Why senior care organizations must shift thinking to keep top talent

Many are facing staffing shortages and greater competition for workers. Senior care organizations must adapt to retain their best employees.

Senior care organizations are facing unprecedented staffing challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Leaders in the industry are desperately worried about finding new staff and keeping the quality people they have, said Ray Desrochers, president and chief operating officer of OnShift, an Ohio company that develops HR software for senior care companies.

“There’s really two themes we’re hearing consistently,” Desrochers said in an interview. “This massive challenge of how do we find enough people. The second is this whole issue of burnout.”

“That is a massive problem across the industry right now,” he said. “We have a whole lot of people departing that were some of the best caregivers in the industry.”

Senior care organizations must adapt to find new ways to recruit and retain good workers, Desrochers said.

Four out of five senior care organizations said they are most concerned about staffing shortages, according to OnShift’s third annual Workforce 360 Survey. The company surveyed more than 2,000 long-term care, senior living and healthcare professionals.

Virtually all respondents (96%) said they are grappling with staffing shortages. In addition, about 75% of respondents said they had trouble covering shifts consistently. The vast majority said they are worried about the burnout of their staff. Roughly one-third said they had limited new admissions due to a lack of staffing.

The senior care industry struggled with high turnover even before the emergence of COVID-19, but the pandemic has dramatically altered the landscape. Some employees have left the industry for family reasons during the pandemic. Others have sought more fulfilling careers.

The industry is also facing greater competition for workers than ever before, Desrochers said. Some workers are taking jobs with hospitals or home healthcare organizations.

In the past, senior care organizations typically competed with other healthcare industry providers for workers. Now, companies from outside the industry, including retailers and restaurants, are seeking to hire workers away from senior care organizations, Desrochers said.

With that in mind, some senior care organizations are reevaluating what they must do to entice their best workers to stick around. Workers have more power and options than before, Desrochers said.

“The world has changed pretty significantly,” he said. “That's causing them to think a whole lot differently than ever before.”

Some are offering better pay, Desrochers said, including extra compensation for shifts that are more difficult to get covered. The survey found 64% are offering bonus pay to cover such shifts.

But some are also adapting novel approaches they haven’t previously considered.

Some senior care organizations are offering more flexibility in schedules than ever before, Desrochers said. Long-term care facilities haven’t always been very flexible in scheduling in the past, but some organizations are offering workers the chance to have schedules that work better for them. The early indications have been positive, he said.

Some senior care providers are offering perks in the form of reward points that can be spent in different ways. About half of the senior care leaders surveyed said they were looking at developing reward and recognition programs for workers.

“Organizations will take unique approaches to attracting talent and improving the employee experience,” Desrochers said. “Those that thrive will be the ones that get that right.”

Desrochers said more senior care organizations are thinking of ways to make sure their workers feel valued. Workers who have spent years in a senior care organization obviously have motivation beyond money.

“If you look at the people doing this for a long time, they’re doing it because they love it,” he said.

“The employers are figuring out their best folks, they want to be here,” he said. “They fundamentally want to help people.”

Senior care organizations are expanding their recruiting pool to bring in new workers. Providers are increasingly going after young adults, Desrochers said. Some senior care organizations are working to show students they can find interesting career possibilities.

“They’re actually starting to expand those pools in a meaningful way,” Desrochers said. “For the first time we’re seeing a significant uptick in student hiring.”

Some senior care providers are also going after retirees who may be looking to stay busy, even if they aren’t necessarily seeking full-time work. “People are catching on there are other pools of talent they can tap,” he said.

With senior care organizations are struggling to keep staffing, Desrochers said he expects OnShift to continue to grow. He said the company’s scheduling software can save providers money and headaches, giving staff more time to take care of patients.

“This has been an industry that’s been neglected for too long from a technology standpoint,” he said.

Desrochers added that OnShift is not trying to be “all things to all people”.

“We are built exclusively for the post-acute industry,” he said.

And he said OnShift’s strategies on recruiting and employee retention can help organizations as they try to hold onto their key workers.

“There are a whole bunch of fundamentals there that will allow them to maintain a meaningful number of employees,” he said.