Aged Care and Disability News

You’re not the only one finding it hard to hold on to staff

15 Jun 08:00 by Dr Katrina Radford


Staff retention is difficult. It is anecdotally reported that turnover within the aged care industry on average is 30% – this means increasing recruitment and training budget blow outs as well as disruptions to the day to day operating, not to mention the impact it has on client care and outcomes.

Employee turnover causes direct and indirect costs to employers. Direct costs are those involved in replacing the employee who has just left such as recruitment, selection and separation costs. Indirect costs are those that cannot be assigned directly to the activity of losing a staff member such as temporary staff, time taken to adjust to a new role, decreased morale and losses in organisational memory.

While the actual cost of turnover in Australia is largely unknown, the impact is widely felt Research examining the retention of staff has found the following important for retaining employees within an organisation:

Orientation – A strong orientation and socialisation process is critical for  new employees. Understanding policies and procedures is important, but so is understanding the culture and clients you serve. A formal training and orientation program does not guarantee new staff feel welcome. Be sure to buddy  them up with someone at their level within the organisation to show them how things are dome. Encourage open communication between these buddies to be sure they can comfortably discuss any challenges they may be facing. This ensures employees’ feel supported and cared for from day one, which is vital to overall retention practices. It also helps you, as an organisation, transfer organisational learning to the new employee.

Ongoing Training for all– There is a common misconception that older workers are not interested in further development, however this is a myth. Studies have found that older workers do in fact want further training and development and as a result, providing these opportunities for all is critical to retain employees. Training shows employees you are willing to invest in their career development, and provides a subtle indication of where you see them fitting within the organisation in the future. Manager and future manager training programs should include a mixture of both hard (technical) skills and soft (people) skill so they have the tools they need to hit the ground running. You can showcase their learning through newsletters/email briefs or in meetings, to create an environment of informal learning within the organisation. This is particularly important because from an organisation’s perspective, it transfers that knowledge to others within the organisation, but more importantly, the employee feels they are contributing and recognised for this contribution, thus increasing their engagement with and commitment to your organisation.  

Culture – Building  a supportive, friendly and welcoming culture is critical. This starts with managers within each site/service clearly communicating expectations as well as rewarding employees occasionally. Do not underestimate the value employees place on being recognised for their hard work – even if it is small. Being recognised and rewarded for going above and beyond is critical for employee satisfaction, employee engagement and retention. Many organisations adopt an employee-of-the-month program, but be sure to supplement these programs with random in the moment rewards for exceptional performance. In an environment characterised by low pay, these additional rewards are appreciated dearly and will ensure your employees feel valued.

Rewarding employees for serving the organisation for long periods of time is another strategy used to create a positive culture, but remember to match the reward with the length of service. There is no point giving an employee who has worked at your organisation a pin that is worth $5 as this sends the wrong message. You want to encourage employees to stay with your organisation, so showcase them in the newsletter or let them tell their story in addition to providing a valuable gift aligned to their service. This encourages others around them to want the same opportunity, as they will feel their organisation values their contributions greatly.

Treating the exit as well as the entry –Once an employee resigns, it is not always true that they won’t return to the company. In the aged care sector, many employees do return to the company at some point so be careful to treat the exit as importantly as you treated their entry to the organisation. Invest in going away parties and personalised presents.

If you are in a situation of mass redundancies, be sure not to forget the individual contributions employees have made. Often in these situations, exit parties are organised for more groups of people with varying rates of service. For example, one person may have been with the company for seven years and made a large contribution, but the others may have been there less time and made less of a contribution. Grouping them into the same exit strategy sends the message they were all valuable, but can also send the unintended message that the employee who made the most contribution was not as valuable as others. This will be noted by remaining employees and will set the tone for their performance so take care when taking this approach. In addition, the way you manage the exit process determines how employees talk about your organisation at their new organisation – which you should view as your future talent pool.

Employee retention is never easily solved, but there are a number of levers you can pull. Training, recognition and culture are all important but at the end of the day, remember the aged care sector is small so be kind, considerate and conscious of how your employee treatment impacts others perceptions of your organisation beyond your current talent pool.