Common Senior Living Staff Scheduling Problems (and How to Avoid Them) 

February 24, 2023 Kimberly Anderson-Mutch

Common Senior Living Staff Scheduling Problems (and How to Avoid Them)

With a widespread nurse shortage, many healthcare organizations struggle to find enough staff members to care for patients and residents. Research suggests if healthcare stakeholders don't take action, there could be a shortage of 450,000 nurses in the U.S. by 2025. With an aging population, increased patient demand, and low projected rates of new nurses, your senior living facility may find it difficult to keep an adequate number of employees on hand.

This issue can place a heavy burden on your remaining staff, particularly if they often work overtime or if your facility has a high patient-to-nurse ratio. One of the most significant issues when dealing with nursing shortages is ensuring your schedule works for the employees you do have. Scheduling too much overtime, dealing with constant absences, or simply not having enough nurses per shift can lead to nurse burnout and drive your facility into the ground.

The Effects of Staffing Mistakes 

Inadequate staffing can be frustrating for nurses working a shift and having to take care of more residents than usual. A nurse-to-patient ratio that is too high can lead to many issues, such as spending less time with each patient, forgetting tasks, or giving incorrect medicine. Assisted living facilities that do not keep an adequate number of nurses on staff can even jeopardize the safety of their patients

Nurses who cover shifts for others or work too much overtime can suffer from burnout and fatigue, impairing their ability to concentrate on tasks. If the staffing issue continues, your nursing staff can begin making medical errors and show a general lack of engagement with their patients. Inadequate staffing levels could lead to errors like incorrect medication administration errors or patient care oversights. These are often a result of:

  • Inadequate staffing levels 
  • Excessive workload 
  • Working in haste 

Research shows that residents in understaffed healthcare facilities have an increased risk of infection, overall health complications, and mortality. Staffing mistakes can also impact patient satisfaction. One study indicated that the quality of nursing care could directly impact patient experience and satisfaction. This research also stated that adequate nurse staffing levels can enhance patient outcomes and experience. 

Patient experience and satisfaction are critical to the healthcare industry, particularly as more facilities move toward patient-centered care. The satisfaction of residents and their loved ones can boost or damage a facility's reputation. In addition, residents who feel safe and well cared for can give a healthcare organization better ratings, which can attract more residents and lead to financial stability. 

Moreover, staffing and scheduling mistakes can affect nurses even further by transferring the same amount of work to fewer nurses who may need to work longer hours with little relief. Working too many hours without breaks or days off can lead to a breakdown in mental, emotional, and physical health, causing nurses to become injured or sick. 

If more nurses have to call out and be absent from work due to stress or illness, it will only add to the staffing problem. Likewise, nurses who face constant job stress or must carry an excessive workload each day can develop many other mental and physical health issues, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Heart disease
  • Exhaustion
  • Hypertension
  • Musculoskeletal disorders
  • Cardiovascular disease

7 Common Problems With Staff Scheduling in Senior Living Facilities 

As we mentioned above, scheduling and staffing problems can lead to many issues in healthcare. Without the proper tools and resources, your facility may struggle to maintain enough nurses to care for your residents and prevent your staff from feeling burnt out or overworked. Here are some other challenges that scheduling managers can run into regularly.

Staff Shortages

1. Staff Shortages 

Though you may have a relatively steady number of residents, it can be difficult to know what each day will have in store. Unexpected issues, such as sudden infections or illnesses that spread throughout the facility, can leave staff rushing around trying to care for as many patients as possible. If you're already short-staffed, it can be a nightmare for nurses and leave residents waiting on essential care. 

Without staff scheduling resources, you may not even know if your other employees are available to come in, which can add to the scheduling chaos. Whether you don't have enough staff to begin with or you simply didn't predict the unexpected workload, it can be challenging to figure out whether you should call in backups or start paying overtime. This disorganization can be stressful for everyone involved.

2. Disorganization

Your assisted living facility can become disorganized in many different ways when it comes to scheduling. Using manual processes, for example, can be time-consuming and difficult to communicate with your staff. For instance, putting up a whiteboard of your nurse's schedule's in the break room may seem accessible, but this means you cannot notify nurses who aren't working that day unless you call each of them about scheduling changes, such as vacations or overtime opportunities. This can lead to nurses getting confused about when they're supposed to come in and create general disorganization. 

