With more than 40 years in healthcare as a provider, and more significantly as a strategic market analyst, Irving Stackpole knows a thing or 300 about your business and the struggles you face. Doesn’t matter if you’re in long-term care or beyond.

So when he talks about things like staffing problems, people tend to listen. Or should.

I was one of them Thursday. He hosted a webinar and, as always, I came away with a significant trove of helpful nuggets.

One of the first keys, he emphasized, is to work on what IS in your control. Federal spending per capita and a host of societal “isms” (ageism, sexism, racism, etc.) are prime national issues that need fixing. But you’re not going to do it in the short run.

Instead, focus on listening to and learning from your employees, and then change.

Retention should be your No. 1 goal. Work on keeping what you have, and then get better at it. Then, as No. 2, focus on recruiting. The truth is if you do No. 1 right, existing employees will be your best weapon for No. 2.

Then, everybody wins when you cultivate a better work environment.

“Culture produces relationships,” Stackpole reminded, adding that relationships will determine the work environment, and whether workers want to stay.

What should you listen to? Employees in exit interviews, which odds are you aren’t conducting nearly enough. Also listen to why they stay. What you hear will be ready-made bullet points for your marketing and HR departments.

After conducting tens of thousands of employee satisfaction surveys and interviews, he says the No. 1 reason workers leave comes down to: “She [the worker’s manager] just doesn’t listen.” He added that the offender could be a “he” and any level of supervisor.

“It means the individual’s supervisor just didn’t take the time to listen to that individual, and if she did listen, the fact of her having listened wasn’t conveyed.”

No wonder then why Stackpole next directed listeners to bone up on empathetic listening — one of the three top skills needed. He advised looking into YouTube videos or any number of free resources.

So even if your legs are tired, your back is aching and your ears are already burning after more than two years of historic pandemic conditions, your mission is clear: Start listening to your existing workforce more. To do that, start asking more questions of them.

That will lead to receiving more frequent constructive feedback from them, which in the long run will benefit you and your organization.

And more good news: You can stop throwing incentive money around. Recruitment bonuses — for incoming employees, as well as to referring employees — may be more trouble than they’re worth, Stackpole believes.

Instead, get the culture right by making changes such as more flexible shifts and better-situated supplies, among other considerations. That will put you on your way to building better relationships and lessening staffing problems.

“We’ve seen a proliferation of cash bonuses and hiring bonuses,” he said Thursday. “This is an absolutely terrible idea. The data about this is so clear. People who accept cash bonuses — in all service sector jobs — will jump at the incentive of cash bonuses and they will jump back out again. Job-hoppers hop. That’s what they do.”

Cash incentives are seductive and built on “faulty logic,” he continued.

Instead, build trust. It’s not “granted from above,” he reminded, adding that it’s “what individuals do among each other.”

In other words, make a point to listen. Learn. And then change.

Jim Berklan is executive editor of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News columns are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.