Don Spiers

Clearly, home health and home care are not alone in dealing with employee churn. We see that turnover and retention issues pervade most of healthcare, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic has added new layers of stress. Keep in mind that mentoring is one way you can turn up the retention trend line.

One thing that hasn’t changed in the last year is your employee’s desire for a boss who cares, respects them, listens to their concerns, and supports their professional growth. Or maybe it has changed; maybe that desire has become even stronger.

To be that boss, you have to be a leader, not just a manager. That’s not new either.

But some of us are better than others at achieving a collaborative leadership approach. If you are sick of dealing with turnover, maybe you should take a fresh and healthy look at how you are supporting your staff.

Not just top-level attention

It starts with managers but involves everyone on the team. Think about what makes you feel good about where you work.

For me, it centers around relationships. Manager-employee interactions are one aspect of that. Peer camaraderie is another.

Naturally, a new employee is not always comfortable asking question after question of their new supervisor. They need a buddy who’s available on-the-fly for instant messages, phone calls, or video chats. They need peer support. This feeling of loneliness can be exacerbated due to restrictions created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The ability to connect new hires and peers digitally is a must.

Setting up a peer mentoring and coaching program doesn’t have to be a major undertaking. Once again, think about what worked for you in the past. Sometimes you get the best feedback over coffee or lunch with a coworker. Other times, having an official mentor can work wonders.

If we look beyond traditional approaches, we can find innovative ways to use technology to create those important support systems. Maybe you set up a chat group among a small group of peers. Maybe you host virtual lunches where staff can talk about their personal interests and connect that way.

Whatever you choose to do, it doesn’t have to break your budget. But it does have to be visible and effective.

We know turnover is expensive. It takes a toll on your finances, employee morale, and possibly even the quality of care you can provide.

So investing time, energy, collaborative effort, and a bit of your budget in coaching and mentoring can pay off with satisfying returns. The returns go way beyond that one new employee.

Make new connections

Home health naturally involves a lot of solo time. COVID-19 has made feelings of isolation even worse.

When you create peer-to-peer connections, you foster engagement on an individual level, but also across the organization. Feeling connected has never been more important to us all.

The benefits of peer-to-peer mentoring start with a more experienced employee sharing the way things are done by your team and your organization. From there, if the matchup is working as it should, the mentor and mentee form bonds that provide a human touch to the job transition.

Open the lines of communication

Peer mentoring also makes sense in terms of the awakening we’re experiencing – or at least we hope people are waking up — in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion.

If you have an employee who is young and relatively inexperienced being supervised by an established manager, you might have a communication disconnect. Possibly, the two are from different backgrounds and maybe different age groups.

As a beginner, who would you feel more comfortable relying on for information? I’d want to ask a peer who had shared similar life experiences rather than an authority figure.

Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t form relationships with people who are different. We definitely should, and we can all grow from that.

But building a rapport with your new manager can take time. It’s harder to open up and be honest.

Set new hires up for success

In the beginning, having someone on your level makes the learning curve feel more surmountable. If I’m familiar with you and I trust you, I’m more likely to risk asking one of those “stupid questions.” It’s better to feel silly for a minute than to stay silent and feel inadequate for the next few months.

We want to be sure we’re setting people up with mentors who can really help. They’ll find it easier to connect if they have similar challenges.

The payoff is even more trust, more competence among your team, and higher quality care.

And what if you’re the more experienced staff member who’s asked to be a mentor for a newbie? You feel respected and appreciated. You feel your manager recognizes your expertise and your professional choices. Then you become more engaged as well and more likely to stay loyal to your organization.

The truism “success breeds success” applies here. You’re taking a successful staff member and giving them an appreciation promotion. You’re publicly recognizing them and elevating their expertise among their peers. That’s got to feel good.

So you’re doing good for the newbie and the mentor. And equally important, you’re setting your team up to communicate and provide consistent, high-quality care. That makes your organization look good, which speaks to your leadership as well — making you look good, as well.

Don Spiers is a senior product manager at Relias, providing market insight on home health, hospice and home care. Prior to Relias, he worked in home- and community-based support services for over five years, serving persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Don holds a Bachelor of Science degree in biological sciences, with a focus in microbiology, from North Carolina State University.