According to a survey by PHI, a national home care advocacy agency, employee turnover in the home health industry topped 60 percent in 2014. This is one of the highest turnover rates in any industry and indicates that there are some significant issues within the industry in relation to the retention of employees.
While pay and limited opportunities for advancement are often cited as reasons for leaving the field, another common cause of home care workers leaving the industry is burnout. Officially defined as a mental or physical collapse due to the stress and responsibility of one’s career, burnout is common among all health care workers, but those in the home health field face some unique issues that can tax even the most energetic, committed, and professional worker.
Common Causes of Home Health Burnout
The specific causes of burnout vary from provider to provider, but there are some commonalities. Among the biggest drivers of burnout include:
Long hours. Many home health workers have a full client load, and often, home visits take longer than expected. Coupled with transportation time between clients, as well as time spent transcribing notes, handling billing and reimbursement paperwork, and other administrative tasks, it’s not unusual for home health workers to put in 10 to 12 hour days.
Challenging clients. Often, home care workers are charged with caring for clients who are homebound, or facing significant lifestyle changes that affect their mood. In addition, many clients who are receiving home health services are also receiving care from family members or a spouse, and the health worker must manage all of their needs and priorities, while still maintaining health protocols. It can be exhausting working with clients and families who question every action or decision, or refuse to comply with basic instructions.
Isolation. While health care workers working in provider offices or hospitals tend to work as part of a team and have time to interact with their co-workers – whether to share ideas, commiserate, or just vent – most home care workers spend their days working alone, visiting their patients and entering data from home and only visiting the office on occasion. This creates isolation and loneliness, which contributes to burnout.
Lack of career direction. Some home health workers feel like they are “stuck” in their current positions, and they aren’t sure how to move ahead. As with any job, doing the same tasks repeatedly for several years can contribute to burnout.
Because the extremely high turnover rate is contributing to the shortage of home care workers – by some estimates, 1.3 million new home health workers will be needed to meet demand by 2020 – many agencies are actively engaged in burnout prevention, in order to keep their most talented providers on staff. Among the strategies being used include:
Software implementation. Agencies are turning to home care software solutions that streamline many of the scheduling, billing, and administrative tasks that contribute to long days, allowing providers to spend more time working with patients and less time on data entry. These programs manage scheduling, for example, in such a way that the provider travels a route that maximizes patient time and minimizes driving. Immediate online data entry of notes and other information also helps keep families in the loop in real-time and avoids time sent manually entering written notes.
Support building. Many home health agencies are developing systems to encourage workers to support each other and build stronger teams. These include peer support groups, mentoring programs, and regular educational sessions to bring everyone together to discuss issues, learn best practices, and develop better coping techniques.
Training and development. In addition to building stronger teams, agencies devoted to reducing turnover are helping home health workers develop career plans and providing additional education and training to help them reach their goals.
Work-life balance. Agencies with long-term workforces are those that encourage work-life balance in their employees. This includes reasonable shift scheduling, access to health and wellness resources, and support for employees who need to take a step back. Allowing employees to take adequate vacation time and respecting their preferences in terms of scheduling can go a long way toward preventing burnout and maintaining a satisfied workforce.
The field of home health care is always going to be challenging, and it’s not necessarily right for everyone. However, agencies can do a lot to maintain the people who are passionate and committed to the field by taking steps to prevent employee burnout.