Reimagine Your Staff Retention Strategies

by Jeff Shaw

By Steven Leone, principal, Spiezle Architectural Group Inc. 

Staff retention has become a critical issue in today’s evolving work environment. Post-pandemic changes necessitate new strategies to attract and retain employees more effectively. The National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC) published data in May 2022 that showed the annual turnover across primary markets the organization tracks was about 85 percent. 

This article explores various methods that we currently use to attract and retain staff. What strategies have worked? What are the financial impacts? Does operational realignment and staff empowerment equal greater engagement? 

Today’s workforce

The pandemic has altered behaviors and work dynamics. Reconnecting as an organization and fostering engagement in a virtual environment is challenging but essential. 

The shift to remote work has removed organic conversations and touchpoints, highlighting the need for intentional engagement strategies. But how do we engage? 

The use of engagement surveys has revealed new needs and desires, prompting a reevaluation of organizational priorities. Understanding the evolving expectations of employees is crucial for developing effective retention strategies. 

Some may be motivated purely by financial concerns, so offering competitive compensation and benefits can alleviate some stress and improve overall job satisfaction. Other employees value flexibility and seek career growth opportunities. Providing flexible work arrangements and clear advancement paths can attract and retain this demographic.

What are we doing to attract and retain staff?

Many organizations are adopting a multifaceted approach to attract and retain staff, focusing on compensation, education, physical amenities and intangible benefits. These include:

  • Competitive compensation and benefits: Higher pay, advance access to wages, comprehensive health insurance, paid vacations, childcare and clear advancement opportunities are essential components of retention strategies. These types of benefits address the basic needs of employees and provide financial stability, which is especially crucial for those in lower-wage positions.
  • Education and training: Introducing healthcare careers at various educational levels, supporting immigrant labor through education and training, and developing a skilled labor pool are all essential for meeting future workforce needs.
  • Physical accommodations: Enhancing workplace facilities can significantly impact employee satisfaction. This includes adding quiet rooms, nap pads and improving overall staff amenities down to the quality of coffee provided. Such improvements create a more comfortable and supportive work environment, which can help reduce stress and burnout while reducing turnover.
  • Intangibles: Building personal connections and fostering a sense of purpose and belonging are critical. Offering pathways to advancement and revitalizing overworked staff through mentoring programs helps employees to feel valued and supported.
  • The ‘little things’: Providing perks like Uber rides and quality swag can enhance team spirit. Upgrading food quality and incorporating fun elements like food trucks and candy giveaways are small gestures that contribute to a positive work environment and make employees feel appreciated.
  • Policy: Continue to increase lobbying for quality-based metrics and an increase in reimbursement rates. Increase support and participation with trade groups and prioritize legislative advocacy. Find and/or cultivate relationships with legislative delegates internally, locally and at the state level.
This rendering shows a planned staff lounge expansion at Reformed Church Home. (Photo courtesy of Spiezle Architectural Group Inc.)

Which strategies have worked?

Several strategies have proven effective in improving staff retention, though many come with financial implications. 

Increasing wages and offering robust benefits packages have led to higher retention rates but also elevated operational costs. Despite the initial financial outlay, the long-term benefits of reduced turnover and increased employee loyalty can outweigh these costs. 

Investments in physical spaces, such as quiet rooms and amenity spaces, require upfront investment, but such investment can also foster a more pleasant and supportive work environment, which can lead to increased productivity and morale in turn.

Does it equal greater engagement?

Basic compensation and benefits, by this point, have been adjusted. The cost of doing business has elevated since the pandemic, but has now stabilized. However, continual rise in the cost of providing care, coupled with a diminished workforce, projects an unsustainable future. 

Engagement is now the most critical outcome that will lead to improved staff retention. Organizations must therefore develop formal plans supporting their existing strategies, measure the success of strategies in real time, survey staff, review metrics annually and then share these findings.

As far as policy is concerned, consider building internal (within your organization) legislative action committees to support trade organizations and legislators directly and to engage the people who are directly impacted — not just leadership.

The pandemic’s depletion of both the skilled and unskilled labor pools has not yet reversed to any significant degree. Labor resources are not increasing at rates high enough to keep pace with the need. We therefore need to educate and train people to build our own resource pools. 

Engagement strategies include developing or broadening formal mentoring programs to include various age groups, and volunteering. Organizations can also be part of the solution to undocumented immigrant labor by offering them education and training in exchange for supporting legalizing their residency. 

In a recent LeadingAge presentation, we even discussed whether or not it is possible to establish a center dedicated to training and educating individuals to serve the senior living industry specifically, which is lacking in personnel. That center could be a resource for labor, trained to mutually established standards, supported and funded by mutually agreeable organizations, for the self-fulfilling purpose of creating a labor pool available to participating organizations.

Quality of engagement equals quality of care

Ultimately, the essence of reimagining staff retention lies in recognizing that the quality of care and life for senior living residents is directly tied into the satisfaction and stability of the workforce. By implementing comprehensive strategies that address the diverse needs of employees — ranging from competitive compensation and benefits to personal growth and engagement — we create an environment where caregivers feel valued and empowered. This, in turn, translates into a higher quality of care for residents. 

Investing in our staff not only enhances their well-being but also ensures that residents receive compassionate, consistent and superior care. 

Steven Leone, AIA, LEED AP, is a principal at Spiezle Architectural Group Inc. He can be reached at [email protected]. 

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