The world of long-term care, or senior care services, is a business that is very unique as it relates to workforce development. This industry is very labor intensive. It relies heavily upon individual employees providing direct care or services to clients (residents). In most businesses, there is one employee (or a group of employees), serving many customers. In long-term care, especially in skilled nursing facilities (nursing homes), the ratio of employees to customers is often 1:1. In other words, if there is a 100-bed skilled nursing facility, there are often 100 employees. This industry is labor-intensive and high-touch. To be a successful organization, a pool of educated, dedicated and compassionate employees must provide personal, quality services to meet the individual needs of clients who cannot provide for themselves. Attracting and retaining a quality staff is especially difficult when the senior-care industry is under-capitalized. A good portion of the nursing home industry is funded primarily by Medicaid and Medicare, and those pools of money are under significant stress.
Those of us who work in long-term care are always competing for those highly-skilled, motivated employees. As our population ages, the need for services to that aging population also increases. When the economy improves, the competition for those employees increases because they have more choices of where they want to work, and wages go up because there is greater competition for those employees.
Wages and Benefits
The ability for a company to attract new employees is based on two main criteria: wages and benefits. Potential employees need to work to make money. Wages and benefits are the “curb appeal” that may lure a new employee to a business. Keeping those employees so that they don’t go out and “shop” for another job after a few months requires a company to focus on other aspects of a workplace. Some of these factors are:
A mission. If a company can articulate a clear mission, or reason for existence, employees might stay around because they are not just working for a paycheck. They may be “providing excellent patient care” or “helping to improve the lives of senior citizens.” Organizations that are non-profit, or faith-based, have a definite advantage in articulating a mission.
Work load. Organizations that can provide a relatively high staff-to-client ratio can often retain employees more easily. For instance, if a nursing assistant cares for eight residents in their current location, they most likely will not leave to go to a job where they care for 12 residents.
Employee Assistance Programs. Your employees may have external financial or other personal stresses. An organization that can provide financial assistance or referrals can show those employees that they work for an organization that cares for them. These programs help to promote employee loyalty.
Wellness programs. Healthy employees are happy employees. Having company programs that can promote wellness will entice employees to stay, and also reduce absenteeism and health care costs.
Job growth. If employees know they have an opportunity to “grow with the company”, they will often stay long-term. Companies should try to “promote from within” when they can. Educational scholarships are a critical part of job growth as well.
Employee recognition. Your workers should be publically praised and rewarded for doing a good job. Companies should encourage employees for being innovative and reward longevity through bonuses and public praise.
Time off. Vacations and personal leave days are important to prevent employee burnout. PTO (personal time off) should be used for recruitment and should increase with employee longevity. Tenured employees don’t want to leave for another job because of the loss those benefits.
It’s important to keep your good employees around. Having a program in place to do this is important. Equally important, however, is the positive culture established by the corporate leadership. Knowing employees’ names, their family’s names, their hobbies, and having normal conversations with them are attributes that every manager should have. Offering the employees help when they need it, and keeping your promises to them, are as important as wages, benefits and programs for employees of any organization.
—Jerry Hoganson is president of Wesley Manor, a “Life Plan” Retirement Community in Louisville, Ky.