Common Mistakes That Could Harm Your Staff Retention

Sarah Milanowski

Sarah Milanowski, enrollment and outreach coordinator, LifeCircles PACE

Given the staffing shortage in the senior care industry, improving staff retention is more important now than ever. But staff retention has other implications for senior care settings, particularly since staff tend to work together as tight-knit teams and residents and staff often develop strong bonds. Improving staff retention may take some deliberate effort, but it can benefit your community in many ways.

Factors That Contribute to Staff Decisions to Leave

When it comes to factors that contribute to employees deciding to leave a senior care community, Sarah Milanowski, L.M.S.W., enrollment and outreach coordinator at LifeCircles PACE, believes that culture is a major factor.

“I think when there are job opportunities that are a dime a dozen, people are choosing to work for a place that feels good,” she explains. “People want to wake up and be excited to go to work, and people in direct care are called to do this work. They want to give great care.” Milanowski notes that for employees to be able to give that care, their physical and emotional needs also must be met.

Tina Moullet, executive director of Rose Villa Senior Living, feels that pandemic fatigue is prompting many staff to resign. “The senior care industry has changed quite a bit with regulations, PPE requirements, staffing models, regulatory changes, and vaccine mandates,” she says. All of those factors contribute to pandemic fatigue. The pandemic has also required staff to reevaluate and reframe their visions of their day-to-day work. Even mask wearing, she explains, is a major change for staff who weren’t in healthcare settings where mask wearing was standard, pre-pandemic.

Moullet also notes that conflicts in core values and ethics can negatively impact staff retention. “If there’s any misalignment with an individual’s core values, that’s an opportunity for the person to seek employment elsewhere,” she says. “All employees, organizations, and leadership need to have a shared understanding about goals, ethics, and core values so everyone works toward the same goal.”

She also highlights the importance of seeing staff as individuals, and of understanding that their individual needs matter. “Employee appreciation looks very different these days,” says Moullet. “If we don’t prioritize an individual’s needs, then instead of feeling they’re a partner, they may feel a divide. That creates a wedge in the relationship and makes it easier for people to feel good about leaving.”

Common Staff Retention Mistakes to Avoid

Management mistakes can negatively impact your staff retention. Moullet notes that making assumptions can be particularly harmful. “We only know what we know about the labor market from what we can read, learn about from experts, and experience with our own staff. But instead of making assumptions based on the information we’re hearing from outside, we have to talk with every person who works in an organization. People want to feel valued, and that looks different for everyone. Appreciating, rewarding, feedback – what does that look like in your organization? If those practices aren’t woven into the culture, that’s a mistake.”

She encourages communities to find ways to involve staff, whether those are decision information workgroups, problem-solving groups, or another type of group or involvement opportunity. Then, it’s essential to take the feedback that you receive from employees and, most importantly, act on it. “Employees need to feel cared for, and seeing what’s happening as a result of their impact is critical.”

Milanowski also notes that managers play a key role in staff retention. “We know that most of the time, people don’t necessarily leave jobs – they leave managers,” she explains. “I think that the relationship you have with your team is the most important. If you’re so focused on the tasks and end objectives and putting out fires that you’re not seeing your staff, that’s one of the biggest issues with retention.” She notes that it’s essential to invest in quality leadership focused with a focus on emotional intelligence.

During the pandemic, it can be difficult to not adopt a reactionary leadership approach, but Milanowski highlights the importance of continuing to build trust, even when situations are changing. “Figure out how to temper the changes a little,” she suggests. “Set some benchmarks around what you can control. Give guideposts and some consistency and build that trust. Even if the waters continue to churn, this is what staff can count on.”

Best Practices in Staff Retention

To improve your staff retention, Milanowski advises giving your staff who are most connected to residents the opportunity make change and to have avenues for growth within your organization. “I think we often see a dead-end trajectory for some staff, but it’s not through their own fault – often, it’s the short-sighted culture in our own organization.”

Moullet also advocates for investing in staff both financially and emotionally. “Make sure that employees feel the empathy, that they’re being heard, and that there is definite action,” she recommends. “The more a leadership team can do to support staff so they feel that they’re part of the whole, the more cohesive the group will be. It’s harder to leave a group when it feels like it’s high-functioning, like everyone’s working toward the same goal, and there aren’t outliers feeling misrepresented or unheard.”

Topics: Featured Articles , Leadership , Staffing