Organizations providing behavioral health services or services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) are facing a workforce crisis. More individuals with disabilities are living in their communities than ever before, and high-profile efforts to fight the stigma of mental illness and substance use disorders mean people are more willing to seek treatment. These are important and positive societal shifts, but they have increased the need for counselors, case managers, and direct support professionals.
Today, finding these critical staff members is a daily struggle and frustration for behavioral health and IDD service providers. Consider these worrying statistics:
- A 2017 report from the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities found that the average annual rate of turnover for Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) who work with people with IDD is a mind-blowing 44.8 percent.
- That same report said the cost of replacing a DSP in IDD services ranges from $2,413 to $5,200, for an estimated national cost of more than $2.3 billion in 2015.
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that turnover for in the addiction services workforce ranges from 18.5 percent to more than 50 percent.
- A recent survey of behavioral health executives found that more than 60 percent report their clinical departments are understaffed.
- A 2016 report by the Health Resources and Services Administration estimates that the behavioral health field will experience a 250,000-worker shortage by 2025.
But quantity of workers isn’t the only problem. Because factors such as high turnover continue to plague positions in human services, organizations understand that something must be done to ensure the quality of their hires and to retain their talent.
That’s where assessments come in. Organizations can use assessments during the hiring process, during onboarding, and as a check-in for existing employees.
Assessments During the Hiring Process
As professionals, we are the sum of multiple parts. Job knowledge is not the only factor that contributes to successful job performance. Personality characteristics, tendencies, preferences, communication style, personal experience, cultural background, and the like all contribute to the formula that makes each person a unique individual.
During the selection process, assessments are most often used:
- Prior to the first interview as a screening tool to ensure only applicants who possess the minimum necessary job-related knowledge, skills, and abilities are offered interviews. Deploying assessments here makes sure that your staff who are hiring new employees can quickly, accurately, and effectively screen out applicants who do not have the skills for the job.
- Prior to the final interview and selection decision. You can use assessments to get an in-depth look into the competencies, knowledge, skills, abilities, and characteristics of the few remaining finalists. Assessing candidates at this stage usually involves administering multiple assessments and examining job-related factors beyond basic competency, such as personality, behavior, and traits that could contribute to success or failure.
Assessments for New Hires
Once a new employee is on board, assessments can provide important insights into their knowledge and skills. You can use assessments as an exploratory tool to help identify strengths and potential areas of improvement. Assessments can also provide insight into how the employee may behave and interact with others, be best managed, or may manage others.
Information from assessments about a new employee’s knowledge, skills, abilities, and characteristics can be passed along to their manager. This information is especially valuable if your organization does not have a robust onboarding process for new employees, as it will allow you to craft an individualized development plan and bring awareness to areas in which the new employee may excel or have opportunities for improvement, allowing you manage them more effectively.
Even if your organization does have an onboarding process, it may not be as effective in preparing new employees for the job as you expect. A 2018 survey by Society for Human Resource Management found that, of 350 HR leaders, a staggering 76 percent said their organization was not effectively onboarding new employees. Because onboarding programs often fall short, assessments can be used to identify an employee’s unique strengths and potential areas of improvement, helping the employer create an individualized onboarding plan that involves training specific to their needs.
Gone are the days when every new employee has to read through the same 100-plus-page manual to be “job ready.” With assessments, you can ensure that you’re giving new hires material they need to know and not what they don’t. This saves you time, resources, and personnel/training costs, and it helps to engage the new employee and get them on the floor faster.
Assessments for Ongoing Development
Just like you can use assessments to help you craft development plans for new hires, you can also give assessments to your current employees to better understand their strengths and areas of potential improvement.
For example, a new graduate with a degree in social work is expected to possess knowledge about a variety of behavioral health settings and specialties. But after years of specializing in one area, some of the knowledge they do not use daily unavoidably will fade. It is at this point in time, after several years of focused practice, that assessments can serve as a powerful tool in providing rich data about the staff member’s current level of competency.
Or, let’s take a nurse working for an IDD organization. Assessments on the nurse’s competency in the various aspects of feeding and nutrition can facilitate targeted education. If the nurse demonstrates competency with feeding techniques to prevent aspiration but is deficient in competency regarding food aversions and sensitivities, assessment results should clearly identify where gaps exist. This refined view changes the approach in educating the nurse, focusing on areas where they specifically need support.
Using assessments in this capacity is not only efficient and a better steward of resources, but it can also promote employee satisfaction by providing an alternative, unique method to professional education, as opposed to the traditional cookie-cutter formula. Post-hire assessments, in tandem with other initiatives, play a part in ensuring that employees grow in your organization, increasing employee engagement. And research shows that engagement is linked to reductions in turnover.
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