Most caregivers – certified nurse assistants (CNAs), direct support professionals (DSPs), resident assistants, home health aides (HHAs), and others – find themselves taking care of our aging population with a variety of conditions; however, some disabilities can surprise and affect us at any age. There are many reasons behind the increasing need for hiring caregivers, but our retiring baby boomer population stands out. While it’s called by some as the 2030 Problem, we are already seeing the drain this has on our healthcare teams in 2018.
Furthermore, hiring managers usually have their hands tied with compensation. Besides budget constraints, they are also facing a job seeker market. Currently there are more jobs available than there are candidates to fill them. The competition is fierce for recruiting caregivers and they know it.
For these positions, we must remember that caregivers are devoting their work and livelihood to patients and it commonly carries over into their personal lives. So what can be offered besides more pay to keep staff engaged and cultivate longevity? What are the best ways to recruit caregivers?
We went straight to the source and interviewed several caregiving professionals to find out.
When asked how important salary is when searching for a new job, Nicholas Carpenter, a Direct DSP with seven years of experience, provided this holistic perspective:
"It is somewhat important to me. I have a family that depends on me but at the same time, I understand that it can be difficult to have a high-paying job in the non-profit industry. I look at the way the employer treats its employees. I would ask if I could speak to a couple of the employees and also a couple of the consumers to see how the work environment is and see how they are treated. If I found that I liked the answers, I would consider pursuing a job at that company."
Janeen Bafs, a 10-year Resident Assistant, noted that "salary is important but...insurance options are most important.” Karington Greenfield, a CNA of one year, stated, "The salary is not that important to me, it's more about the experience and the kids/and or residents." Debra Risner, a 25+ year CNA, summed it up this way: "The people who choose to be caregivers do so because it fulfills them in a way no other job could but the need for the paycheck is still there."
It’s not always about salary. There are a variety of additional factors that really matter to applicants/employees.
Besides higher compensation, how can an employer get caregiving employees to stay long-term?
“Showing appreciation in small ways, e.g. ‘you're doing a great job,’ or even ‘thank you for all you do.’ Simply saying those things could empower an employee in this field,” said Kaelah Teegardin, a DSP of 2 years.
“Be respectful towards employees. Give out a surprise bonus once a year or so. Show employees they are appreciated,” said an anonymous caregiver. Another confidential professional noted that “allowing us to be part of making decisions in our department” would go a long way to empower them.
Many caregivers are in agreement with Carpenter that “…being supportive of my career choices…furthering my career in the business by showing me how to move up…” would make them more likely to be a long-term employee.
Bafs sums it up well: “Show sincere interest in how well both the caregiver and the patient are coping with life changes. Be straightforward…with possible solutions to problems.”
In addition to appreciation, employers should be aware of the day-to-day challenges and hardships caregivers face as well. When it comes to retaining caregivers, you should have a clear understanding of what their job is truly like.
Risner mentioned “scheduling and sometimes the type of hands-on care required” as two daily difficulties in addition to “the possibility of injury that can happen to staff…unsafe work environments, lack of needed equipment in the homes...and time needed to do the job correctly.”
Carpenter elaborated more on the emotional aspect:
“It can be very emotionally trying at times. A lot of the consumers that I work with have had hard lives and different things (e.g. holidays) can be triggers for them and emotional outbursts and behaviors will happen but we may not even know what the problem is. So it is a process of elimination and trying to get them to talk to us to figure out what is going on to try and work things out in a positive way. Stress is a major part of my job. I have also had issues with spending time with my family at times because when you are in the healthcare business sometimes people don’t have family and they need staff to be with them.”
Two anonymous HHAs, working for the same home health agency, noted they started their position well aware of the lower wages; however, it was the disorganization in scheduling that caused them to leave. They both experienced getting double booked with clients more often than not.
Perhaps the largest, emotionally charged stress factor is summed up well by Teegardin: “The most difficult thing is watching someone pass that you've come to love and care about. That can turn a lot of people away from this field but you have to keep going for your other clients that you know and love as well.”
One of the best ways to recruit caregivers is to understand why they do what they do. To get to the heart of caregiving, we asked: “What is it about being a caregiver that makes you smile?”
Knowing the motivations of your team members will help you retain them (and ultimately retain clients for your business):
“Hearing laughter. It shows happiness. Even if there may be discord in their lives, having a light-hearted conversation usually takes their minds off negativity.” – Bafs
“Seeing my residents’ or the kids’ eyes light up when you walk in the room, or watching the kids learn a new skill that you taught them.”– Greenfield
“What makes me smile is knowing I am helping someone's family member feel better and that I’m providing moral support for that individual by encouraging them.” – Anonymous
“Watching your client excel…learn new things, have a breakthrough in treatment, and…learning with them every day.” – Teegardin
“I love seeing my consumers succeed. I like teaching them something and slowly taking my hands and myself away from the goal and watching them do it by themselves.” – Carpenter
“The ability to help someone in need. It is fulfilling in ways that you can’t get with other types of employment.” – Risner
Common threads in these answers are the ability to successfully support and positively impact their clients’ lives. Doing all you can to help your staff reach these goals will make all the difference in your ability to retain caregivers.
To summarize, here are 5 things you can do as an employer to attract and retain top-quality caregiving staff, even if a higher salary isn’t an option:
1. Treat employees with the respect they have worked diligently for, because word of mouth is huge when it comes to your employer brand. Talk to your employees. Be open with them and ask how you can help. If you bring them into the discussion, it shows you care. But don’t stop there: make sure to act on the information you receive.
2. Monitor current and past employee reviews and respond promptly to any negative feedback.
3. Be organized when it comes to scheduling. Put yourself in their shoes: they want to help their clients, and double booking them should not happen.
4. Offer support services, including but not limited to: grief counseling, financial/debt planning, stress management, and continuing education. To further motivate your staff, you could also have appreciation events, team contests, and more. Find ways to have fun together.
5. Create a desired culture. Ask your long-term employees what keeps them working for you. The more you involve your employees and show them how much you care, the more likely they will be loyal to you and want to stay the course as well as refer others to join your family. With this same information you can create job ads to get new caregivers interested in becoming part of your team.
Let’s face it – caregiving is hard. Caring for patients at a stage in their lives when they must hire outside help to carry on is just as heartbreaking as it is fulfilling. Emotional peaks and valleys continually endured by caregivers for the betterment of their patients are definitely causes for top commendation. Although medals are deserved, they have at least earned our respect – whether just starting their journey of a caregiving career or having persevered for the long haul.
While hiring and retaining top-performing staff in any field requires investment and dedication, it boils down to a pretty simple yet powerful concept for recruiting caregivers and keeping them on board. In only a few words, Greenfield says what most are likely thinking: “Treat me with respect.”