We’ve got a lot of pressure building in our system of care and services for the aging, and it will take a combination of solutions to relieve it.
Start with the fact that the workers required to see to older adults’ health and well-being are dealing with their own wellness issues — but they’re financial, not necessarily physical. One observer put it somewhat sourly — “We pay people $5 an hour more to care for our cats than to care for our mothers.” — in comparing wages of veterinarian technicians with those of home healthcare workers.
Indeed, pay and benefits have been a factor behind the skyrocketing turnover rate among nurses and aides in long-term care. In home healthcare, for instance, turnover has hit 60% annually. And current U.S. immigration policies compound the worker shortage, considering that 25% of the industry’s workers are immigrants.
Whether in home healthcare, senior living or skilled nursing, the need for direct care workers never has been more urgent, as 10,000 baby boomers a day will turn 65 until 2030, requiring some degree of care through the system. Although addressing public policy issues is another issue, the long-term care industry will have to find a way to address employee financial concerns to keep and attract employees in response to these trends.
That means pay needs to improve and benefits need to be rethought. With two-thirds of employees working part-time, they often don’t qualify for benefits. Yet stinting on either front is not going to win this war for your organization or its workers. In addition to the more pro forma benefits such as health plans, look at offers that address other pain points as well as those of your workers. These days, a holistic program of financial wellness benefits can be a big differentiator.
Consider the variety of financial pressures your targeted employees are dealing with. Start with making what they do earn stretch further. When 95% of earnings goes toward the basic expenses of life, there’s not a lot left for emergency expenses — and many workers use payday loans to bridge the gap. More than half of Americans say they would not be able to pay for an unexpected, $1,000 expense. They’re stressed over ailing family members and covering medical costs, and school and car loans, too. So it’s not surprising that retirement may seem an unattainable goal.
It’s difficult not to take those pressures to work — and employees do, missing an average of 4.4 more workdays and being disengaged on the job 12.5 more days than those without financial stress. In the process, your operating costs increase with escalating absenteeism and “presenteeism” rates.
There are various ways for employers in the long-term care sector to design financial wellness strategies and programs that will stand out. They can be offered as affordable employee or employer-paid voluntary or group benefits. But you’ll get your best results by determining which generations comprise your employee base and streamlining benefits accordingly, in combination with programs that have universal appeal.
- Student loan assistance. The cost of post-secondary education is a huge and growing burden. The issue mostly is associated with millennials, but it’s actually shared across the generations as people look to better themselves personally and professionally. Employers can sponsor a variety of programs to help employees cover these costs, from loan consolidation or refinancing programs to services that offer online tools for evaluating options for managing the debt. Others are set up for employer contributions to the loan balance, with the amount tied to the employee’s years of service.
- Employee purchasing programs, or EPPs. When people are financially pressured and confronted with unexpected expenses — say a refrigerator dies or the furnace goes out — they may take on more high-interest credit card debt to manage. With employee purchasing programs, paycheck deductions cover such purchases over time, for several brand-name products, with no credit checks, hidden fees or interest. Employers are not liable for payments but rather serve as a trusted sponsor and conduit, giving employees a useful option to meet their needs.
- Low-interest installment loans and credit. Another danger for financially stretched workers is payday loans or cash advances on credit cards, all of which can have exorbitant interest rates. There are services that underwrite low-interest rate installment loans well below the going rates that employers can sponsor as a no-cost voluntary benefit. The credit lines have limits set by employment status and income level, but there are no restrictions on how they’re used. Paycheck deductions help the employee manage the repayment responsibly.
- Money / investment coaching. Financial literacy is a big issue in United States and across the generations. Providing the resources people need to learn to do better is valuable, whether it’s Gen-Xers trying to save something for their kids’ college or boomers worried about retirement readiness. Coaching services, whether provided online or one-on-one, will help employees do better with budgeting, saving and planning over time.
There are no simple solutions to growing pressures put on the long-term care industry. But organizations that adopt a progressive philosophy on the kinds of benefits they offer will put themselves in a better position to relieve the pressure on at least one front: the competition for much-needed workers.