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Tackling Staff Turnover: A Novel Approach

March 1, 2004
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This program combines social services and job coaching by Linda Zinn, Editor
Tackling staff turnover: A novel approach

This innovative program helps entry-level employees surmount life's roadblocks to stay on the job

BY LINDA ZINN, EDITOR Starting a new job can be a bit daunting for anyone. There are new schedules to follow and new information to learn, not to mention new people to get to know. Add to those challenges unreliable transportation, overwhelmingly expensive childcare, and no savings for emergencies, and you'll have atypical scenario for people starting lowwage, entry-level jobs such as those found in long-term care. This scenario also accounts, in large part, for the high rate of turnover for these jobs.

Achieve, a job-retention program based in Cuyahoga County, Ohio (Cleveland area), is trying to rewrite the script for a better ending. Currently targeting the long-term care workplace, its goals are to "increase entry-level employee retention, promote skill building for employee success, and reduce employee absenteeism and turnover."

This unique program pairs social workers and job coaches with long-term care employers to help recently hired low-wage, entry-level workers keep their jobs. The program defines a "low wage" as anything less than $13 an hour, but the employees Achieve currently serves are making an average of just $8.59 an hour. The program is also designed to encourage low-wage workers to set their sights higher for future advancement, which in turn also improves job retention. Most of the employees served by Achieve are single minority women with children; almost a third lack a high school diploma or GED certificate.

Achieve was developed by Towards Employment, a nonprofit organization in Cleveland that helps low-income people find and maintain employment. According to Towards Employment's Director of Retention Services and Program Development Jill Rizika, what makes Achieve unique is that besides serving employees, Achieve views employers as its clients, as well.

Also unique is the fact that Achieve's services are work-site based. Its case managers, called Achieve Advisors, keep office hours each week at the nursing homes where they serve. They are also available by telephone around the clock, seven days a week. Currently, 11 Northeast Ohio long-term care facilities (both nonprofit and for-profit) are participating in the Achieve program.

In addition to their regular office hours, Achieve Advisors hold 30- to 45-minute interactive "Lunch & Learn" education sessions at each facility every other week that feature either a speaker or a skill-building presentation. These sessions are held on more than one shift, so that all workers can take advantage of them. They cover a wide range of topics within four core competencies (Personal Wellness, Workplace Skills, Money Matters, and Continuing Education). Among employees' favorite topics have been personal budgeting, understanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, dealing with difficult people in the workplace, goal setting, and stress management.

Essential to encouraging participation in these sessions, Rizika says, are "recognition, food, and fun." The Lunch & Learn certificate program awards a certificate and a prize to participants who attend 10 sessions. Each session includes a free lunch and ends with a raffle, with prizes that are tied to the theme of the session, such as insulated lunch bags when a budgeting strategy called for bringing a lunch to work to save money, or a relaxation CD and candle for stress management. Phone cards and gift cards to local grocery stores are also popular prizes.

As part of Achieve's service package to employers, the advisors also provide training to the frontline supervisors who oversee the day-to-day work of entry-level staff. The supervisory training, originally planned as a one-time, eight-hour workshop, with a short follow-up session after six months, has been so well received that several nursing homes have requested additional sessions, to cover specific issues or to provide the training to newly employed supervisors.

Sometimes advisors perceive a conflict between an employee and a supervisor that isn't really the employee's fault. In such cases, they might offer supervisory training to the worker and supervisor's department, which lets them extend a helping hand without singling out a particular supervisor as being problematic.

Rizika points out that because employers know that Achieve staff hear about all kinds of concerns, the employers sometimes look to the advisors to share this information in order to better address those concerns. She says, "We need to be careful about keeping the identities of people who have complained confidential, but we can inform employers in a general way about concerns raised. For example, we might tell them, 'At Lunch & Learn, everyone was up in arms about the schedule changes, and they don't understand why the changes were made.' This reveals to the administrator that there was a communication breakdown, which can then be corrected by providing an explanation."

Achieve Advisors, in addition to helping employees build their job performance, improve their life skills, and adjust to new jobs, also provide supportive services. These might include assistance with childcare, transportation, uniforms, and other practical needs that might interfere with an employee's attendance or job performance. Employees in the program have been assisted, for example, in repairing their credit, obtaining financing for continuing their education, starting a GED program, getting eyeglasses, learning how to manage their time better, and tapping into employee benefi ts.

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Hello, I wish we had you in Toledo. I think there is a lack of respect on both sides. As a result, the high turnover rate. I entered this field as a second career, in my 50's, and I am going for my RN degree. But, I have to survive while I am going to school. I had no idea that the facilities were so unstable. I am 'old- school' and am amazed at the volume of 'call-offs'. Communication is not good. I have been let down and wonder where do I go from here? I love caring for the elderly. How do I find a stable facility? Is ther such a thing? Home care doesn't ensure a 40- hour week. Any advice? God bless, Patty

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