The demand for care is outpacing the rate at which people are entering the workforce, and the need for homecare shift workers continues to grow. These shift workers provide crucial medical and personal assistance to elderly, disabled and chronically ill people in the comfort of their own homes. While this work is vital to the health care sector, schedules involve constant rotation and nonstandard and unpredictable work hours. For many, work starts early and finishes late.
These irregular work dynamics affect the physical and mental health of homecare workers, but the presence of good work conditions can help mitigate the risks associated with health care shift work. In this article, we’ll look at eight possible ways to improve working conditions for health care shift workers.
1. Use data analytics to identify & monitor risks.
Now is the time to leverage health care data. With the adoption of electronic health records, providers have access to large quantities of data—which allows employers to identify where accidents occur during shifts. This presents new opportunities for tracking and improving homecare working conditions. The right data can also provide objective information for improving work conditions. This insight will facilitate better work outcomes for homecare shift workers.
2. Implement flexible scheduling.
Flexible shift scheduling helps facilitate work-life balance. This approach allows supervisors to determine work schedule needs in advance and empowers workers to select and swap shifts on their own.
Furthermore, the right scheduling tool will allow shift workers to discuss their work dynamics and needs via an employee app. Schedule transparency and flexibility are the top perks in shift work, so homecare management should consider integrating these scheduling improvements into the work of homecare providers. For health care management, this approach leads to faster and more efficient scheduling. It reconciles worker needs and organizational requirements, creating a win-win situation.
3. Hire extra workers.
There are significant shortages of staff in health care, which are often made up with overtime for existing employees. This exerts further pressure and strain on your current staff. Shift lengths are extended and rest periods in between shifts are reduced. This affects not only the physical and mental health of your staff, but patient outcomes as well.
Instead of relying on overtime to fill in for staff shortages, you should hire more workers, especially during peak periods. This will help reduce the workload of the existing staff and limit their fatigue and occupational accidents. The ultimate result is better patient outcomes.
4. Prioritize safety.
Homecare workers face a wide range of occupational risks, including chemical, biological, ergonomic, physical and psychosocial hazards. For example, when the COVID-19 pandemic started, most homecare workers did not have sufficient personal protective equipment, even as agencies took on the care of COVID-19 patients.
Homecare work is also physically challenging. Many clients rely on their caregivers for mobility assistance, and many work accidents have been reported during the process of transferring patients. Back injury claims alone have cost health care providers billions of dollars.
Therefore, it is essential for worker safety to be on the agenda when it comes to homecare management. The working environment should be monitored and protective equipment must be provided. In addition, ergonomics training must be compulsory for all homecare workers to reduce workplace injuries. For this to succeed, you must update your agency’s health and safety policies to ensure the full protection of workers.
5. Offer resilience training.
It’s an unfortunate reality that stress comes with a homecare worker’s duties. The job isn’t just technical, it is also relational. Sometimes, workers experience verbal abuse from their patients, but must remain calm to provide patient care. This emotional labor can lead to anxiety and depression—and ultimately, burnout.
To cope with the relational aspect of the homecare job, resilience training is the solution. Resilience training programs empower caregivers with the tools and resources to maintain emotional health and social relationships in their jobs, so that they thrive even in the most stressful working conditions. They also improve their ability to bounce back from traumatic work events. To support the mental health needs of your employees, regular resilience training is a necessity.
6. Invest in the sector.
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed how unprepared most health care institutions—including homecare providers—were for a major public health crisis. There were shortages of staff, equipment and beds, which made the work of homecare providers and caregivers even more difficult as they accepted COVID-19 patients from overcrowded hospitals.
Going forward, homecare working conditions need to be reimagined. To reduce staff shortages and improve worker and patient safety, more funding must be directed to the homecare sector. These funds must also equip workers with the resources for better ergonomics in their work. In fact, the challenges faced by all health care workers during this pandemic must inform this transformation—should another outbreak occur, the homecare sector should be better prepared. The good news is that the Biden administration’s Build Back Better Plan includes $150 billion for home- and community-based services, which signals a significant investment in the home-based care industry.
7. Partner with various stakeholders.
Homecare owners cannot solve the challenges of working conditions alone. To build a responsive and safe health care work environment, everyone must get involved. Partner with government stakeholders to drive payment reforms for homecare. To make homecare work more attractive to potential new hires, it is important to provide these essential workers with better wages. Furthermore, partnerships with health tech giants will also help to equip homecare with advanced digital technology to improve responsiveness to emergencies.
8. Show support & recognition.
Homecare employees often go beyond the call of duty. As first responders in the COVID-19 crisis, they risked their lives for the safety of some of the most vulnerable patients. This extraordinary work deserves appreciation and support from everyone, especially their employers.
Managers should build a work environment where shift workers get recognition for the valuable work they do. A simple “thank you” and positive feedback help to create favorable work conditions. Even better, offer professional development opportunities to shift workers to support their career aspirations. This will improve employee retention, because most employees value favorable work conditions compared to other aspects of the job.
A holistic approach to improving homecare working conditions is effective because it addresses all aspects of the work environment. However, keep in mind that proactive strategies work better in health care because they drive preparedness. Equally important is worker participation in the whole improvement process—their input matters.