Senior Care: Extraordinary Challenges Amid Rapid Growth

Senior Care

The main challenge for HR in senior care is to engage employees and thereby promote retention.

As the U.S. Population ages, demand for Senior Care Services is expected to soar. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that the number of U.S. residents aged 65 and older will reach 72 million in 2030, compared with only 43 million Americans in 2012. To meet the demands of a 67% increase in the elderly within two decades, this industry will need to grow proportionately.

For any industry, a 50% increase in staffing would be daunting, but Senior Care industry faces unique challenges. It takes highly engaged, trained staff to deliver the high standards of care and compassion expected by the elderly and their families, but retaining talent in the Senior Care field has never been easy. A study published by the National Institute of Health back in 2009 noted that "High rates of staff turnover in nursing homes is not a recent phenomenon ... rates have remained high (for) decades, often exceeding 100% for certified nurses' aides." The NIH study noted that high turnover was associated with staffing shortages, poor morale, and diminished quality of care, as a trade-off for marginal cost savings.

Senior Care Services have always faced severe cost constraints because a significant portion of industry revenues come from taxpayer funded government agencies and/or the personal savings from retirees. Because two thirds of operating costs for Senior Care are typically tied to Direct Labor, Senior Care facilities have limited options for offering competitive pay and benefits.

A salary survey published by WebMD in 2017 showed that registered nurses at long term care facilities earned, on average, 8.5% less than nurses working at in-patient hospitals. Senior Care facilities compete with other medical providers for key nursing staff, but cannot match pay.

With unemployment now at 4.1%, greater regulatory and social media oversight, and double-digit growth, the Senior Care Industry is rapidly facing a moment of truth. The traditional revolving door staffing model is obsolete, but the cost constraints remain. How do you create a low turnover work environment that promotes professionalism and career growth without exceeding budgets?

It starts with excellence in Human Capital Management. The Senior Care organizations that will thrive in this demanding new environment will excel at retention, training, and career development. Flexible, performance based compensation and work/life flexibility will be key to retaining the right staff while staying in budget.

What Double Digit Growth Means for Senior Care HR: A Need to Engage

For HR in senior care, the implications are clear: it's time to find new and better ways to engage scarce health care talent. And if you lose talent, you'll need to focus on succession planning and enhanced training in order to maintain operational continuity. In today's talent-hungry health care climate, a competitive human capital management strategy has to satisfy employees' expectations regarding compensation, benefits and organizational culture while improving patient outcomes and keeping costs under control.

A 2015 white paper from health care staffing consultants B.E. Smith offers an eye-opening statistic: the majority (51 percent, to be precise) of all health care workers reported being disengaged. So, what should health care HR leaders be doing to engage employees in a market where job opportunities abound?

Here are five methods to drive employee engagement.

1. Monitor and Incentivize Employee Engagement

Performance-based pay has been a major trend over the last few years throughout health care, and while metrics such as patient satisfaction and cost control should be incentivized, so should employee engagement. High turnover rates come with a high price, and a lack of employee engagement directly affects patient care and cost control. A Gallup poll found that higher levels of engagement by nurses led to lower patient mortality and fewer medical complications. As the old saying goes, "that which gets rewarded, gets done."

2. Leverage HCM technology as an Engagement-Driving Tool

Having HCM systems in place to track your employee engagement will offer you actionable, data-driven insights upon which you can make changes to drive higher engagement. Being able to identify your consistently high performers will help you give them the recognition they deserve and actively engage them for the long term. A culture of recognition/appreciation drives engagement, and your HCM systems can support these crucial transformation efforts.

3. Build a Leadership Pipeline

As complexity grows in health care, preparing your organization for changes on the horizon should be a top HR priority. Succession planning should combine an understanding of talent and technology in order to support investments to prepare your top performers. Organizations that invest in talent and strategically plan for the future will show their potential and future leaders that the organization is built for the long haul.

4. Foster Training and Development Opportunities

According to research from consultants Bersin & Associates, organizations that offer employee development plans see far better results in terms of employee retention and productivity. They have turnover rates that are 27 percent lower than organizations without development plans, and each "developed" employee generates twice the revenue of an undeveloped employee. When you invest in skills development, people perform better and stay longer.

5. Emphasize Your Life-Saving Mission

An organization's vital mission to save and improve the lives of patients can be highly engaging. Patient stories can inspire, as can stories of how health care employees have gone above and beyond the call of duty for patients. Such mission-aligned stories should be shared and celebrated throughout the organization. Stories matter, so use them to inspire you employees and remind them why they became health care professionals in the first place.

The main challenge for HR in senior care is to engage employees and thereby promote retention. With a strategic approach that aligns technology, recognition and mission, you should be able to rise above the competition and keep the employees who will drive your success for years to come. The benefits of happier and better-managed human capital will trickle down into better care for seniors, which is what great Senior Living Service is all about.