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Staffing shortages top the list of challenges for senior living and care providers, lending them to focus on employee engagement and retention.

In its third annual Workforce 360 Survey Report, human capital management software company OnShift reported on the state of the long-term care workforce based on the perspectives of more than 2,000 senior living, skilled nursing and healthcare professionals. 

Those perspectives reveal a massive workforce crisis and employees at all levels reporting burnout. Almost 80% of respondents noted that caregivers and hourly employees face critical levels of burnout, whereas almost 90% of leaders said they’re stressed, a feeling OnShift said likely was exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic and the Great Resignation.

Staffing shortages (79%) were cited as the top workforce challenge, followed by finding and hiring job candidates (62%) and employee turnover (54%), according to the report. And as employees are required to work more hours and assume more duties, 65% of providers said they are struggling to effectively manage employee burnout.

Similar to last year’s report, those challenges were cited as factors impacting the ability to meet resident care needs (47%). Of the 96% of respondents who said they are facing staffing shortages, over one-third reported it limited their ability to take on new admissions and move-ins.

Citing Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the report noted that jobs in assisted living and other areas of long-term care have yet to recover to pre-pandemic levels, unlike other healthcare industries, such as hospitals and home healthcare services (analysts from the Peterson Center on Healthcare and the Kaiser Family Foundation made a similar observation recently).

Part of the challenge is stiff competition for talent, OnShift said. In 2020, 89% of respondents cited other senior living and care organizations as their top competitor for employees. This year, hospitals and health systems (62%) rose to the top, followed by senior living and care organizations (61%), staffing agencies (55%) and home health organizations (53%). 

Competition for talent outside of the industry — including hotels, restaurants, retail and gig economy services — increased 81% from the previous year.

The report said that the healthcare industry has a chance to draw more people into the workforce while retaining existing employees by catering to their interests and needs, providing support and offering work flexibility.

“Post-acute care and senior living organizations are a vital part of our communities and have overcome many intense challenges over the past 18 months,” OnShift President and Chief Operating Officer Ray Desrochers said. 

According to the report, 83% of respondents ranked retention as a high priority for their organizations, with 77% reporting that they faced difficulties recruiting and hiring workers. OnShift pointed to opportunities to adapt to today’s labor market by looking outside the traditional workforce. The report found that 70% of respondents were recruiting students, whereas 34% were looking to family members of residents / patients, 28% considered retirees and 8% pursued gig workers.

Filling shifts remains a challenge, with 75% of respondents reporting difficulty finding consistent coverage. As providers confront difficulties hiring and recruiting workers (77%) and consistently filling shifts (75%), overtime continues to be the go-to solution for ensuring proper staffing (76%). But the inability to staff consistently led to a 71% increase in reliance on staffing agencies compared with 2020.

And respondents don’t see much relief on the horizon. The majority (70%) said they anticipate that managing labor costs will continue or worsen over the next three years. 

But providers said they are getting creative with perks and working “harder than ever to retain the staff they have.” The vast majority of respondents said they place a high priority on employee engagement and retention (83%) going into 2022. 

“The ability to deliver on these expectations will be vital as senior care organizations look to combat the current staffing crisis, expand occupancy and provide the highest level of quality care and service to residents,” according to the report authors.

Increasing wages (82%), staffing levels (65%), improved communication with staff members (51%) and recognition of work contributions (48%) were said to have the biggest effect when it comes to improving staff satisfaction. Employers also said they already offer or plan to offer bonus pay (64%), sign-on / retention bonuses (56%), a recognition program (49%), tuition assistance (44%), complimentary meals (41%) and flexible work schedules (37%).

The survey also revealed that diversity, equity and inclusion is a priority in 2022, with 89% of respondents indicating that DEI efforts are a priority for the coming year.