations. We are witnessing the uberization of nursing, which will eventually extend to other healthcare occupations.
The healthcare workforce shouldered the heavy burden of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet a collaborative study from Indiana University, the nonprofit Rand Corp., and the University of Michigan that analyzed the changes in the U.S. healthcare workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic found that “the average wages for U.S. healthcare workers rose less than wages in other industries during 2020 and the first six months of 2021” (Toler, 2022; Cantor, Whaley, Kosali, & Nguyen, 2022). According to a February 2022 report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only about 35 percent of healthcare and social assistance organizations “increased wages and salaries, paid wage premiums, or provided bonuses because of the COVID-19 pandemic” (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022).