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Loretto CEO offers guidance on overcoming workforce challenges

The long-term care industry is no stranger to workforce challenges. Workforce recruitment and retention are two challenges that have been persistent for years. Now, add a pandemic.

The pandemic has shifted the relative power of the employee, particularly frontline employees and employers. With a very low unemployment rate (4.2%), roughly 11.9 million open jobs, and 9 million job seekers, a constellation of conditions explains the mismatch of labor with jobs.

Women have exited the workforce more than men under the strain of COVID. A combination of factors contributed to this – remote learning, followed by the uncertainty of keeping children in school; the perceived danger of returning to the office or a frontline job; the lack of flexibility needed to make everything work; the relative improvement in many people’s financial condition (25% of children were lifted out of poverty due to federal and state government supports during the pandemic).

As a result, childcare has emerged as a significant issue. Access to high-quality, affordable childcare is less available now than it was before the pandemic due to the insufficiency of federal and state support for the childcare infrastructure. Access to childcare is an economic and human capital issue, not just “some mother’s problem.”

Why the focus on women? In addition to pandemic data showing many women are serving as primary caregivers at home, they are also who we rely on most to provide care to our residents – the long-term care industry’s workforce is overwhelmingly female.

New ways of doing business, like remote work, have left many offices empty. While traditional in-person industries, like healthcare, have fewer options for offering remote work, at the core is often an employee’s desire for flexibility – and that’s something all industries are hearing. Workers will continue to be in a strong negotiating position regarding work conditions, wages and quality of life in 2022.

It seems like a hopeless picture to paint, right? But you have to understand the complexities of today’s workforce to develop a plan to confront it. It feels overwhelming, but there are a few steps we can all take to recruit and retain top talent, even in today’s job market.

Shift your mindset. Yes, employers have a tall list of challenges in today’s world – technology, supply chain, workforce and more. But an employer-centric view — “what can my employees do for my business?” — isn’t going to work when the advantage is with the employees. Instead, shift to an employee-centric view— “what changes can I make to improve the lives of our employees?”

Listen. At Loretto, we have conducted several employee surveys in the past two years. We also prioritize dialogue with our workforce. Rather than making assumptions about what they want or need, we ask them.

Take action. In the past, our dialogues with employees have resulted in new initiatives – a diaper bank program, car loan partnership and HealthTrain. This year, we will be implementing our employees’ best ideas from the employee surveys. Those ideas include resiliency and crisis management training for managers, robust career ladders for our frontline staff, including advanced certifications and leadership training pegged to increases in wages.

If you’ve read “Lifecircle Leadership,” you are familiar with the philosophy of pragmatic altruism: doing good is good business. However, it’s not doing good for good’s sake, but with a vision, a purpose, and in a way that’s a “win-win” for yourself and your business (think: workforce challenges). This is the heart of pragmatic altruism.

It starts with seeing every employee and client as human beings with potential and opportunity. All too often, employers view employees as robots; just get the job done. Instead, a better business strategy and a better human strategy is to recognize the interconnectedness of employees’ work lives and personal lives. When power has shifted, and our prospective employees are in a strong negotiating position, this is the essential big picture view to overcome workforce challenges.