Staffing for Senior Care: 5 Tips for Winning the Struggle to Find Good Talent

In senior care, good staffing is crucial. Your staff is on the frontlines, interfacing with residents and caring for their physical and emotional wellbeing.

But finding good, trustworthy employees can be a challenge. Senior care requires a special type of person, one who’s empathetic, hardworking, and willing to go the extra mile. Here’s how to attract and hold onto top talent when staffing for senior care.

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Employee recruitment and retention is a top challenge for any industry, especially in the healthcare field. After all, the job can be challenging, at times thankless, and requires a substantial emotional investment. It calls for a particular type of temperament.

So when staffing for senior care, how can you attract the right people and ensure they’re trustworthy and diligent when it comes to patient care? Your employees will be working with some of the most vulnerable patients, protecting their health, and nurturing their wellbeing. They must have integrity and a strong work ethic.

Here’s what facility managers and owners need to know about staffing for senior care. Find and retain the right talent for your residents.

Why Staff Turnover in Senior Care is a Problem

High staff turnover in senior care isn’t a new issue. While the past several years, especially 2020, were challenging for senior living staff. The industry already had a higher voluntary termination percentage (as in, people who decide to quit) than many other service-based industries. The job is often difficult physically, but moreover, emotionally. The people (compassionate, empathetic) drawn to senior care are the same who are prone to burnout and exhaustion.

For senior living facilities, this high turnover rate is costly and challenging. To replace a senior care employee, facilities are looking at costs between $3,500-5,000. In addition to the financial toll, turnover compromises care and institutional memory. Suddenly short-staffed facility managers must put a higher burden on the remaining staff to cover shifts and make up the gap.

Short staffing can lead to mistakes and damage company morale. Employees feel burnt out and stressed out. Meanwhile, managers don’t have time to go through the proper recruitment and hiring due diligence because they’re also stretched thin. In turn, new employees are under-screened and under-trained, and the cycle continues.

These challenges not only impact staff but can significantly impact residents as well. Because long-term care requires a close connection with the patients being served, staff and patients often develop a strong bond. The loss of a staff member may be felt deeply by residents or patients at the facility. Simultaneously, in senior care, the loss of residents is also common and can be painful and challenging for staff members to face.

How can facility managers and owners create a supportive, caring environment for staff and residents? How can you take measures in your hiring and onboarding to set up team members for success? Similarly, how do you help combat burnout and foster buy-in for staffing in senior care?

1. Identify What Sets Your Facility Apart

Good staff in your senior care facility can set your facility apart from the rest.Each senior care facility is unique. Maybe you have a small number of residents, a gorgeous facility, a unique approach to programming, or another impressive draw. You should always highlight your value proposition to potential staff when you recruit.

Often senior care facility leadership is excellent at promoting the facility to potential residents and their families. What if you took the same approach to recruiting new staff? Highlight the culture and the wonderful offerings that you provide at your senior care facility.

Of course, senior care staff always appreciate the traditional job perks as well. If you offer a generous benefits package, flexible scheduling, or a higher-than-typical salary, make that part of your promotion as well. With staffing struggles, it’s not unusual to see the same staff rotate around several area facilities. Emphasize your best features to help talented workers choose you.

2. Interview and Onboard Thoroughly

While about 74% of organizations report that they have a formal background check policy, all it takes is one bad apple to slip through the cracks and cause your facility significant problems (and even liabilities). Thorough interviewing and onboarding are a critical part of hiring the right senior care staffing for your facility.

In most cases, you’ll want to conduct several rounds of interviews. The initial interview may be a video option for the convenience and safety of all. Ask the hard questions in the interview, including have you ever mistreated a patient? Have you been written up at a job, and why? Have you ever been fired? Have you ever been intoxicated at your job? Some questions may seem over-the-top, even awkward, but the answers can be very telling (and many employers don’t ask!).

As the connection progresses and the employee seems like a great potential fit, conduct a thorough background check. Follow your organization’s HR guidelines and legal advisors, but usually, this includes checking work history, criminal history, verifying certifications, and possibly running a credit history as well. It may feel like a lot of effort to put forth on the front end (especially when employees may or may not work out), but demonstrating a commitment to a thorough interviewing process is another marker of a great potential employee.

