Build a Better Engagement Strategy for Senior Care Workers

March 31, 2021

Minimizing staff churn is always a challenge for operators of skilled nursing and assisted living facilities. But finding ways to decrease employee turnover in senior care is necessary for reasons of both cost and quality of care.

While at times it may feel like a losing battle, there are steps you can be taken to engage employees and motivate them to stay on without breaking the budget. Part of the answer is to use technology, such as SmartLinx workforce management apps, to foster open communication between management and staff as well as increase productivity and streamline operations.

Even before COVID-19, employee turnover at senior care facilities reached a high 75%, with long-term care having the toughest time holding onto staff. When the pandemic hit,  employee turnover spiked as high as 128%.

With tight operating budgets and escalating pandemic-related costs, skilled nursing and assisted living operators must find creative ways to maintain a happy and engaged workforce, which can substantially  decrease employee turnover. How this is accomplished starts at the top with senior leadership.

Pursue open communications to decrease employee turnover

There are several steps to take to reduce employee turnover, all centered on making people – both staff and residents – the focus. And the best way to achieve that is by a consistent channel of communications with and among staff.

SmartLinx Message Center is one way of facilitating that, with its two-way communications, as well as full message threads and clear audit trails. The workforce management system can automatically communicate manager and employee texts, including open shift requests, enabling employees to text their responses in seconds.

Operators also need to instill in staff a sense of ownership of their job responsibilities. Employees should be invested in making residents happy and safe, eliminating falls and making residents feel valued.  Employees also need to feel valued. When operators go out of their way to show appreciation to employees and recognize everyday work, they increase engagement and help reduce employee turnover.

One of the leading long-term care providers that has navigated the challenges of the pandemic while maintaining its high staff satisfaction levels is Trilogy Health Services.

Try as they might, Trilogy could not totally avoid the devastating effects of COVID-19. But its CEO’s efforts to engage employees through the crisis contributed to the fact 80% of staff still considered Trilogy a Great Place to Work, which consequently contributes to low employee turnover rates.

As described by the Great Place to Work certification organization, from the outset, Trilogy’s CEO Lee Ann Barney met every day with staff to formulate safety protocol and share up-to-date information. And for a time, Trilogy was successful at avoiding a serious outbreak.

Unfortunately, after a hospital transferred sick patients to a Trilogy facility in Indiana, a COVID-19 outbreak occurred.  Ultimately, several residents and three staff members succumbed to complications related to the deadly virus.

And now, Trilogy’s CEO is determined to learn from the experience, improving safety practices to better protect residents and staff.

According to the Great Place to Work program, Trilogy lost just three percentage points in its employee satisfaction score, compared to more-than-7-point losses for other facilities. And Trilogy’s employee turnover is 50% below the average in an industry bedeviled by turnover.

As Trilogy’s experience demonstrates, employee engagement is vital for skilled nursing facilities seeking to reduce staff turnover, in turn, improving the quality of care and improving financial performance.

Tips for engaging senior care staff and reducing employee turnover

Here are some ideas for improving employee engagement that won’t break the bank:

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services provides topic areas of senior care employee satisfaction that are useful as guides for finding new ways to engage employees and reduce turnover:


  • Team building and communication
  • Scheduling and staffing
  • Training and staff development
  • Management and leadership
  • Job satisfaction




Make team building and ongoing communication a priority

Treat staff as colleagues and make sure workers know they’re valued as team members working together with you toward a common goal. Don’t talk down to staff members. Be respectful.

Clearly communicate the company’s mission and values. Make the staff aware of your priorities and philosophy. Enlist employees to join you in accomplishing your goals so they feel strongly connected to the goals.

Use available tools to enhance communications like SmartLinx Message Center and SmartLinx Go mobile workforce management app. SmartLinx provides easy, real-time messaging to enable and encourage communications among staff and between management and staff even as staff are located across different workplace campuses.

Encourage free communications among employees and between management and staff. Don’t just notify staff of developments. Seek input. Not only will staff feel valued, but you may learn from your workers and gather practical insights for combatting turnover.

