Tackling Staff Turnover: A Novel Approach
| Tackling staff turnover: A novel approach|
This innovative program helps entry-level employees surmount life’s roadblocks to stay on the job
BY LINDA ZINN, EDITOR
| Starting a new job can be a bit daunting for anyone. There are new schedules to follow and new information to learn, not to mention new people to get to know. Add to those challenges unreliable transportation, overwhelmingly expensive childcare, and no savings for emergencies, and you’ll have atypical scenario for people starting lowwage, entry-level jobs such as those found in long-term care. This scenario also accounts, in large part, for the high rate of turnover for these jobs.|
Achieve, a job-retention program based in Cuyahoga County, Ohio (Cleveland area), is trying to rewrite the script for a better ending. Currently targeting the long-term care workplace, its goals are to “increase entry-level employee retention, promote skill building for employee success, and reduce employee absenteeism and turnover.”
This unique program pairs social workers and job coaches with long-term care employers to help recently hired low-wage, entry-level workers keep their jobs. The program defines a “low wage” as anything less than $13 an hour, but the employees Achieve currently serves are making an average of just $8.59 an hour. The program is also designed to encourage low-wage workers to set their sights higher for future advancement, which in turn also improves job retention. Most of the employees served by Achieve are single minority women with children; almost a third lack a high school diploma or GED certificate.
Achieve was developed by Towards Employment, a nonprofit organization in Cleveland that helps low-income people find and maintain employment. According to Towards Employment’s Director of Retention Services and Program Development Jill Rizika, what makes Achieve unique is that besides serving employees, Achieve views employers as its clients, as well.
Also unique is the fact that Achieve’s services are work-site based. Its case managers, called Achieve Advisors, keep office hours each week at the nursing homes where they serve. They are also available by telephone around the clock, seven days a week. Currently, 11 Northeast Ohio long-term care facilities (both nonprofit and for-profit) are participating in the Achieve program.
In addition to their regular office hours, Achieve Advisors hold 30- to 45-minute interactive “Lunch & Learn” education sessions at each facility every other week that feature either a speaker or a skill-building presentation. These sessions are held on more than one shift, so that all workers can take advantage of them. They cover a wide range of topics within four core competencies (Personal Wellness, Workplace Skills, Money Matters, and Continuing Education). Among employees’ favorite topics have been personal budgeting, understanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, dealing with difficult people in the workplace, goal setting, and stress management.
Essential to encouraging participation in these sessions, Rizika says, are “recognition, food, and fun.” The Lunch & Learn certificate program awards a certificate and a prize to participants who attend 10 sessions. Each session includes a free lunch and ends with a raffle, with prizes that are tied to the theme of the session, such as insulated lunch bags when a budgeting strategy called for bringing a lunch to work to save money, or a relaxation CD and candle for stress management. Phone cards and gift cards to local grocery stores are also popular prizes.
As part of Achieve’s service package to employers, the advisors also provide training to the frontline supervisors who oversee the day-to-day work of entry-level staff. The supervisory training, originally planned as a one-time, eight-hour workshop, with a short follow-up session after six months, has been so well received that several nursing homes have requested additional sessions, to cover specific issues or to provide the training to newly employed supervisors.
Sometimes advisors perceive a conflict between an employee and a supervisor that isn’t really the employee’s fault. In such cases, they might offer supervisory training to the worker and supervisor’s department, which lets them extend a helping hand without singling out a particular supervisor as being problematic.
Rizika points out that because employers know that Achieve staff hear about all kinds of concerns, the employers sometimes look to the advisors to share this information in order to better address those concerns. She says, “We need to be careful about keeping the identities of people who have complained confidential, but we can inform employers in a general way about concerns raised. For example, we might tell them, ‘At Lunch & Learn, everyone was up in arms about the schedule changes, and they don’t understand why the changes were made.’ This reveals to the administrator that there was a communication breakdown, which can then be corrected by providing an explanation.”
Achieve Advisors, in addition to helping employees build their job performance, improve their life skills, and adjust to new jobs, also provide supportive services. These might include assistance with childcare, transportation, uniforms, and other practical needs that might interfere with an employee’s attendance or job performance. Employees in the program have been assisted, for example, in repairing their credit, obtaining financing for continuing their education, starting a GED program, getting eyeglasses, learning how to manage their time better, and tapping into employee benefi ts.
For situations that require financial assistance, if Achieve doesn’t have the resources to help directly, its advisors refer people to other social service agencies in the community for help. Rizika explains: “Our general approach for the short term is to resolve the issue with direct support services or referrals to other agencies; for instance, we might help with a childcare payment until a longer-term plan has been developed. These resources are fairly limited and reserved for emergencies. In a limited number of cases, we have helped employees with larger payments, such as a late mortgage payment or a car repair bill.”
Rizika adds, “The long-term goal is to help employees examine their resources and devise plans and back-up plans for dealingwith issues that affect their ability to get to work on time and be ready to work. That might mean requesting a change of shift, for example, to ease an employee’s childcare burden. Of course, employees must be in good standing to request such a change, so the advisors encourage them to identify their goals and be aware that performing well will put them in a better position to ask for what they want.”
Achieve began in 2001 as a pilot program at five Northeast Ohio companies (including one nursing home) where a large number of low-wage, entry-level workers were hired and where turnover rates were high. Entry-level staff turnover was reduced by an average of 50% at the fi ve locations.
Based on the success of the pilot, Towards Employment wanted to expand its activities and include a rigorous evaluation component. In 2002, Achieve joined the Employment, Retention and Advancement (ERA) demonstration project, a national study of programs that help low-wage workers sustain employment and advance in the labor market, funded by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
One of 15 sites in eight states, Achieve is the only program in the study that partners with employers at the work site. It is also the only one that is run by a private, nonprofit agency, independent of the welfare system. Outcomes monitored will be retention rates of the employees participating in the study and turnover rates for all entry-level employees at each work site.
According to Rizika, the study is being conducted in two “Waves,” to provide a large enough sample size for statistical analysis. In Wave I, which began in the last quarter of 2002, 22 nursing homes in Northeast Ohio were chosen to participate in the study. These were randomly assigned either to participate in the Achieve program or to serve as controls. To participate in the study, a nursing home had to have hired 20 new low-wage, entry-level employees during the previous six months.
Individual employees at study facilities were included in the study based on the following criteria: on the job less than six months at the time of data collection, and employed in entry-level positions, defined for the nursing home industry as any position in the following five categories:
Topics: Articles , Facility management , Staffing