3. Train and Empower Your Employees

When you’ve found a great hire and are ready to take the next step in staffing for senior care, be sure to set your new employee up for success. Hiring is a great time to do a quick check and assess all your internal processes and documentation. Do you have thorough job descriptions in place? Do you have procedures and protocols clearly documented? How is your emergency response plan?

Many employees feel lost when they get into new or intense situations on the job and don’t have the right training. For some employees, these are make-or-break moments that can make them seek employment elsewhere. Untrained employees are also a significant liability for your facility and the safety of your residents.

During the onboarding and training process, keep communication open and take time to answer all questions. Ensure that, at minimum, new staff members know who they should contact for help and what they should do in case of an emergency. This response training should extend to every staff member from cafeteria and maintenance workers to nursing staff, reception, and leadership.

4. Empower and Listen to Employees

Staff your senior care facility with those who have a genuine passion for caregivingIn a study of public administration employees, empowering staff greatly reduced turnover. Empowerment has become a buzzword among HR professionals these days because they know it’s the secret to keeping on great staff.

What does empowerment mean for your employees? It means that they have the knowledge and tools to confidently make decisions throughout their workday without fear of negative consequences or backlash. Not every decision every employee makes is perfect, of course, but if you’ve trained your employees properly, they should be able to assess when they can take care of something versus when they need to request help.

Micromanagement and too much oversight, on the other hand, can leave employees feeling unheard and like they don’t really matter. In staffing for senior care, this translates to a lack of initiative and higher employee turnover. Communication is crucial between management and staff. Leadership should know how to listen and guide without shame, blame, or letting their personal frustrations flair. If this sounds like a challenge for your team, it may be time for more training across the board.

5. Focus on Team Building and Bringing Joy to the Job

If you want to lower employee turnover and keep your great employees happy, it’s essential to focus on the joy of your job. Senior care can be richly rewarding. Care providers often experience a great sense of purpose and commitment to those in their care. It’s an industry built on relationships and human connection, making it an excellent fit for kind-hearted and service-minded individuals.

In the drudgery and frustrations of day-to-day work, the positives of working in senior care may fall by the wayside. Leadership gets busy, and workforce retention slips to the backburner. But offering a few fun acknowledgments and appreciation can go a long way toward boosting staff morale.

Consider offering staff free meals, treats, or activities. Classes for stress-reduction techniques like mindfulness, yoga, or offering chair massages can be a helpful way to let staff know that you see them and notice their efforts. Encourage staff to communicate with leadership when there’s a concern or a problem BEFORE it gets out of hand. Often, little irritations build up until a good staff member is ready to quit when a minor intervention reduces stress.

6. Learn from and Listen to Those Who Leave

the key to finding great staff for senior care is to find those who love to spread happiness to residents.Finally, if you’re looking for best practices in staffing for senior care, conduct exit interviews! When staff is on the way out, it can be hard not to dismiss their concerns and just let them go. But these staff members are leaving with valuable insight into what could have made them stay. Perhaps it’s too late to convince them to stay on board, but it might prevent future turnover, and that’s huge.

A well-conducted exit interview can offer you many insights into issues that leadership may not otherwise recognize. Of course, it’s hard for employees to be brutally honest in their exit interviews (many are concerned about keeping positive references or don’t want to burn a bridge), but encourage them to be as candid as possible.

Find out why they’re leaving and, if possible, what drew them to their new employment. If it’s more competitive pay or a robust benefits package, you may not be able to match it, but it will give you insight into future adjustments you need to make. For company culture issues, do your best to address these concerns from now on to ensure you retain other great employees for as long as possible.

At the end of the day, it’s worth extra effort around hiring, training, and staffing to attract excellent employees to your facility. Residents will be happier, healthier, and better served by excellent staff. You won’t lose valuable funds continually recruiting and hiring more staff, and you’ll experience better buy-in and commitment, which will ultimately translate to better care for residents.

When employees feel valued, they are more likely to stay at their current employment (and even take less money for more meaningful work). Senior care can be one of the most fulfilling and rewarding jobs in the world when done right. Encourage and validate employees to bring out the best in your staff.