An employee exodus continues to batter the senior living industry, with an average staff churn rate of 42 percent. Unhealthy, unhappy, and “unhinged” employees can lead to widespread fallout, from poor health outcomes and lower satisfaction for patients to higher costs and a tarnished reputation for senior care providers.
In a highly competitive senior care labor market, delivering a consistently positive experience for employees is a key differentiator. A viable way to attract and hold on to dedicated staff is through an employee wellness program– designed to enhance the physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing of those who care for residents.
“Employee caregivers are the foundation of the senior living industry,” says Stephen Chee, director of employee wellness at Lifetime Wellness. “They strive every day to provide extraordinary care. Succeeding on the job takes not only excellent training, but an exceptional heart.”Chee’s company provides person-centered wellness, life enrichment, and recreational programming to independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing and rehabilitation, and memory care facilities.
“To continue to deliver outstanding care – in an environment of increasingly constrained resources – employees need to be cared for, too. Companies that deliver a comprehensive employee wellness program can provide the unwavering support their workforce needs every day.”
Managing physical health
Although senior living staff focus on health and person-centered wellness for residents, they often struggle to stay healthy themselves. An often-cited survey of senior living providers finds 29 percent of the employee population is obese, 22 percent have hypertension/high blood pressure, and 22 percent are affected by tobacco use.
“Company wellness programs have helped many employees reduce weight, lower stress, and improve physical fitness and stamina,” Chee says. Lifetime Wellness provides certified professional fitness trainers who engage staff in a variety of fitness activities, from strength training and cardio exercises to core work and yoga.
The Lifetime Wellness program also offers onsite health screening – tests that can detect health problems before symptoms appear. Basic screening includes a blood cholesterol panel, blood glucose test, blood pressure reading, and body composition assessment.
“Central to the success of the Lifetime Wellness model is providing services onsite,” Chee notes. “We’ve found that if you show up where they are, they will come. Staff can receive screening results immediately, along with coaching and follow-up steps. Our approach is to provide nonjudgmental support and resources. We typically serve as a bridge to their primary care physician – or can help them find a doctor if they don’t have one. We also provide education in managing and preventing chronic conditions.”
Meeting mental and emotional needs
“It’s important to help staff understand their emotional ‘triggers’ and develop coping skills,” Chee says. “The world as we know it isn’t slowing down. We have so much outside stimulation, and that’s causing unprecedented stress. The inability to navigate stress appears in many ways, from panic attacks to binge eating to ‘self-medication’ through drug or alcohol abuse. Our program offers proven techniques for managing stress in healthy ways.”
Lifetime Wellness trains its partner communities in the hazards of, and solutions for, “compassion fatigue.” That includes educating supervisors on how to watch for employees who show signs of emotional distress, to ask if they’re OK, and to find out what can be most helpful to them.
“Often, those most likely to burn out are those most committed to their roles,” Chee says. “They’re on their feet all day. They’re caring for several patients or residents simultaneously, many of whom are physically or cognitively disabled. On top of that, an employee may be coping with an illness in their own family, grieving the loss of a loved one, or serving as a caregiver at home as well as at work. We need to be ever aware of what they’re dealing with and show up at every turn with compassion – and an offer of help.”
Moving into a challenging future
By 2025, the senior population will surge by 37 percent. To meet demand, the senior living industry will need to add more than a million additional workers, including by filling 900,000 positions left vacant by turnover.
“An employee wellness program can be the catalyst for ensuring staff are happier, stay on the job longer, and in the end, provide better resident care,” Chee says. “Plus – news spreads fast in senior living. The more the word gets out about how well you take care of your own, the more likely you are to attract new employees. It’s that simple.”