Behavioral Health Workforce Strategies to Prepare for the Future

Employees using a tablet

Employees are an organization’s greatest assets, particularly in behavioral health and human services (BHHS). Your team is pivotal in providing excellent service delivery and patient care. As such, supporting and developing the behavioral health workforce is one of the most effective ways to support organizational growth while maintaining high-level patient care.

Here, we’ll explore key data about the current state of the behavioral health workforce and insights about planned growth within the industry. We’ll then review top strategies for engaging and supporting BHHS workers throughout the entire employee lifecycle to improve outcomes across the board.

What’s the Current State of the Behavioral Health Workforce?

Behavioral health workforce: entrepreneur presenting at a meeting

The behavioral health and human services industry is growing, yet it’s also experiencing a major labor shortage. In ContinuumCloud’s 2024 Behavioral Health Industry Trends Report, 65% of respondents reported that their organization plans to grow or expand services in 2024. This is a great step in improving behavioral healthcare access to patients, but organizations may struggle to recruit providers and leverage the technology necessary to support this growth.

There’s Heavy Competition for a Limited Talent Pool

Many orgs in the behavioral health care system operate as nonprofits and rely on grants. There are also Medicaid, Medicare, and private insurance reimbursement disparities between care provided for behavioral health conditions and other specialties such as primary care. Due to these funding limitations, employers must find other ways to appeal to candidates beyond standard financial incentives like salary. 

Certain types of providers are in especially high demand. The National Center for Health Workforce Analysis forecasts a substantial shortage of addiction counselors, marriage and family therapists, mental health counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists by 2036. Many regions are already experiencing an overall behavioral health provider shortage, with over half of the American population living in a mental health professional shortage area. 

There’s also a limited talent pool since behavioral health practitioners — such as licensed clinical social workers, nurse practitioners, and counselors — must meet stringent education and licensing requirements. Some organizations, including the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), have presented solutions like expanding peer support services to grow the behavioral health workforce. However, companies still expect to face heavy competition for qualified talent.

Organizations Aren’t Staying Up to Date on the Latest Technology

In addition to the shortage of qualified mental health providers, many organizations are struggling to obtain the technology to support growth. Just as agencies must continue to develop their workforce, they also need to assess and improve technology regularly. According to the ContinuumCloud report, only 40% of behavioral health organizations report continuously evaluating their technology. 

While many industries have rapidly adopted new technologies, such as AI, the BHHS industry lags behind in embracing such technologies. Only 24% of organizations surveyed by ContinuumCloud indicated they plan to leverage AI to support their operations in 2024. 

Addressing Behavioral Health Workforce Challenges Throughout the Employee Lifecycle

Behavioral health workforce: employee talking in front of her team

The behavioral health field presents workforce challenges throughout the employee lifecycle. Here’s how to support your team during these different stages and continue to develop a steady, engaged workforce.


The ongoing behavioral health workforce shortage is one of the biggest industry challenges, which means having a well-crafted recruiting strategy is more important than ever. Streamlining the hiring workflow is one of the top strategies for better recruitment. 

Slow or disorganized hiring processes often deter applicants. In fact, research from PwC found that nearly 50% of job seekers in high-demand fields have turned down an offer because of a poor experience during the hiring process. To avoid missing out on top talent, it’s essential to ensure a smooth and communicative hiring approach.

To that end, ContinuumCloud's human capital management (HCM) platform offers built-in recruiting management. It can quickly get open roles in front of applicants with one-click job postings that distribute the opening to multiple job boards and social media sites. Hiring managers can then efficiently review and communicate with candidates in one centralized location. Moreover, the platform offers Position Control, allowing you to see your entire workforce at a glance, budget more effectively, and avoid bottlenecks.


Streamlining the onboarding process through task automation is an excellent way to onboard new hires quickly and easily. Nobody likes to be bogged down with repetitive tasks and excessive data entry as soon as they join a new company. Instead, a unified HCM can simplify the process by seamlessly moving candidate data into the new hire’s employee file instead of asking them to re-enter the same information on multiple platforms. 


Retention is the other piece of the puzzle when addressing the behavioral health workforce shortage. Once you’ve found qualified talent, you don’t want to lose them. In the ContinuumCloud report, 66% of surveyed organizations indicated they plan to invest in employee engagement and retention initiatives to support their workforce.

One retention initiative that can be implemented fairly quickly without too large an investment is employee recognition. According to Harvard Business School, over 80% of employees do not feel adequately recognized by their employers. This can be addressed by using a program like ContinuumCloud’s human capital management platform that encourages frequent manager-to-employee feedback as well as peer-to-peer recognition.

ContinuumCloud’s HCM platform makes it easy for busy managers to track employee performance, goal completion, and achievements. The platform’s message templates allow you to quickly send out positive feedback and encouragement when an employee reaches a goal or gets a great patient survey. The platform also includes a feature called “Shout Outs” that allows employees to publicly recognize their peers to foster an encouraging work environment.

Workforce Development

Preparing your workforce to meet the current and future behavioral health needs of patients is paramount. Following a sharp increase in demand during the pandemic and the ongoing mental health crisis, telehealth services have remained a popular choice for patients.

That means it’s crucial to continue educating employees with the technical knowledge required to deliver excellent telehealth services and ensure your telehealth solutions are up-to-date. With more than half of the U.S. living in mental health provider shortage areas, promoting and developing telehealth is not only a smart business choice, but it’s also a meaningful way to serve those living in underserved and rural areas who lack local, in-person health resources.

It’s also helpful to encourage upskilling and continuing education to help team members maintain credentials (or even earn new ones) to meet service demand. The National Center for Health Workforce Analysis identified “limited scopes of practice” as one of the primary provider-level challenges within the current behavioral health services industry. Learning to service a wider range of patients — including those with mental illness, developmental disabilities, substance use disorder, and other needs — can help you expand access while providing staff with the opportunity to learn new skills. 

Employees want to learn and grow. Some 45% of survey respondents in the Behavioral Health Industry Trends Report noted a lack of growth and development opportunities as barriers to engagement and retention.

Prepare for the Future of Behavioral Health With a Unified HCM

Your organization needs the right tools to address the current needs of your behavioral health workforce while preparing for future growth and innovation within the field. That’s where a unified HCM platform comes in. 

The right HCM software can help you streamline human resources processes throughout the employee lifecycle. ContinuumCloud’s HCM solution is here to help, from one-click job posting and built-in applicant tracking that supports recruiting to employee recognition and talent management functions to help you develop and retain your workforce. Plus, it provides intelligent reporting capabilities to help you track organizational growth and report relevant outcomes to stakeholders.

ContinuumCloud offers the only HCM platform on the market designed specifically to meet the unique needs of behavioral health and human services organizations. Contact us to learn how we can help your organization grow and develop its workforce in 2024 and beyond.

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