Maybe it's time to reconsider the labor challenge

John O'Connor
John O'Connor

Is there anything less interesting than your typical “help wanted” ad?

There's the title, followed by basic duties of the job and perhaps the promise of “competitive wages and benefits.” Yawn.

These ads may offer a fair description of what the applicant pool should steel itself for. But my goodness, is this the best way to entice and attract the best possible candidates? (Not that my firm has never been guilty of doing the exact same thing.)

What got me thinking about the failings of “help wanted” ads? Two things, actually.

The first was considering why this field perennially struggles with its most expensive cost center: staffing. Rare is the community that is not facing an inadequate labor supply. And if future projections are to be believed, the situation is only going to get worse.

The second is a book I've been perusing, “Why We Work,” by Barry Schwartz.

As Schwartz points out, it's probably safe to say that the reason most people work in this (or any other field) is for a basic reason: the money. But is that all there is? Hardly. (To see a fascinating TED Talk he gave on this topic, click here.)

Yes, we all want a paycheck. And benefits. But we're not robots. We also value things like being appreciated, having autonomy, feeling secure, developing positive relationships — and getting a chance to grow and advance.

And is that what employers in this field are delivering? Hardly. All too often, what's available is demeaning, soul-sucking, or both. Yes, unpleasant jobs do have to be done. And there is no getting around the fact that profitability and efficiency are essential. But if all we really offer is what amounts to shift work on an assembly line, should we be surprised when so many workers bolt at the first opportunity?

As Schwartz points out, almost any job can be made more attractive if it is designed to boost independence and include “variety, complexity, skill development and growth.”

Are those challenging things to provide in a long-term care environment? Absolutely.

But you know what else is a terrific challenge? Trying to run a facility where nurse aide turnover exceeds 100%, and where there is a new DON and administrator in place every three years. By the way, that kind of excessive turnover is just about on par with industry averages.

Given the nature of things in this field, the work will always be difficult. But to simply keep blaming labor woes on uncontrollable factors is a copout.

The uncomfortable reality is that when it comes to recruitment and retention, many operators need to start doing a better job.

John O'Connor is McKnight's Editorial Director.

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McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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