The SmartLinx Go app has other benefits, too. For example, it also helps with infection control by enabling employees to use their own mobile devices and the SmartLinx touchless time clock to enter work. Together, the time clock and mobile app help limit the spread of infectious diseases by providing touchless access, automatically taking temperatures, and blocking access to anyone with a fever.

You should provide consistent and reasonable staff workloads. Whenever possible, give staff members choices in scheduling and changing their shifts to facilitate a better work-life balance and give them some control. A mobile app can give them anywhere, anytime access to real-time employee schedules and other key information, like paystubs, PTO information.

Giving employees access to their earned income when they need it can go along way in reducing turnover and building long-term loyalty.

“Companies using a daily payment benefit were able to fill open positions 52% faster and reduce employee turnover by 41%,” according to DailyPay

Let them know you understand they have demands and pressures outside the workplace and that you will accommodate them as much as you can.

SmartLinx make this easy, allowing operators and management to push out notifications of open shifts in real time to eligible staff, get their responses in near real-time, and even lets them swap shifts with qualified co-workers.  SmartLinx also offers a means for employees to easily access earned income to further engage them and reduce turnover.

Offer training and staff development

Make deliberate hiring choices to ensure staff are ethical, resilient, nurturing individuals who are physically and emotionally prepared for the demands of the job. Be clear during the hiring process exactly what the duties and challenges of the position entail so they join your staff with realistic expectations.

Provide job-specific training, including onboarding. The importance of onboarding might be missed but should not be neglected. It is the way that employee engagement is established from the outset. Don’t rush this process. Show new employees that they’re valued.

Again, SmartLinx facilitates easy hiring and onboarding by automating workflows and facilitating a smooth experience for employees from their first interaction with you through their retirement.

Another way to keep employees engaged and cut turnover is to foster mentorship: Ask veteran employees to pair with newly hired workers to show them the ropes. This gives both veterans and new hires a stake in each other’s success. It also makes both the new employees involved feel valued.

Use performance evaluations to identify skills employees should develop or improve. Recognize when staff follows through.

Provide opportunities for professional development and advancement. SmartLinx enables continuous learning among staff.

Supply cohesive job descriptions and show specifically how workers can pursue a positive career path.

Consider asking vendors if they can provide training for staff for using their products. For example, a vendor who supplies certain medical devices could demonstrate for staff how they are used.

How management and leadership can help

Management and leadership should maintain visibility, approachability and transparency. Managers and leaders should not sequester in their offices. They need to be seen by staff and open to conversations about workplace issues.

Supervisors should have employee engagement as one of their top priorities and should be evaluated and measured for their level of engagement. Supervisors should also be engaged with their superiors.

Staff should be treated respectfully and fairly by management and leadership. Make sure the staff feels you care about their needs and want them to be satisfied at work.

Give credit when employees make a helpful suggestion. Welcome their input and be open to new ideas.

Lead by example and ensure staff sees management as credible. If you make a mistake, come clean. Be ready to answer difficult questions. Tell the truth or give a good explanation why you can’t provide information.

Encourage coworkers to support each other.

Facilitate job satisfaction

To encourage job satisfaction and reduce employee turnover, management should recognize staff for their work, taking special note when they go beyond their duties.

One way to do this is to reward exceptional efforts. These rewards can take many forms, depending on your resources and the needs of the staff. Examples include bonuses, gift cards, first choice of shifts, special parking spots, extra paid days off or certificates of recognition.

If possible, create events, even small team-level meetings at which staff members are recognized and celebrated for their achievements. Include recognitions in notices sent to the staff about company events. Encourage staff and management to nominate each other and colleagues for recognition.

Financial incentives may be challenging in today’s tough business environment. But even small increases in compensation or perks like free groceries or transportation can prove very meaningful for workers and contribute to lower turnover.

Prioritize and select an employee satisfaction topic area to focus on. Communicate this priority to the staff and invite a group from the staff to participate in a conversation about the root causes of dissatisfaction and ways to make improvements. 

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