At first glance, today’s low unemployment numbers are positive for the overall economy. But a low unemployment rate nationwide presents particular workforce challenges for long-term care and senior living, which employ a large percentage of hourly workers.
Specifically, senior care providers are faced with:
- More competition - Individuals have more choice on where to work
- Low unemployment - The available labor pool is small
- High turnover - Approximately 36% and growing median CNA turnover
- Open positions - Nearly 22,000 open jobs every day in 2017
- A workforce shortage - Post-acute care will need about 1.2 million new workers by 2025
Solving senior care workforce challenges won’t happen overnight. But by implementing some of the following tips, HR departments can better address today’s most common workforce challenges, ensuring caregivers are given every possible opportunity to succeed.
- Revise the Basics
When it comes to tactics in senior care, think out with the old, and in with the new. Nearly 78% of new hires in senior care are millennials, yet only 35% of providers have changed their tactics to target and engage this generation.
“Just look at current processes and systems. Where are you wasting time, or what can you “modernize?” says Tommy Comer, VP of HR at Commonwealth Senior Living. “For example, in our handbook, we still reference pagers. So, when you read through your policies and procedures, it’s funny how you’ll realize certain things don’t apply anymore.”
This also means updating policies to fit employees’ lifestyles. One of those basic areas of revision: cell phone policy. Some organizations still expect caregivers to leave their devices in a locker or car, but that’s not a realistic expectation when so many lives revolve around this form of communication. This led Commonwealth to modernize its cell phone policy, asking staff to use their discretion when it comes to cell phone usage at the workplace. While that may seem like a radical change given today’s heightened concerns about resident privacy, it can go a long way for staff satisfaction, and can be a differentiator in the recruitment process.
- Overhaul Onboarding
Onboarding should be fun and exciting and not just several days spent sitting in a room, watching training videos. Organizations shouldn’t underestimate the effect a poorly constructed onboarding process can have on an employee. In fact, a provider’s onboarding process contributes to the nearly 20 percent of new hires that leave an organization within the first 45 days.
To achieve the best results, HR departments can revamp their onboarding to incorporate online learning and an exciting first day that kick-starts new employees’ commitment to your organization. At Commonwealth, new caregivers eat in the dining room, meet residents and talk with department heads on their first day. Old onboarding practices, such as filling out paperwork, are done at a later date.
Creating an engaging and exciting onboarding process is essential if companies want to boost employee engagement and reduce employee turnover, particularly during the critical first 90 days.
- Measure Employee Engagement
Thanks to modern technology, there are some powerful tools out there to measure employee engagement in real-time. Are they happy, or do they feel like they’re simply going through the motions?
Measuring employee engagement helps managers and executives determine worker satisfaction, track performance and discover underlying or new workplace issues. With those metrics in hand, managers can put a plan in place to fix what isn’t working, or build on decisions that have led to greater worker satisfaction.
“To be able to connect with associates on all levels in real time is very important to us,” says Comer. “You’d be surprised by how much you can learn.”
Caregivers will also appreciate any outreach from those in leadership positions, as it shows executives care about their success.
According to Comer, “It’s a non-negotiable for our regionals to engage with front-line team members every time they visit a community, no matter what role they serve.”
- Build Better Schedules
Caregivers in LTC and senior living often don’t work “normal” hours. Even so, giving staff more control over their schedules and letting them have a say in when they work will lead to greater employee satisfaction. For instance, an individual might actually prefer working the overnight shift to help cut down on child care expenses. With employee scheduling software, meeting that preference is easier than ever.
Additionally, some senior care communities are experimenting with flexible scheduling, such as allowing caregivers to work a four-hour shift in the morning, and a four-hour shift in the evening. With the help of mobile scheduling solutions, caregivers can easily keep track of when they work, whether it’s a more traditional rotation or a flexible one.
“My theory is a lot of scheduling issues or uncovered shifts are communication problem,” explains Comer. “And maybe I’m naïve, but I think most people come to work wanting to a good job and I think there are a lot of instances in our industry where you have the paper schedule or the schedule that was posted two days before the month started.”
Last-minute schedules and outdated paper schedules are stressful for management and caregivers alike. Comer stresses that employees who aren’t offered flexible and convenient scheduling at one organization, will go find it at another.
- Provide a Career Path
One way to drive up retention rates and ensure employee success is to provide well-defined career tracks, Comer says. Millennials expect to grow within an organization, and if a path isn’t clearly defined, they will pursue other opportunities.
“It’s becoming more apparent that the earlier you do this when someone comes on board, the more powerful it is,” says Comer. “And it’s becoming non-negotiable. Our millennial generation expects to grow. And if they’re not growing, they’re leaving.”
While it’s not realistic for new employees to assume the mantle of CEO within two years of being hired, they’ll at least appreciate career paths that show the potential to move up within a company. For example, you could show how, with career development and training, a newly hired certified nursing assistant can move up to become a medical technologist.
- Start Conducting Stay Interviews
Find out why your employees stay with your organization and what would make them leave through a 10-15-minute open-ended discussion. Comer says the goal of stay interviews is to understand what is important to each employee and identify coaching opportunities.
“I think a lot of supervisors are scared of the answers or they think it’s always going to be money. Our data suggests it’s not that; it’s often very simple operational hang-ups.”
Comer suggests that providers try the stay interview on for size at a community that’s experiencing high turnover and then determine if it’s a good fit.
“Stay interviews are completely free. And what if you could lower your employee turnover by 10-15 percent on controllable items? It just seems like a no-brainer,” says Comer.
Labor challenges facing senior care companies are real. That’s why it’s imperative that HR departments identify ways to bolster caregiver success to attract qualified candidates, engage current staff and increase employee retention rates.