A illustration of a woman meditating while five people appear to be rushing and working behind her
A call for workplace wellness
by Miriam Lieber and Scott Stone

A mass exodus of disgruntled employees has caused an unprecedented staffing shortage. According to a report by Microsoft, 40% of employees plan to leave their jobs within the next year, and a study by Employ found that 30% of new employees depart within the first 90 days.

This trend has significant consequences for businesses, with some estimates suggesting it can cost anywhere from 50% to 200% of a yearly salary to replace an employee. The home medical equipment (HME) community is not exempt from this relentless and costly staffing shortage.

Much of the research searching for the root cause of the issue has shown people don’t quit their job because of salary—they quit because of a direct leader. After the cost of goods, personnel costs (including hiring and firing) are the second-highest costs for businesses.

In addition to high turnover rates, employees are also experiencing absenteeism, a lack of work ethic, complacency and burnout. A Gallup poll found three out of four employees feel burnout. This statistic hits close to home when you imagine your team members’ job responsibilities alongside the other roles they play in life (spouse, parent, mentor, etc.). HME businesses need to take action to address and ameliorate these issues. But where should they start?

Lagging Versus Leading Indicators

To address the challenges of high turnover rates and burnout, businesses should focus on leading indicators rather than lagging indicators. Lagging indicators, such as profit and productivity, are important but are the result of other factors such as leadership and culture. Therefore, if HME businesses spend more time on employee contentment and workplace culture, outcomes should drive improved productivity and profitability.

However, achieving employee contentment requires more than just a good salary; it requires leaders to motivate and inspire others. The notion that if you better serve your employees, they will better serve the patient is a mindset more leaders should adopt. Here are four ways businesses can improve employee retention and foster a culture of workplace wellness.

1. Create a sense of belonging.

A critical factor in fostering employee satisfaction is creating a sense of belonging among your staff. People want to feel like they are part of something larger than themselves, and when they feel like they belong, they are more likely to be invested in the success of the business. Research by Shawn Achor, author of “The Happiness Advantage,” has shown societal support structures—such as a sense of community—establish engagement, happiness and success.

Further, businesses need to ensure that employees understand how their roles contribute to the mission of the company. This requires a shift from a task-oriented mindset to an owner mentality. One of the easiest ways to create a sense of belonging is demonstrating how one’s role rolls up to the company mission. In one example, starting in the pandemic, the CEO of a large HME company began holding daily companywide huddles or check-ins via Zoom. He began each short 15-minute meeting with a recitation of the company mission. Since then, the staff understands the importance of the mission along with its objectives.

Another way to know if an employee feels a sense of belonging is to conduct periodic performance reviews to provide regular feedback to employees on how they are contributing to the success of the business.

Finally, another HME company uses Gallup Employee Engagement surveys, and among the myriad of questions is, “Do you have a close friend at work (someone you see outside of work or someone you can confide in?)” The answer to this question informs the sense of belonging in an
HME company.

2. Provide tools for total wellness.

Mental, physical and emotional health have become increasingly challenged since the pandemic. In addition to surveys and performance reviews and measures, businesses should provide tools and resources to combat this. As a case in point, in 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared job-related stress as the No. 1 workplace health problem, costing employers more than $225 billion each year in productivity losses. Specifically, 51% of employees surveyed by Oracle said their companies have added new mental health services. In another example, Business Insider calls mental health benefits one of America’s “most competitive advantages.”

As you examine this, realize that providing mental health benefits does not have to be costly. Apps such as Headspace, Insight Timer, Calm and Othership focus on breath work and meditation and are free or cost around $10 per person per month (for non-corporate pricing). These services aim to help regulate the nervous system, thus improving mental health, focus and productivity. Some programs will even reimburse for gym memberships.

Also important is to offer EAP (Employee Assistance Program) benefits for mental health support such as counseling or therapy. Communicate to staff that these programs and their benefits exist since fewer than 10% of EAP programs are actually used by employees.

3. Be people focused.

COVID-19 inspired many business owners to reflect on and reevaluate the people and systems that make up their companies. For example, new hybrid work environments and software services to manage the complexities of work from home have become commonplace. For some, this is an organizational fit, while for others, it does not work and staff are required to report to work in person.

Either way, make sure to measure employee engagement, as mentioned above. It is difficult to improve that which you do not measure. Conducting corporate surveys and exit interviews can help leaders understand what’s working and what’s not. The Gallup Engagement Survey, for example, can help businesses determine how engaged their employees are and identify areas for improvement. Your employees are your most important customer, and it’s crucial to treat them well. When employees are treated well, they are more likely to treat your patients well.

4. Prioritize, model & live wellness.

Improving workplace wellness requires a top-down approach. Leaders must prioritize it and live it. Training programs and systems that focus on integration are crucial, as 75% of employees forget a training’s content after 24 hours and 90% after one month. As we work with HME companies across the country, one of the recurring themes when asking about pain points is a lack of training. By creating standard operating procedures, and implementing training programs, documents and software (using programs and learning management systems like TalentLMS, Rise, Google Classroom), you will better engage new and existing staff in addition to creating a more consistent structure and knowledge base.

Beyond that, recurring touch points and reminders create a culture of consistency on the road to wellness. Rewarding employees who embrace change can lead to a more positive workplace culture. Rewards do not have to be monetary—employees love recognition. A token custom coffee drink and a hand-written thank-you note travel far in the types of gestures that are meaningful for staff. Recognizing innovation that comes from front-line staff versus leadership shows the management team is in touch with the pulse of the organization and respects and trusts employees as change agents.

Improving workplace culture is essential for businesses to thrive. When employees feel supported, they are more likely to be engaged and productive. Serving the employee will better serve the patient and customer. Motivating staff to want to belong and contribute to the company is further confirmation you have developed staff to represent your company as owners. Regularly checking in with employees and conducting periodic surveys along with action items demonstrates your willingness to listen to their feedback on how to improve the work environment. Finally, provide tools and resources to address the mental health focus of your company to signify your commitment to this effort.

In an era where work ethic has waned and work-life balance is at the forefront of most employees’ minds, prioritizing people and workplace wellness is prioritizing cash flow and an improved bottom line.

Miriam Lieber is president of Lieber Consulting, LLC, a leading HME business management consultant and a member of HomeCare’s Editorial Advisory Board. She can be reached at miriam@lieberconsulting.com or (818) 692-1626. Visit lieberconsulting.com.

Scott Stone is president of Moat, a corporate culture and workplace wellness company, and Community Conscious, a disability-focused marketing agency. He can be reached at scott@buildyourmoat.com or (248) 842-1070. Visit buildyourmoat.com.