How LTC Facilities Can Tackle Employee Turnover (Episode 29)

June 8, 2018

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Darcy Grabenstein: Hello from SmartLinx. In today's podcast, we'll talk about employee turnover, a huge problem in the long-term care industry. Our guest today is Roy Barker, a business and senior living operations advisor. For the past 19 years, Roy has consulted with senior living communities to improve their resident services, optimize operations, and increase occupancy. Welcome, Roy.

Roy Barker: Thanks for having me, Darcy, it's a pleasure to be here.

DG: So Roy, before we get to our main topic, I've got to ask you a pressing question. Rumor has it that you're a former rodeo bull rider. What did you learn from that experience that you apply to your role today as a business and operations advisor?

RB: That goes back a few days. I tell you what, I guess what I've learned, what I carry forward from that experience most of all is that while preparation is important and you need to be prepared, a lot of times when you climb on you just have to hang on because you never know where the day or the business is going to take you. And so I think the preparation helps you to handle the unknown a lot better than if you're very unprepared.

DG: That makes sense, thanks. So now, on to today's topic. Roy, how can an organization align its retention strategy with business objectives so that it can ensure maximum ROI?

RB: Well, I think that ROI is going to come from two places, really, maybe even three. First off is just, you know, there is a definite cash drain to employee turnover. There is a true cash cost that the estimates can range anywhere between $5,000 to $7,500 per a $10-an-hour employee, and I've seen some estimates up to $10,000 per turnover. And your managers can range anywhere to 125 to 150 percent with the executives being in the 200 percent. And if you have tech-type workers, that can even range in the 400 percent. So taking time to take care of your employees, making sure you hire the right people and then making sure that you take care of them, there really is a payback. And I think the second part of that is your customer, that your residents' families, they pick up on these things when you walk in to a community and you see somebody new every time taking care of your loved one, then they start to wonder what's going on, and it can create a little bit of unrest. So I think the opportunities of the return on investment are great from a lot of angles.

DG: Sure. So I'm going to throw a few questions at you right now. First is, when hiring employees, wouldn't you say that it's more than just salary? In other words, how important is work-life balance in terms of retention? And then, as we know, long-term care facilities have a lot of hourly workers. So would you say that different factors impact their retention as opposed to salaried employees?

RB: I don't think so. I think everybody wants pretty much the same thing. They want to be appreciated and recognized. So I think across the board from management salary to hourly employees, I don't think that there's a big difference in what we need to do to try to retain them. I'm sorry, if you'd give me that first question again?

DG: Of course. Is it more than just salary to entice workers? Are other things like work-life balance important?

RB: Yes, it's very important. And there's a lot of buzz around exit interviews, employees that are leaving generally say, well it's because of salary, I'm going across the street and I'm going to make a dime more an hour or something like that. And research has shown that that's not necessarily the truth. You know, large chunks of salary, yes, money makes a difference. But really, it's the environment of the work, it's the work, it's the management. Typically, employees don't leave companies, they will leave managers. So it's important to have a good management staff, and then be encouraging that balance. And I'm not a great one to talk to about that. I'm fortunate enough to have a job I really love and so I get caught up in what I'm doing and can go a little bit far. But in a previous job when I was with AT&T, I had some very good managers that would stay on top of me and come by me, always encouraged me to, you know, let it go till tomorrow. So I think as a management and executive team we do have to encourage that. And even if we have some employees that they are really gung-ho and they love their job, we still need to encourage them to get out and have some personal life and get away from the job for a little bit so we don't have a burnout factor.

DG: Sure. Yes, burnout can be a big issue as well.

RB: Yes.

DG: Roy, I agree with you that onboarding is crucial for retention. However, according to a 2017 CareerBuilder survey, 36 percent of companies have no formal onboarding process. So what are some best practices regarding on-boarding?

RB: Well, you're right about that. And it's very simple. First off, you need to know that the employee is coming. While it sounds crazy, there is somebody that hired them, somebody gave them a start date, but you would be surprised at how many new employees show up, especially to maybe a remote location, and the current employees are like, “Well we didn't even know you were coming. Who are you? Why are you here?” So there was no communication.

DG: It's funny that you say that. I just have to share, my husband started a new job and we had — as we were talking before we started this interview — a big snow the other day, and he went to one of the satellite offices and nobody knew he was coming. And they're like, “Who are you?”

RB: Right, and as a 20-year-old when I hired on with AT&T that was exactly what happened to me. Now my boss was at a different location, but still I showed up at a remote location and nobody knew why I was there, who I was, and it just created a lot of anxiety for everybody. So I think knowing that they're coming, while it sounds crazy, it's the first step and it happens a lot. And so some things I recommend is also reaching out before the start date, just to confirm, reassure, also if there are computer passwords, if you have badge in for security or do a badge in for your time management, make sure that you have all that in place.

And then the other thing is, don't try to overload them. I know we want to get all of our company values out there, go through all the handbooks, but it's very overwhelming. So try to prioritize the importance of the paperwork and the documents that you need the new employee to read, and stretch that out for a week or so.

And the other big thing I think is maybe even assigning a mentor, because as a new employee sometimes we are a little reluctant to always be going to the boss saying, “Oh, I don't remember this” or “I forgot this.” And if you will assign a mentor to that new person, it makes the transition for them so much easier, they feel much more confident going to a peer to ask questions.

DG: Right. So what about after onboarding? How important would you say it is for an organization to deliver on the promises that they made during the interview process? Do employees remember those promises?

