The business case for employee wellness interventions


With 20% of our employees leaving as a direct result of the pandemic and one in three clinicians considering leaving their current role in healthcare, lifeplan communities are desperately scrambling to keep their staff.

One solution is to increase the engagement of employees and their supervisors. Nearly a quarter of the non-supervisory workforce is currently disengaged and 40% of supervisors are not fully engaged, according to the national Holleran benchmark. This does not bode well for the field.

To improve engagement scores, senior living organizations and leaders need to focus on creating humanistic workplaces that emphasize wellness. Interventions to reduce burnout and improve mental health are particularly important.

So many variables affect the mental well-being of individuals that it is sometimes difficult to know where to start. And while each staff member’s burnout, stress and anxiety can be caused by a variable and diverse set of factors, Holleran’s research on this topic has identified the top four stressors, according to our database. data on employee well-being:

  • workload at work,
  • Domestic Bills,
  • Personal mental health and
  • Cost of health care.

These four stressors are jeopardizing the well-being of the aging service workforce like never before. Below are some best practices for addressing each of these identified sources of burnout.

Workload at work

Workload issues were cited by 41% of employees as a top cause of stress in our survey.

One of the most important strategies for those who oversee and manage departments is to model self-care behavior. Leaders who never take a break, or who delay or shorten their vacation, or leave work well after the appointed time send a signal to others that overworking is an acceptable practice. Giving permission to take care of yourself begins with the behaviors of the leader.

Setting simple standards within a department works well: everyone takes several breaks during the day, no texts or emails after hours, shouting “uncle” when tasks get overwhelming and that help is needed, setting clear and realistic expectations.

Creating workplace environments that encourage rest and renewal – such as quiet rooms, meditation spaces and relaxing break rooms – will also relieve some of the pressure on staff.

Domestic bills

About 37% of employees said managing household bills was a major stressor for them. With inflation at an all-time high, workers are struggling to get food on their tables and gas in their tanks. This is especially difficult for employees who have school-aged children at home and who travel long distances to work.

One suggestion is to catalog workers who fall into these two categories and hold focus groups with both to identify solutions. Many campuses raised wages and hourly rates for their employees before minimum wage legislation required it.

Yet hourly wage increases are not always welcomed by all employees, especially those receiving government assistance. Sometimes a salary increase can actually decrease a household’s monthly income instead of increasing it. Asbury, a multi-site life plan community in Maryland, found this to be the case after raising the minimum wage for its workers. Simply raising wages, while a welcome relief for some, is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all solution.

Employers wishing to address the challenge of paying household bills faced by many workers might instead consider establishing a fund to help with one-time unforeseen emergencies (such as a car repair bill) to alleviate the effect of living from one paycheck to the next. Another approach that some organizations are taking is financial seminars and counseling for employees who need help with budgeting strategies.

Personal mental health

Managing personal mental health is a challenge for almost a third of employees.

Stress often leads to a decline in sleep quality, especially for shift workers, who sleep while the rest of the world is awake. The pandemic has adversely affected the physical health of employees and their family members, and physical health issues can lead to mental health issues. People didn’t follow their routine preventative care during COVID.

Deterioration in physical health can lead to deterioration in mental health, which in turn affects worker productivity. To counter the effects of stress on the body, some employers allow their employees to use fitness and aquatic facilities at certain times when residents are not using these facilities. Employee wellness programs are growing in popularity, as is giving employees time off to visit the doctor or dentist.

Nutrition and food shortages are of concern. Statistically, the lowest income earners are disproportionately affected. Consider using nutritionists on your staff to help educate workers about healthy food choices. Good nutrition plays a key role in our mental health. Communities have also started freezing nutritious family meals and offering them to employees so they can have a ready-to-serve meal when they return home.

Studies show that 72% of employees want their employer to champion mental health in the workplace. One of the most effective strategies used by leaders to reduce stress is to encourage a caring workplace, where friendships are celebrated and encouraged. Sixty percent of workers surveyed in a recent survey said having a good friend at work makes them more willing to show up and better cope with challenges that may exist throughout the day.

Health care cost

About 30% of seniors’ residence employees cite the cost of health care as a stressor. Social workers are employed by many affordable housing communities to help residents negotiate with the health care system to request special assistance with health care costs. Why not offer the services of these competent social workers to employees? In addition to government-sponsored programs, inpatient and outpatient costs are sometimes covered by charity care if the client is low-income.

Many life plan communities now have on-site dental and medical clinics for residents. Why not include employees so that they can benefit from these services at a reduced price?

And one most obvious solution is to have HR investigate the best employee assistance programs available instead of automatically falling back on the existing plan. One provider, Shenandoah Valley Westminster Canterbury in Winchester, Va., led the Holleran employee wellness survey, finding from feedback that access to mental health counseling through an EAP was particularly difficult for its workers. A change has been implemented to correct the issue.

The bottom line

The most effective way organizations and their managers can help reduce stress and burnout is to recognize that the well-being of every employee is a priority. This requires creating a workplace where there is psychological safety, which means people feel “it’s okay not to be okay” on certain days.

In a psychologically safe workplace, people feel supported and accepted when they have wellness issues. They are convinced that if they go to the supervisor to talk, they will find an empathetic ear.

Some organizations encourage learning circles and open conversations about the importance of workplace wellness. Others go above and beyond for employees who have challenges at home. A supervisor in a Mississippi seniors’ community discovered that her direct report was experiencing domestic violence and helped that employee find shelter and resources for herself and her children.

The human resources function is being rebranded as “human operations” across corporate America, with the focus on people, not paperwork. The paperwork still needs to be done, but it is of secondary importance to ensure that employees are heard, solutions to their problems are found and fear of retaliation is eliminated.

Making work a “safe” place is the priority. In places like these, turnover is reduced and engagement increases. Engaged employees are three times less likely to leave their campus than those who are disengaged, saving the organization an average of $20,000 per employee in turnover costs.

The business case for investing in employee wellbeing is clear. With turnover as high as 40% in some retirement homes, the cost is staggering. Halving employee turnover through the establishment of a “well-being friendly” corporate culture would be a worthwhile goal for any seniors’ community.

Clearly, new rules are emerging in our workplaces due to the pandemic. Finding ways to relieve employee pressure and providing empathy and emotional intelligence training to supervisors is more important than ever.

Michele Holleran, Ph.D., MBA, is CEO of Council Holleranwhich she founded in 1992.

The opinions expressed in each McKnight Senior Residence guest column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of McKnight Senior Residence.

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