Ida's Corner - Caregiver Retention
Some years ago I attended a presentation by an actuary who is blind. His talk was excellent and he illustrated his comments with graphs and tables in a PowerPoint slideshow. He was able to direct his audience to every point in the very complex slides without hesitation. I was astounded by his memory until I noticed something. His assistant sat next to him and managed the slides, but they also had a system whereby she prompted him on what slide was on the screen and where the points he was discussing were on the slide. After the talk he thanked his assistant and told us how she was his eyes and how long they had been a team and that she was the reason why he could do what he does. He was cheered for the quality of his talk and she was cheered for the quality of her support.
To me this illustrates two critical aspects of caregiver retention:
- Caregivers respect winners and become far more loyal to them than to losers.
- Caregivers who are acknowledged for the role they play, find self-esteem in what otherwise is a demanding, emotionally draining and often very lonely job. This feeling of worth, of adding value to the life of another, is often the tipping factor that motivates a caregiver to stay.
The retention of an excellent caregiver is a top priority in the life of a person with a disability who requires caregiving services but do we always have a focused retention strategy? A recent survey showed that more than 50% of employers did not have retention strategies. The same survey showed that 85% of employers thought that the most important factor in retaining an employee is to push up wages. This is not true; there is much more to employee retention than wages. But the trouble with retention strategies is that there is not a “one size fits all” solution. People differ, so strategies also need to differ. This is as true for the relationships between persons with disabilities and their caregivers as it is for big business.
However, there are general considerations that pertain to caregivers as much as to any other employee that reduce the stresses and difficulties of caregiving and improve caregiver retention. Here are some:
- Treat your caregiver with respect and as an individual.
- Provide fair compensation, including benefits.
- Clearly communicate expectations, goals and rules. Let them know what is expected of them.
- Help them to make a success of caring for you.
- Give honest feedback, both positive and negative. Praise a job well done, but be specific in what it is that you appreciate.
- Actively listen to your caregivers. Ask them for ideas and thoughts on how to make your collective circumstances better.
- Celebrate successes, big and little. Have fun together, despite the difficulty of your circumstances.
- Get your caregivers involved and keep them informed - give them information that tells them how their assistance and support allows you to succeed in what you do.
- Be flexible - whether that means specifically providing flexi time or just letting them leave work early for a personal matter when appropriate.
- Provide training and show them advancement opportunities. Help them turn a job into a career.
- Above all, be honest with your caregivers. If things go wrong, discuss it frankly, but bear in mind that everyone will have bad days. So don’t blow your top, but be firm on your expectations.
It is said that employees don’t quit jobs, they quit managers. The same holds true for caregivers. In a very demanding job with long hours, the deciding factor between staying on or leaving is the nature and quality of the person that they work for. If you are able to instill a sense of loyalty into your caregivers they are more likely to remain with you. True loyalty is an earned response to the trust, respect and commitment shown by you to your caregiver. When you demonstrate loyalty to your caregivers they will reciprocate with commitment and loyalty to you.
Remember too that people don’t begin their employment with you as loyal employees, but will develop loyalty over time as they’re trusted, respected and appreciated by you. New employees are most vulnerable during the first 90 days of their employment. If you are able to make your new caregivers feel like valued team members from the word go, you will not only retain them but you will also instill a sense of loyalty in them.