Using scheduling software, on the other hand, lets you communicate instantly with your entire staff, whether they're on shift or not. With digital schedules that your staff can see from their mobile devices, you can quickly find shift replacements. Scheduling software can also give you the flexibility you need to customize and keep schedules organized for everyone. 

3. Overscheduling 

While understaffing is its own obstacle, disorganized and inefficient scheduling can also lead you and your nurse managers to overschedule. While most healthcare organizations can expect a little overtime, your nursing staff may be working too much overtime within a short period when it's not needed, which can cost your facility money. Unless you're paying careful attention to the work schedule, you might miss the increase in operational and labor costs as you schedule too many nurses per shift. 

In addition to high costs, overscheduling can also lead to nurses working unnecessary overtime. Such poor scheduling can result in staff members working the last shift of the night and immediately having to come in for the first shift the next day. Not having enough between shifts can lead to exhaustion and burnout in your nurses, but this can be difficult to manage if your scheduling processes are not up to par. 

4. Unfair Scheduling

Though feeling confident about a nurse's experience, skills, and abilities is a great way to make them feel valued and appreciated, it's important not to play favorites when it comes to the schedule. Prioritizing one or a handful of nurses who may be at the top of their game can lead to employee discrimination, which can cause legal issues for your facility. 

While some nurses may tolerate an inconvenient schedule every once in a while when others are absent or on vacation, consistently not giving certain staff time off or providing them with last-minute scheduling can result in penalties for your organization and even employee turnover. Be sure to follow all compliance regulations and laws for shift changes and scheduling to avoid these assisted living problems. 

5. No Formal Schedule 

Rigid and inflexible scheduling practices can leave staff unsatisfied with their schedules and result in them looking for another position. Consistently making your schedule last minute can also lead to frustration and errors, which ends up affecting patient care. By using inefficient ways of scheduling, such as a manual spreadsheet, you can end up wasting time and forgetting certain variables. It's important to find a consistency that works for your staff so they know what to expect but are also prepared to deal with seasonal events, absences, and vacation time.

No Formal Schedule

6. Staff Vacation and Absences 

A common scheduling issue for many facilities is properly factoring in time off for vacations, personal emergencies, vehicle mishaps, and illness. As a nurse or HR manager, it can be a challenge to shuffle things around, particularly if you've already set up your schedule. However, these alterations are important because they let you prepare for staffing emergencies to manage unavailability and poor communication—even at the last minute. 

Without factoring in this time off, your work schedule can become derailed and leave your nurses and residents in a poor state. This can also create more disorganization and panic when you have to ask staff on the clock if they can cover the open shift or call off-duty nurses to come in.

7. Employee Turnover

Turnover is an inevitable part of any industry. Though some organizations are making a slow return to pre-pandemic levels, many are still dealing with the impact of nurse burnout that contributed to these shortages. Too much turnover in your facility can be very time-consuming, resource-draining, and expensive. Constantly having to train and onboard new nurses—only for them to last a few months—can do more harm than good to your workforce. 

Efficient and flexible staff scheduling can help you build a robust retention strategy and reduce turnover. For instance, if you constantly deny your nurse's vacation or sick time or fail to communicate about shift changes promptly, it can result in a dissatisfied workforce that affects your facility's success and longevity. 

How to Avoid Scheduling Issues in Senior Living 

How to Avoid Scheduling Issues in Senior Living

As you can see, poor scheduling practices can negatively impact every aspect of your business. If you want to combat the nursing shortage and ensure your residents receive high-quality care, it's vital to make certain changes. Here's everything you need to learn how to manage staff in senior living.

1. Hire Enough Staff

To run your facility optimally, it's essential to have enough staff on hand. If you have the resources to hire more nurses, doing so can help you create a more reliable schedule. Likewise, a larger workforce means you can approve time off more quickly to give your nurses the vacations and personal breaks they deserve. If you don't have enough nurses, you'll likely overwork the ones on your staff and maybe even use mandatory overtime as a solution, which can lead to many other problems. 

Hiring and training more staff members gives you more flexibility when it comes to scheduling. As a best practice, try hiring nurses of all different experience and skill levels. Newer nurses can learn from seasoned staff and help you build a well-rounded organization. 

