Strategies to Boost Staff Satisfaction in Senior Care Communities

Given the ongoing staffing challenges that senior care communities face, as well as the cost of training new staff, many communities simply can’t afford to lose staff. Investing in staff satisfaction not only helps senior care communities improve their employee retention rates, but also plays an important role in the quality of care they provide. Fortunately, there are numerous ways that communities can take an active role in supporting staff and maximizing overall satisfaction.

The Importance of Staff Satisfaction and Morale

Mark Tapper

Mark Tapper, director of Nursing Services at Wake Robin

Mark Tapper, director of Nursing Services at Wake Robin, explains that staff satisfaction directly correlates with staff performance and quality of care. “Caregiving is a very emotionally challenging and draining job and we give ourselves to other people all day long, and if you’re not feeling it, you’re not going to convey that positive energy to the resident either,” he says. “Ultimately, all caregiving is about a connection with the person you’re taking care of.”

In long-term care settings, staff see residents over extended periods of time, leading them to develop relationships with residents. When staff aren’t happy about going to work, it can have an enormous effect on those relationships and the care staff are able to provide.

Fran Casey, chief people officer at Goodwin Living, takes a slightly different approach. “At Goodwin Living, we focus on engagement vs. satisfaction, because you can have a team member who is satisfied yet not aligned with the exceptional service and care we seek to provide,” she explains. Supporting team members is written into Goodwin Living’s mission statement. “In our experience, team members who have a strong sense of purpose in their jobs have higher engagement levels,” Casey notes. “In turn, higher engagement leads to higher morale, and that leads to lower turnover rates, longer tenure, and higher probabilities that team members will refer family and friends to jobs with Goodwin Living.” The residents benefit, in turn.

How Staffing Shortages Impact Staff Satisfaction

Casey explains that staffing shortages can have a significant impact on staff satisfaction. Asking team members to work short for a prolonged period of time can negatively impact morale. “We see team members stepping up to fill the shortages, though this can cause them to become tired and disengaged,” Casey says. In addition to providing consistent and predictable staffing to help prevent burnout and drops in engagement and morale, Goodwin Living shows team members that they appreciate their extra efforts during times when staffing is limited. For example, the entire leadership team will visit overnight teams to thank them for their service as part of their March Madness appreciation effort.

Tapper explains that when communities aren’t adequately staffed, staff often can’t do a good enough job to be satisfied with their work. “This is the kind of work where people really want to leave feeling that they had a positive impact on the people they’re caring for,” he says. If staff are strained trying to get their basic tasks done, they don’t have time to spend engaging with residents, which can lead to frustration and can detract from their overall job satisfaction. “If you don’t allow staff that engagement, they’re not getting as much out of it and then the money becomes a much bigger issue,” Tapper says, “and people can’t do a job they’re proud of that nourishes them.”

How to Measure Staff Satisfaction

Casey encourages senior care communities to conduct pulse surveys, hold focus groups, and conduct an annual engagement survey. “It is important that when you ask for feedback, you share the results (whether good or bad), and create working groups to address the issues raised,” she explains. “It is vital that you report back to the teams that shared the information. This will let them know their voices were heard and that their opinion matters.”

In addition to surveys and meetings with large groups of staff, Tapper highlights the value of performing regular check-ins. “The check-in isn’t an evaluation,” he says. “It’s a question about how are you doing here, how can we make your life better, what’s challenging, and what’s working for you?”

Strategies to Boost Staff Satisfaction

Tapper explains that Wake Robin focuses on providing staff with generous benefits, including a generous number of days off. More importantly, the community works to ensure that staff actually take that time off. “We have a scheduler who’s really dedicated to making sure everybody gets their vacation,” he says.

He notes that he’s a proponent of 12-hour shifts, though Wake Robin doesn’t use them. “I think people are seeing the real advantage to having more non-work days to do the other important things they have to do in their lives,” he says, explaining that such shifts give staff more time away from work to recharge, allowing them to return to work focused.

Casey explains that Goodwin Living asks questions, listens, and responds to staff. “When we are not able to move forward with a request, we respond in a transparent manner and explain why, which builds trust,” she says.

As a result, the community has implemented the following programs in the last year, nearly all of which are based on team member feedback:

  • Student Loan Repayment: In January, the community introduced an expanded student loan repayment program for clinical team members.
  • Increased Citizenship and DACA Assistance: In 2023, Goodwin Living expanded this financial support to two family members of each full-time or part-time team member who has been with the community for at least one year.
  • Bereavement Leave: Bereavement Leave increased from 2 days to 5 days for the loss of an immediate family member, and from 2 days to 3 days for the loss of non-immediate family members.
  • PTO: The waiting period for taking PTO was eliminated.
  • Dental Benefits: Beginning Jan. 1, 2024, Goodwin Living expanded the benefits available under dental coverage through a new insurance provider and plan.
  • Tuition Assistance: In January 2023, Goodwin Living increased the amount of tuition assistance to a maximum amount of $5,250 annually for full-time team members who have been with Goodwin Living for at least two years, and $2,626 for part-time team members who have been with the community for two or more years. This benefit can apply to college courses or specialized training programs.

Other Goodwin Living staff supports include:

  • Career Pathfinder Programs that provide staff with growth opportunities within the organization.
  • Paid internship opportunities for the children of team members who receive a Goodwin Living Foundation Scholarship.
  • Immigration support, including the funding of Citizen Application Fees, Green Card Renewal Fees, and Work Permit Renewal fees for team members through the Goodwin Living Foundation.
  • Wellness programs including financial planning, mental health awareness, self-defense and exercise classes, and more.

Budget-Friendly Ways to Support Staff Satisfaction

Casey explains that some of the most beneficial engagement strategies are free. For example, send staff a written note of thanks, citing the specific action the team member took, and thank them. Management can create fun and inclusive events where team members engage in a non-work-related activity.

“Engage team members in problem solving – the ones closest to the program are often the best ones to help you improve the process,” she says. “Provide opportunities for education, shadowing, and development.”

Ultimately, it’s essential to collect staff feedback, which can better inform the organization about the types of support staff need and want. “From formal surveys to less formal everyday interactions that supervisors and leaders have with team members, it’s important to keep an eye and ear out for feedback that can lead to better outcomes for everyone,” says Casey. “This is key to any organization’s success.”

Topics: Featured Articles , Leadership , Staffing , Surveys , Training