Must work be dreadful?

John O'Connor
John O'Connor

Few things are less interesting than your typical “help wanted” ad.

These solicitations might offer a fair description of what the applicant pool should steel itself for. But they hardly seem like the best way to get top candidates into one's building.

There's little doubt they could be better. But even if they did improve, would it be much less difficult to keep facilities adequately staffed? I doubt it. 

That's because mediocre-at-best recruitment efforts don't address the “Why We Work,” issue. Fortunately, Barry Schwartz's book of the same title actually does.

As Schwartz notes, money tends to be the universal driver. But unlike the cheese of Farmer-in-the-Dell fame, it doesn't stand alone.

Sure, 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. 

But 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, efficiency and compliance are essential. But if all that is really offered is 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 it's a cop-out to keep blaming labor woes on things like the economy, or the competition or other external factors. 

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