With the right staffing marketplace solution, you gain access to the largest staffing agencies on the market to connect you with staff members that fit your scheduling needs. This type of platform lets you fill empty shifts faster and avoid double-booking your nurses or having them work too much overtime.

2. Maintain Effective Communication 

One of the golden rules of any organization is “communication, communication, communication.” The healthcare industry is no exception to this mantra. Communication plays a pivotal role in the success of any healthcare facility. Without effective communication, you and your staff can become disorganized and stressed as they try to navigate the challenges of each day. When it comes to making your nursing schedule, it's important to communicate any time off for certain staff, overtime opportunities, or any other messages you want to share with your staff. 

For instance, you may rotate your overtime opportunities to allow all staff members to get a fair chance, which is something you can communicate to avoid mix-ups or frustrations. Consistent communication and accountability enable plenty of time for your nurses to swap shifts, request open shifts, and have their schedules well in advance. 

3. Spread Out Time Between Shifts

As part of maintaining a fair schedule, it's essential to give your staff plenty of time to go home and rest before their next shift. If you schedule back-to-back shifts as a result of staff shortages, for instance, your nurses will quickly become burnt out and disengaged when they show up to work. 

Try to manage your schedules to allow all nurses to receive regular breaks and days off to ensure they take care of their mental, physical, and emotional health. Closely monitor your schedule so you can watch out for nurses working too much overtime or working closing and opening shifts—this can often be a warning sign of low employee satisfaction and turnover. 

4. Reduce Employee Turnover 

Watching your best staff leave your facility is difficult to face, but it's an effective way to learn where you can improve for your new and remaining staff. If you've had several nurses leave your facility in the last few years, closely examine the reasons why they left and consider how you can make the appropriate changes. If any staff members left as a result of poor time-off and scheduling procedures, it can help you reassess and reduce staff turnover in the future. 

If your facility relies on outdated, manual procedures, you're likely wasting more time and making more errors than you think. With the right workforce management solution, you can more easily communicate shift changes, establish consistent policies, and build a better work environment for your hard-working staff to reduce turnover.

5. Set Clear Expectations 

A key component to successful workforce management is to set clear expectations and policies. Staff should be aware of scheduling and compliance regulations as well as overtime laws, such as The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Being open and honest about your scheduling procedures can help avoid miscommunication or misunderstandings among your staff. 

As a nurse manager or schedule maker, you can set up your schedule a week or two in advance, or you can implement a compensation policy for last-minute scheduling changes and emergencies. These practices show your nursing staff that you value their time and appreciate when they volunteer to come in on their days off or cover someone else's shift. When your staff knows your expectations, there is less room for confusion and frustration. 

6. Use Scheduling Software

Implementing an efficient solution to your scheduling troubles can solve nearly every obstacle you currently face. Tackling scheduling issues, identifying open shifts, organizing time off, and covering absences can be a breeze when all information remains in a unified scheduling platform. Scheduling software acts as the ideal tool you need to cover many tasks at once, such as:

  • Streamline your workflows 
  • Verify shift overlaps
  • Prevent scheduling conflicts 
  • Evaluating schedules with real-time data
  • Customizing schedules to fit staff needs
  • Preventing too much overtime

Scheduling software can also help you manage these issues by generating smart schedules to help you adapt in real time to your staff's changing needs. Finally, letting your nurses view and access their schedules through their mobile devices can help you stay properly staffed even during unexpected call-outs. 

Transform Your Senior Care Staffing With Smartlinx 

Dealing with an understaffed workforce can significantly impact the quality of care you give to your residents and put a burden on your remaining nursing staff. If your current scheduling processes just aren't cutting it, consider implementing workforce management software that's purposefully built for skilled nursing facilities. With Smartlinx, you and your management team can access the Schedule OptimizerTime and Attendance Tracking, and many other effective tools that help your healthcare facility run smoothly and keeps schedules consistent.

With our solution, you can reduce employee management and labor costs and create custom schedules tailored to staff needs. With our Smartlinx Go app, your nursing staff can submit time off, request overtime, and communicate with management right from their mobile device. If you want to learn how our software ensures proper staffing and drives efficiency, request a free demo today. 

Transform Your Senior Care Staffing With Smartlinx

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