Senior living and care leaders continue to navigate the effects of COVID-19 on their organizations, staff members and the individuals they care for. In the midst of this global health crisis, long-term care organizations now are facing unprecedented staffing challenges due to a variety of factors, including burnout and stress.

The reality is, there are a plethora of open positions within the industry, making this a critical situation where leaders need to make decisive changes. Let’s take a look at a few strategies that can be implemented to hire and retain talent in the near term.

Support the well-being of staff members

First things first, it begins with taking care of your current staff. Those working in the healthcare industry have been on the front lines and caring for others during this stressful time. Although it takes a special kind of person to selflessly do so, this level of stress is undoubtedly affecting workers’ mental health on the job. There’s no magic button to make employee stress go away, but senior living and care leaders can do their part to have a positive impact by fostering an open and empathetic work environment.

What staff members really need to thrive in today’s stressful work times is a culture of support, flexibility, understanding and inclusion. This trickles down from the top — from leaders to supervisors to care team members. Feeling appreciated for what you do, day in and day out, can go a long way for job satisfaction and overall wellbeing, more than a free lunch ever could do.

If you aren’t taking the necessary steps to address the mental health and well-being of your employees, then retaining talent will be incredibly difficult during these times. Not to mention, by taking these steps, you also are ensuring that any new hires within the organization are coming into a healthy work environment where they will want to stay long-term.

Offer competitive pay and benefits

With any job, being properly compensated and offering other financial and medical benefits is increasingly contributing to worker retention as well. The same goes for employees currently working at senior living and care organizations or those looking for jobs in the industry.

In addition to offering competitive wages and being transparent about the pay range at the onset, share information regarding the other benefits that are a priority for workers today. What benefits are you offering that others in the industry are not? These include health benefits, mental health support and work/life balance, but also mentorship programs, flexible hours and self-scheduling.

Execute a referral bonus program

Another way to recruit new talent while also supporting current staff members is to create a compelling referral bonus program. After all, your current team members can be your organization’s best testimonial. And both parties benefit from this type of program.

Encourage staff members to contact friends and acquaintances who are seeking new employment in senior living. Then, thank your employees for doing so with rewards like cash, gift cards or another incentive of your choosing.

Although pre-pandemic programs typically had a 90-day payout, waiving this delay during such unprecedented times is recommended.

Leverage your networks

Similar to tapping employees to help bring in new talent, senior leaders also should leverage their own networks. Relationships with universities, community colleges and certified nursing assistant training programs can be valuable to get in front of new workers before they’re even looking.

It also is worth considering how else you may be able to get involved within the community to develop further connections while also building brand awareness for your organization. For example, if you are hosting a mental health workshop for your team members, you may consider inviting college students or nurse educators to the session.

Highlight your differentiators

In the end, senior living and care leaders need to be thinking about what makes their organizations different from competitors. What makes your organization unique? Why would someone want to work for you? How are you keeping employees safe? Think through the answers to these questions, and communicate that message through multiple channels (social media, your website, hiring platforms, advertising materials, etc.).

Chances are that your competitors also are actively hiring. So standing out, while showcasing professionalism to grab jobseekers’ attention, is key to getting ahead.

The truth is, tough times don’t last, but tough people do. Leaders at senior living organizations who prioritize their current employees’ needs and create a supportive work culture, while using creative tactics to seek out new talent, will be set up for success now and beyond the pandemic.

Bette McNee is a senior clinical risk management consultant with Graham Company.

The opinions expressed in each McKnight’s Senior Living guest column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Senior Living.

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