As the Great Resignation continues to cut a deep divide across the U.S., one thing is becoming crystal clear: It’s going to take more than just money to entice people into healthcare and get them to stay.

Kimberly Marselas

Increasingly, American workers are deciding the 9 to 5 grind (or any kind of five-day work week) is not what they want. Those who can are often seeking remote work, while those who can’t lobby for flexible or alternative shifts, and both want (gasp!) more time off.

Some other people, likely those among us who never thought to agitate for such a change, appear to be really angry about that. Instead of listening to economists who for months have been describing a major cultural shift, they continue buying into tropes about lazy workers milking expanded unemployment benefits.

But when states began to revoke those extra pandemic-era benefits this spring, a University of Massachusetts researcher associated with the National Bureau of Economic Research found the affected workers didn’t jump back into the labor pool.

It’s time to look deeper at what COVID-19 has wrought.

Many would-be workers are seeking more meaningful work after a year-plus of staring their own mortality in the face. Sometimes that means a job that will allow them to imbue more meaning into their own lives outside of working hours, when they want time to explore passions or develop their own entrepreneurial ideas.

And increasingly for nurses and nurse aides, it means taking more control over their “workplace.”

“The gig economy, this mindset of I just want to work, where I want to work, when I want, and make my own decisions and take breaks in between contracts, the nurses are really gravitating toward it,” SnapNurse CEO Cherie Kloss told me Tuesday. “There’s such a shortage right now that they can live the travel nurse lifestyle even in their own hometown, which used to not be available.”

Travel nurses (a group in which Kloss includes aides) have the unique benefit of knowing their worth, at least dollar wise, and are able to negotiate to offset job-related stressors. But full-time job candidates (and workers already in your building) want to know they’ll be supported when they’re needed, not just needed in a suck-the-life-out-of-them and then spit-them-out sort of way.

Soft benefits such as flexible scheduling won’t solve all skilled nursing’s problems, by any means. But, as Lori Porter, CEO of the National Association of Health Care Assistants, said in June, nursing homes are “very high on emotional benefits.”

You just have the unenviable task of selling those benefits — and whatever boosted pay you can offer  — to compete with staffing agencies, big box stores and fast-food restaurants offering $15 an hour with a big ol’ side of retail hassle.

Just remember as you search high and low for the very employees who help keep your doors open to new admits: They want their next jobs to open doors for them too.

Kimberly Marselas is senior editor of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.

Opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News columns are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.