healthcare worker holding the hand of a man wearing a bathrobe

Although senior living workers and providers in Texas agree that pay is a top workforce issue, the two sides are far apart on what tradeoffs, collaborations and compromises can be made to solve turnover challenges, according to the findings of a new report about workforce development and retention.

The Texas Assisted Living Association’s survey of 227 caregivers and 164 managers found that although caregivers place a high value on feeling respected, job flexibility and pride in the physical workplace, their employers placed a higher value on friendly coworkers, consistency and convenience.

Rose Saenz, TALA vice president of workforce development, told McKnight’s Senior Living that the data highlighted feelings of disrespect among frontline workers and that those feelings can affect whether a caregiver chooses to leave the field.

“Caregivers, from the data they shared, were perceived to be disrespected from management — that was second in level of importance as pay,” she said. 

According to the survey, pay is the most important factor motivating caregivers in their employment decisions. The majority of caregivers, however, said they were more likely to leave their jobs due to feelings of disrespect from management.

Managers who were surveyed, Saenz said, don’t necessarily see worker perceptions, but they just may not be aware of them.

“This could help managers to have some self-awareness of what might be the bigger picture in their communities,” she said. 

And although caregivers do want better pay — and to be paid what they believe is a fair rate for their work — they also are committed to senior living, according to the research. Workers don’t necessarily want to go to Amazon or Walmart, Saenz said, adding, “They really like what they’re doing.”

The survey results show that caregivers are strongly motivated to stay employed in senior living despite the pandemic, and almost 70% of caregiver respondents believe they will be working in the industry five years from now. Other factors affecting caregiver motivation to stay with an employer, according to the survey, include benefits, commuting distance and physical work environment. 

“It’s a bit contradictory to what managers assumed,” Saenz said. “Caregivers are doing this for much more than pay. If you pay them, they are going to want to stay longer. It’s definitely more rewarding for them. I loved to see that validation.”

Another interesting, but not surprising, finding from the research, Saenz said, was that flexibility is a highly important factor to retain employees. Many caregivers are caring for multiple generations of people in their homes and may share vehicles or transportation, making flexible scheduling a desirable facet of a job.

“My major takeaway is they want to be respected and treated professionally. I, personally, feel the role of caregiving is a profession in itself,” she said.

“For those that do choose that to be their professional career, it is a career path,” Saenz added. “Maybe that’s an opportunity to recognize and to celebrate that, because not everyone wants to do that. It’s a very special role.”

Kare Technologies CEO Charles Turner and Bear Wise Consulting Owner James Lee, who are TALA workforce committee members, authored a report on the survey results. Turner said that the results should reduce provider prejudice in the future about why people leave the senior living industry. 

“One of the things that stands out is that the conversation around culture is highly overrated,” Turner told McKnight’s Senior Living. Survey results show that 40% of caregivers strongly disagreed that they would be willing to make less money for a positive culture.

“Culture is often a luxury that our frontline caregivers can’t afford,” he said.

Employers ranked culture as being a high motivator, but ultimately missed the mark on which components of culture meant most to caregivers, according to Turner. The research showed that employers largely believe caregivers are willing to give up part of their pay if they like a company’s culture (66%). Almost as many caregivers, however (60%), disagreed on this point.

The report arose from TALA’s workforce development committee, formed to look at what is happening on the front lines. The committee includes representatives from various organizations in and related to the senior living industry, including individual communities and businesses serving them.

TALA plans to share a white paper with members that has additional study findings. Future TALA projects will be related to retention, risk management and the future of recruitment.