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Staff burnout and personnel shortages aren’t new issues for long-term care communities. In 2019, a study found that almost half of long-term care staff had at least one symptom of burnout. 

Magnified by the pandemic, burnout among long-term care staff is at a critical point. Attracting new hires and preventing burnout requires organizations to honestly care for their employees and enhance the overall workplace experience.

What is Burnout?

According to Mental Health America, burnout refers to workers’ exhaustion and apathy when dealing with prolonged workplace stress.

Symptoms include:

  • Physical fatigue and mental exhaustion
  • Negative feeling towards one’s job
  • Loss of professional efficacy 

Burnout Prevention Among Long-term Care Staff

In 2020, long-term care providers quickly turned their focus on staff retention, rewarding employees for providing excellent resident care during a stressful situation.

“We got creative really fast,” says Lisa Maynard, Chief People Officer for The Springs Living. “We created little grocery stores so staff could get what they needed at work. We had employee meals, fun events, and really connected with them to show our appreciation.”

The Living Springs has 18 senior care communities and 1,800 employees. Maynard says preventing staff burnout in 2022 takes multiple initiatives that focus on the employee as a whole, including:

Work-Life Balance

Long-term care workers are notoriously selfless and give all of themselves to serve residents. Giving employees the freedom to pick up their children from school, take a 10-minute break, and prioritize their health can prevent burnout symptoms from setting in.

Leadership Training and Mentorships

Often people leave long-term care because they don’t feel like there’s room for them to grow. Providing entry-level staff with leadership training, such as webinars and mentorships, may motivate them to stay.

“This can be a way for entry-level employees to see the potential for wage growth that could evolve into a long-term career,” says Maynard. “I’ve found you have to invest in people individually to build consistency in your workforce.”

Mental Health Resources and Physical Wellness

In the first year of the pandemic, long-term care staff worked in an environment that felt unsafe at times.

“Early on, appropriate PPE wasn’t available, and the staff was scared of being infected, taking it home, and potentially infecting their families,” Maynard explained. “Now, fear has gone down, and staff confidence is up, but we still need to provide mental health support.”

Offering telemedicine benefits, bolstering employee assistance programs (EAP), and promoting overall wellness are a focus for Maynard and her leadership team. 

Once a month, a chiropractor comes in to care for staff. They also offer massage and physical therapy to employees free of charge.

“Providing long-term care is a very physical job. If you’re in pain, you’re going to be in a bad mood. If we can alleviate that physical pain for staff, their overall work experience is going to be better and elevates the quality of care they can deliver.”

Attracting Workers to Long-term Care

Nearly 70% of assisted living and nursing home providers say they are having a very difficult time hiring new staff. Most providers cite unemployment benefits and lack of interested or qualified staff as their biggest obstacle.

Highlight Relationships

Long-term care has been known for the rich relationships fostered between residents and the staff that care for them.

“Generally, people don’t work in long-term care for the wages. They are here for the relationships,” noted Maynard. 

Though relationship building is more difficult than before the pandemic, it isn’t impossible. Highlighting relationships among staff and residents can be a differentiator for staff choosing between long-term care and another healthcare setting.

Promote Better Hours

Long-term care has an advantage over the restaurant industry regarding schedules. Better hours, menu creativity, and relationship building with consistent diners are the perks of working in long-term care dining over a traditional restaurant.

“We’ve had chefs and servers join our dining teams because they don’t want to be at work until midnight. Late nights aren’t a factor in long-term care dining, giving employees more time to spend with their families,” says Maynard.

Offer Flexible Scheduling 

Let candidates know you’re willing to find a schedule that works for them. Shorter shifts, PTO options, and personalized schedules are ideal when possible. 

“We need to be flexible to what the employee needs and meet them where they are at,” says Maynard. “They don’t want to be just a warm body to cover a shift. If you aren’t able to meet them where they are at, they are going to go find someplace else that can.”