RB: Yes, they do. I don't have the statistics right in front of me, but a large group of employees will quit usually within the first 90 days. So that's a very important period that you have to show them that you're a company, a manager of your word, what you said you're going to follow through on. If not, they're going to start wondering about a lot more things, and then I think if you're a resident- or customer-facing employee, then what you will begin to doubt is “What have they promised these clients of ours? Are we delivering what we promised? Am I getting put in a bad situation?” Because also just not following through can lead to a lot of other issues going forward.

DG: Right. What role would you say company culture plays in retention? I would assume it plays a pretty big role.

RB: Yes, it does. You have to want to show up every day, that's the main thing is to encourage the employee to show up, to do a good job, to be respectful of the company, the clients. So the leadership really sets the tone for that, and you want to try to build that trust factor going forward. And communication, I think that that's one theme that you'll see that runs through a lot of the work that I do, is building relationships and communication, key to a lot of operations in business.

DG: Yes. So employee engagement is a huge buzz phrase in HR these days. And a recent Gallup survey revealed that that 51 percent of the U.S. workforce is not engaged. And according to the Engagement Institute, this costs U.S. businesses between $450 billion and $550 billion a year. That's a lot of money. What can organizations do to engage their employees, in your opinion?

RB: Well, I think, again, focusing on communication, selecting the right managers and having the right people in place. If there are tools to help employees do their job, or do their job better, making sure that those tools are in place or that they are working. Sometimes you might have a great tool but it's broken, nobody's taken the time to fix that. So it's very important, and it gets back to what you said earlier about being a company or manager of your word. Follow through, do what you said you're going to do. And there are other pieces too. The retention is a big factor, but it also affects things like absenteeism and safety incidents. So that engagement is a very important piece. And then of course, with the communication it's listening to the employees. Sometimes we get very busy in our day-to-day jobs and we're just moving through, thinking about what we've got on our mind and sometimes we tend to only engage with an employee when we want to call them out where they need to change what they're doing or do something different or better. And I'm a big proponent of if we're walking down the hall and you see an employee, call out their name, give them a pat on the back, tell them they're doing a great job.

Recognition, a lot of times you get some pushback when we talk about recognition because management thinks that you're talking about a trip to Hawaii or a ticker tape parade. But recognition can be as simple as a pat on the back, a kind word, maybe a cupcake or a $10 gift certificate to a local store. It goes a long way, believe me.

DG: So you're saying it's important to recognize employees every day, not just for special accomplishments, right?

RB: That's correct. Yes, and it's important to be present, and especially in larger organizations where there are remote locations. Sometimes it's hard to get out.

And so you rely on the staff that's on site. But I think it's also important for the executive level to get out to visit, to learn people's names and do the same thing when you're in a community is be sure that you're patting everybody on the back, telling them what a great job they're doing. Because we depend on that.

DG: Right. Now I know you said that employees of different levels all want the same. What about employees of various age segments? Should employers use different tactics to promote retention, say, for millennial than for older workers? So things like challenging assignments, mentorship as you mentioned before, opportunities for growth, are these similar across the board or different?

RB: Here again, I think you need to listen to your employees to get the feedback. Because there are some people that want to show up, do their job, and walk out at 5 o'clock and not think about work again, where there are people that do want to grow and want to be challenged. So providing those special projects for them, that goes a long way.

There's some really great research out there, and it talks about the needs of the different generations.

Now the older World War II generation were motivated by things, and so if you had a coffee cup or a shirt, something to actually give them, physically put in their hand, that was a big motivator. Now me myself, part of the Baby Boomer generation, we are more about experiences. So giving me a gift certificate to a restaurant or a play, something I can go do and experience, that's very important. And then for the millennials, it is social consciousness I guess, being able to have time off to go volunteer at their favorite charity, or having matching contributions to charities, different things like that.

DG: Interesting. So my last question is, since we spend so many hours each day at work, I know you say it's good to inject some fun into the workplace. Do you have some suggestions on how to do that?

RB: Oh yes I do, I could have a whole show just on fun things they can do. I think the very first qualifier for that is, again, talk to your employees. And as a manager, I have things that I like to do but that doesn't mean that my employees like to. So try to get feedback on what they're interested in, what they would like to do. That's very important, but don't presume that whatever you decide to do that everybody is going to love it because they may not. So just some ideas that come to mind are themed lunches, where you have different cultures, you celebrate the different cultures in your workforce. Sometimes it's just the food but a lot of times it may be dress, you come dressed in that culture's attire, and even have a speaker that talks a little bit about the culture and why the food and different habits are important.

DG: We've done that.

RB: Oh have you? Yes, it's huge when you have a very diverse workforce, you can learn about the other culture, and I think that's very important. Then painting, they have these paintings where you can have an artist that comes in and kind of guides you on how to paint. That's very interesting because what I find interesting is that everybody is looking at the same painting but they come out different, so it's that different interpretation and learning a little bit about everybody in your group for that. And then of course, my favorite is the executives making sundaes for the workers, you can never go wrong, usually you can't go wrong with ice cream. Another quick and easy one is everybody brings in a baby picture or younger picture of themselves and hang them on the wall and have everybody try to guess. So there's a lot of ideas out there. What I suggest is sit down with your staff and brainstorm and get some feedback and see what's going to interest them the most.

DG: At one of my former employers, we had chair massages, which was wonderful.

RB: Yes. That is always good to bring in, you know, they have the mobile massage now so that's very easy to get somebody to even come in to the work location and do that.

DG: Well, Roy, thank you so much for sharing your insights with us today. And to all our listeners, thank you for tuning in. If you'd like to learn more about Roy's services, visit SmartLinx offers a fully integrated suite of workforce management solutions, including our applicant tracker that streamlines the recruitment process from job posting to onboarding, plus time clocks with targeted messaging and mobile employee self-service to foster communication and engagement. If you'd like to learn more about SmartLinx, visit us online at

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