Jeff Bevis is co-founder and CEO of FirstLight Home Care, a top-rated nonmedical homecare provider with a network of offices that provides more than 100,000 hours per week in care for more than 4,700 clients in more than 33 states. FirstLight Home Care has an average annual employee retention rate of 84 percent across its entire network.
The first step in limiting turnover among your homecare employees is knowing your employees. This helps ensure they are working in an environment that is appropriate for them and doesn’t pose risks to their health or well-being. It should go without saying, but the finer details sometimes fall through the cracks.
Take allergies, for instance. If an employee informs you of an acute allergy to cats but is scheduled to see a client in a house teeming with felines, chances are that caregiver will hit the road, never to return. The impression is that your company does not follow through with its commitment to a work environment that is best suited to a person’s strengths and needs. Maybe even worse: The company showed itself untrustworthy, and trust is at the top of the list when it comes to retaining employees in the homecare industry.
This industry largely cannot afford such preventable departures of talent. The turnover rate in the homecare arena averages 50 to 60 percent. But cats happen, and so do other issues such as absenteeism and chronic tardiness. Some incidents leave only one option—the termination of an employee.
There are ways to reduce the churn and keep your best and brightest employees on board. It all starts with the hiring process.
Here are some keys to retaining employees and reducing turnover in what can too often be a temporary position for many:
Hire well. Making a good hire in the first place drives retention. Don’t try to pick your staff for the sake of quantity. Identify solid potential employees through skills assessments and measurements of their strengths and weaknesses. This can ensure you are placing a caregiver with the proper client in a mutually agreeable environment. Don’t force caregivers into environments they are uncomfortable with. Some prefer more limited personal interaction with clients, so don’t place them in an environment where they are under added pressure to communicate non-stop. And if they are allergic to cats, well, you know the rest of the story: Ensure you set the example as an employer who cares.
Respect your staff. A good company culture is at the very core of employee retention. Open communication and fostering a culture that promotes a caring environment is important, but be proactive. Don’t wait for a complaint to drop in a box or float your way via rumor. If your culture truly inspires trust and communication, employees will feel more comfortable coming to an owner or manager with a complaint or concern. Then the issue or perceived slight won’t fester into something more toxic.
Wages are only one factor. A common assumption is that if wages are higher, turnover is lower. This is not always the case. Wages are important, yes, but the homecare industry is not often home to employees who threaten to quit if they don’t receive a 10-cent raise. The main drivers in employee retention and loyalty are feeling appreciated, flexibility, giving back to the community and wages—in that order.
Put stock in online reviews. Many workplace criticisms come by way of anonymous former employees who left a company on negative terms, but feedback is feedback, and there are kernels of truth in every review. Someone in your company should be responsible for responding to complaints on employer review sites such as Glassdoor, and any complaints should be shared at all appropriate levels of management. Resources should be devoted to perusing employer-review sites, and responding to all comments, negative or positive, should be a daily priority.
Never stop recruiting. Labor market pressures are now a given with the low unemployment rates enjoyed in most areas of the United States. If your company is expanding or experiencing rapid growth, those staffing pressures only intensify. That’s why it is not only important to focus on retention of current employees but also to expand your recruiting horizons. Find new labor markets. More seniors want to re-enter the workforce, so take your message to them via senior centers, for instance. Qualified people can be found. You may need to work harder to find them, but potential employees are always out there.
Train relentlessly. Employees want to work for a company where they feel they have a future and a chance for advancement. Offering continuing education can communicate to staff that a company is investing in them. There will always be potential employees who just want to punch a clock, but providing staff with learning opportunities and professional development is key for retaining those who might want to move up the ladder and stay with you. Employees who feel vested in a company will work harder and strive for excellence more than those who don’t.
Maintain metrics. Measure retention and turnover on a monthly or quarterly basis. High turnover is ultimately going to affect your company’s bottom line in the time it takes to recruit, test, hire and train a new employee. Turnover metrics should be included when gauging the overall financial health of your company.
Know the warning signs. An unhappy employee generally telegraphs his or her dissatisfaction if supervisors are paying attention. Signs of an impending departure may include requesting more time off in the form of sick days or vacation, and communication gaps both in the office and in the field. Supervisors should engage such employees quickly. Such warning signs should ideally be recognized during daily or weekly communications. A good supervisor should be addressing any festering employee concerns on a daily basis.
Use technology well. Office technology should indeed make your employees work smarter, not harder. Make sure supervisors and office managers are well-trained in its use. Office technology can make scheduling easier and more equitable, improve interoffice communications, and allow employees to easily record time and mileage accrued on the job. Make sure employees are reimbursed promptly for work-related expenses. This shows you care about their out-of-pocket expenditures.
Strive for work-life balance. Good managers recognize that an employee’s quality of life outside the workplace is integral to his or her level of performance at work. Scheduling can be a challenge in the homecare industry, so do your best to ensure regular hours. You want to treat everyone equitably, of course, but special attention to scheduling should be afforded those employees with children or those with their own external challenges. Make sure employees are taking all days off available to them, and sprinkle your calendar with as many paid holidays as possible.
In the end, respect and accommodation are key to retention. Once an employee dreads a shift, it is the beginning of the end. If an employee feels valued and you create a positive company and office culture, they will appreciate you and want to come to work each day for you and your company.