Employee engagement, which was a top initiative for senior care providers prior to the pandemic, became even more critical with the onset of the COVID-19 crisis. Frontline workers, who were already prone to burnout, were met with unprecedented levels of uncertainty and fear, leading to increased call-offs and unfortunately, many employees leaving the industry.
A recent OnShift survey revealed that 54% of providers cite difficulties managing fear and anxiety among staff and 80% report burnout as the top personal challenge facing employees. As a result, senior care leadership wasted no time and implemented impactful, meaningful practices to ease the burdens of their employees and improve their overall experience at work.
Having the right programs and perks in place will not only help providers better retain the staff they have, but make them more attractive to new talent, allowing them to better combat the top workforce challenges facing providers today: hiring and turnover.
Here are five senior care employee engagement strategies gaining traction this year.
The need for employee work-life balance was magnified by the pandemic – especially as many frontline workers struggled to secure childcare and handle the myriad of challenges brought on by COVID-19. Several providers we’ve spoken to say offering flexible schedules during this time has been critical in helping them retain staff. Many have implemented new shift times (i.e. shorter shifts at peak times or 12-hour shifts) and continuously work directly with frontline staff to determine their availability. Offering best-fit schedules not only helps providers fills gaps in the schedule, but it shows employees you care about their personal lives and are committed to helping them achieve a work-life balance.
Perks That Provide Support
Armed with the knowledge of the challenges employees were facing, providers began offering perks and benefits geared at helping them cope. Community pantries were quickly set up with essentials to help employees avoid that trip to the store after work. Bonus pay, instant access to earned wages and gift cards for groceries helped offset some of the financial strain many were experiencing. And access to free transportation and daycare helped employees manage some of their major life changes. Several providers even rented hotel space or used unoccupied rooms at their communities so employees did not have to worry about bringing the virus home. In summary, providers are not taking a one-size-fits-all approach to employee programs. They’re listening to the needs of their staff and thinking outside the box when it comes to supporting them.
Increased Focus On Mental Wellness
Providers understand the detrimental effects of the pandemic on employees’ mental well-being – a group that is already prone to burnout and compassion fatigue. What’s more, the unprecedented nature of the virus means we know very little about the long-lasting effects and PTSD risks. At the start of the crisis, providers began conducting frequent check-ins with staff, reinforced their EAPs (employee assistance programs), and encouraged employees to share their fears and concerns in open forums to build camaraderie. Many provided stipends for counseling and even brought in mental health professionals to do regular mindfulness sessions. This focus on mental wellness will continue to be of importance moving forward.
Consistent Recognition & Rewards
Employees want to know their contributions are appreciated, especially during these times when they’re working longer hours under extremely stressful conditions. In an effort to show staff they are valued, many providers are taking steps to expand their rewards programs, ensuring that they’re consistent and equitable.
The best way to ensure that rewards are fair and unbiased is to directly tie them to employee behavior that supports the community’s stated mission, vision and values. In addition, recognizing consistency and stepping up when needed is important. This could include behaviors like punching in and out on time, not calling off and picking up open shifts.
Using a systematic rewards program makes it easy for management to distribute rewards and gives employees visibility into their progress and how to earn them. OnShift Engage - our employee engagement software for senior care - uses an automated points-based rewards system that tracks employee behaviors so contributions can be rewarded.
Transparent Two-Way Communication
Communication has been a key theme for senior care throughout the pandemic and a critical component of keeping staff informed and engaged. Providers leveraged the messaging functionality in our scheduling software to quickly send real-time updates to staff on topics like PPE availability, safety protocols, training notifications, open shifts and policy changes, and other timely pandemic-related information.
Employees have indicated that one of the most impactful communications they have received have been simple words of encouragement and praise. Many of our customers have made inspirational quotes and #InThisTogether messages a staple during the pandemic.
Timely pulse surveys are another tactic many OnShift customers have implemented to better connect with their employees. In fact, we saw a 300% increase in the number of custom surveys sent by our customers via OnShift Engage early on in the crisis. These surveys measured staff sentiment on statements like: I feel safe coming to work; I feel supported by my community; and I understand the processes and procedures related to COVID-19. One provider was also able to uncover through these surveys that they needed extra PPE and supplies for employees.
Organizations also used surveys to better understand how they can best support their staff and provide work-life balance by gauging issues around childcare, food insecurity and other challenges brought on by the pandemic.
This increase in communication from management created a safe space for employees to freely and proactively share their own feedback. Organizations began asking employees to share feedback about their experience – their fears and concerns, any challenges they are facing and how management can better support them during this time. One provider was even reminded of the resourcefulness of their staff. When their community learned a PPE delivery was delayed, an aide suggested they visit the dollar store to get creative in the meantime. The kind of transparent, two-way communication has been beneficial for both staff and leadership and is something providers will make a priority moving forward.