By | February 16, 2017

Employee turnover remains a hot-button issue among health and human service providers around the globe. A recent article, published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, found a link between high employee turnover rates and disparate access to behavioral health in foreign countries. Furthermore, the study found higher staff density rates, the number of people involved in caring for each person served also improved treatment quality in behavioral health.

As a human services director, clinical director other executive-level member in your organization, you need to understand how high employee turnover impacts behavioral health treatment and outcomes and what you can do to reduce it.


High Employee Turnover Reduces Access to Behavioral Health Services

One of the darkest impacts of high employee turnover involves access to behavioral health services. Regardless of current behavioral health problems, especially among children, people in need of services face unprecedented challenges to getting services in remote areas. Per the Child Welfare Information Gateway (CWIG), higher caseloads and increasingly complex cases limit an employee’s time with people in need. This results in less time spent reviewing behavioral health issues, which opens the door to misdiagnoses or miscommunications.

In other words, the ability to access high-quality standard of care in behavioral health is inhibited. Meanwhile, those living in rural areas might be faced with extensive travel costs to see a provider, and providers may not be able to visit those in need in person. So, a person’s mental health state may deteriorate further, leading to increased risk for suicide, violence, substance abuse and development of other co-occurring mental health conditions, reports Steve Ford of Nursing Times.


Employee Turnover Inhibits Continuum of Care

High turnover rates reflect poorly on an organization. If persons served suffer continued setbacks, funding to an organization may be lowered. Yet, this propagates the original problem. Moreover, reduced access may result in seeing those with behavioral health issues less often and by different providers. While this might not seem like a problem, those suffering will need to build rapport and trust with a new contact person. In other words, they may hold back important, potentially life-saving information, such as feelings of immense depression or mania.

Employee Turnover Decreases Morale Among Other Employees

When staff members are stretched with large caseloads, the opportunity for burnout increases. Thus, more employees resign in search of more fulfilling, less stressful career opportunities. Unfortunately, every employee that leaves contributes to a growing problem with morale among those remaining in your company. So, you could be faced with the possibility of fewer employees showing up for duty as the days progress. Meanwhile, some employees may not complete required documentation appropriately or even skew facts to complete designated workloads.


How to Reduce Employee Turnover in Behavioral Health

When dealing with high employee turnover rates, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. But, if you understand the causes, you can start working to reduce the turnover rate, explains the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), through the following steps:

  1. Provide paid time off and vacations. Vacations and time off are essential tools to reducing burnout. However, the key to making this benefit actionable lies in offering paid time off. This includes paid vacation time, leave and sick time.
  2. Allow frontline workers to provide feedback. Organizational management is more than just making decisions based on input from upper-level staff members. Create a means for employees to provide feedback for current workload and duties, and follow up with each request. Depending on the size of your organization, this may require the creation of a new position in human resources, but it will help reduce turnover.
  3. Reduce the burden of paperwork. The world is becoming more digital, not paper-based. In addition, digital charting and documenting reduces the time needed for staff members to complete assessments and provide care. In other words, moving as many processes as possible to digital versions should be a top priority in your organization.
  4. Offer opportunities for promotions. Employees’ resolve increases when they have an incentive to work faster and more efficiently. Promotions do not need to immediately jump to high salaries to boost morale, but they do need to stay competitive with your community. Consider conducting a survey of employee salaries in your area, and make sure your organization is paying employees within reason and according to their skill sets and experience.
  5. Create a supportive culture in the workplace. Emotional support is a hallmark of organizations that actively reduce employee turnover rates. Your organization needs to find ways to provide support to your staff, which may include partnering with local organizations to offer reduced family care services or even partner discounts. For example, you might team up with a day care agency to provide child care for employees at a lower rate. This step can go as far as your organization wants as well. Also, working in behavioral health is stressful, so consider a mental health support office for your staff to vent their frustrations and feelings regarding work in a confidential manner.
  6. Make training an ongoing part of work. New protocols and standards are being developed daily in behavioral health. Unfortunately, this means last year’s best practices may be outdated, leaving your staff members at a disadvantage to providing the best care possible. Thus, your organization needs to provide up-to-date training consistently to all employees, regardless of existing educational or on-the-job experience. This will also give employees a change of pace to keep workloads from becoming mundane and stale.

The Big Picture

A study of workforce turnover among behavioral health service providers, reports the New Hampshire Business Review, indicates as many as 8 percent of behavioral health service positions remain unfulfilled. Meanwhile, up to 15 percent of positions for “specific centers” lack qualified personnel. Although state-specific, this review alludes to nationally increasing employee turnover rates among behavioral health service providers. However, you can do something to improve the situation.

Use the effects of high employee turnover as a rationale to increase HHS training opportunities, and take steps to improve the benefits offered by your organization. The behavioral health of your community, including children, adolescents, adults and seniors, depends on your ability to retain quality employees. So, it is your best interest and the interest of those you serve to do everything you can make employees want to stay with your organization.

Jason Vanover

Working in health care since 2005, Jason's body of experience encompasses dozens of care settings, including Senior care, psychiatric facilities, nonprofit health service centers, group homes for those with developmental disabilities and beyond. Jason understands the need to tailor his skills to each setting to encourage the best treatment outcomes and promote an inclusive, healing environment.

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