The turnover rate for long-term care nurses is far higher than the national average, but facilities can improve retention by adjusting  human resources practices, a top workforce researcher said in a McKnight’s webcast Thursday.

While it is no secret that long-term care operators see high turnover rates, the hard numbers show just how serious the issue is, said Frederick Morgeson, Ph.D., of Michigan State University. The national turnover rate for all professions is about 4.5 years, while the rate for registered nurses in long-term care is about a year, according to Morgeson. Organizations with 150 nurses could face between $1.25 million to $2 million a year in the costs of losing nurses, he said.  

LTC operators can begin to improve retention by adjusting their recruitment, selection and onboarding of workers, Morgeson explained.

Providers should consider the recruitment messages they are sending and how these can sow the seeds of future turnover, he said. For example, if a job posting promises opportunities for relocation or career advancement, this could effectively address nurses’ desire for professional growth — the lack of which they often cite as a source of dissatisfaction, according to Morgeson. However, if a provider cannot actually deliver on this promise, the company is likely to attract and hire an applicant who will go on to be unhappy and leave the job.

LTC operators should also analyze their recruitment sources and favor those that produce dedicated workers. Many companies recognize that employee referrals often lead to high-quality hires, but they should also think about reaching out to previous employees who left on good terms, Morgeson advised. He said research has shown these “boomerang employees” return with accurate expectations and institutional knowledge, which contribute to retention.

To ensure that all potential employees have realistic expectations, Morgeson suggested providers use a “realistic job preview” during the hiring process, often incorporating video. These explain challenging or negative features of a job, such as weekend and holiday work, as well as positive features, such as making a difference in people’s lives.

In selecting a candidate, providers can consider some work attitudes and personality traits that are associated with workers likely to stay on the job. These include conscientiousness and emotional stability. Morgeson described how an interviewer could ask applicants to describe how they responded in a crisis situation to gauge emotional stability.

Finally, providers should have a formal process rather than a “sink or swim” method of onboarding new hires, Morgeson said. New technologies offer valuable tools for facilitating these processes, which should be participatory and involve both the new workers and current employees, he added.

The event was sponsored by HealthcareSource. Click here for a replay of the webcast.