Over the years, I observed dozens of schedulers filling shifts at my home care company. One of my best schedulers was a woman named Nina who had an uncanny ability to get our caregivers to commit to shifts. Nina was highly effective in staffing because she took extra time to develop relationships with both our clients and our caregivers. Nina was often inconvenienced by caregivers who would call out of shifts or talk about their personal problems with her. Despite the fact that Nina was extremely busy, she always made time for a client or caregiver who needed her. She was unceasingly courteous and kind, and her extra “doses of “honey” (as she called them) came back to her like good karma whenever she was in a pinch and really needed a caregiver’s help.
Not all of my schedulers were as kind to our caregivers. One day I watched in horror as my scheduler slammed the phone down after getting a caregiver call-off. She started ranting about yet another caregiver calling out of a shift. Her colleague responded by asking, “Why do all of them do that?!?”
I knew we had a problem when I heard this exchange. Based on the actions of a few caregivers, my schedulers were generalizing about all caregivers.
The Risk of Negative Narratives in Scheduling
Scheduling can be a stressful and frustrating job because of the challenges filling shifts and handling last-minute call offs, but we know that most caregivers want to do a good job. Of course there are a few exceptions, and you deal with those. But when the narrative in the scheduling department descends into a constant cycle of cynicism and complaining about how caregivers are always causing problems, that perception permeates the office culture.
Your schedulers cannot continue to talk among themselves about how “worthless” caregivers are without allowing such a perception to unintentionally seep into direct dialogue with caregivers. Just like most human beings, caregivers will know if you don’t respect them. Where respect is not given, it is not reciprocated. When there’s a lack of respect between caregivers and schedulers, the challenges in staffing multiply because caregivers and schedulers alike are less likely to be considerate of one another’s needs.
As caregivers and schedulers descend into a tug-o-war, your clients suffer through the ensuing reduction in service quality. Clients will only tolerate so many scheduling mishaps before they start looking elsewhere for service.
Treating Caregivers Like Clients
One of the most distinguishing aspects of home care is that every visit to a client is actually a double-sided transaction. What’s a double-sided transaction? It’s a transaction that requires two “sales” in order to deliver a single service.
In home care, not only do you have to “sell” the service to the client, but you also have to “sell” the visit to the caregiver. It’s easy to see the importance of “selling” to your client, but the necessity of “selling” the visit to your caregiver may not be as obvious. Why can’t you just tell the caregiver when and where to go?
If your team thinks caregivers should simply be told where to go and just do what they’re told, nothing else, it’s critical to realize that such an approach isn’t always realistic in home care. Caregivers are humans with complex lives and many demands outside of work. The variability of available work in home care means that caregivers cannot count on predictable schedules. Work only becomes available when a client has a need, wherever that client may live. Caregivers must adjust their personal lives to accommodate constantly evolving work requests, and sometimes they just can’t do it.
Belittling, scolding, insulting, and complaining about caregivers who can’t work a shift does nothing to fill that hole on the schedule. In fact, being rude is how you drive caregivers away. Home Care Pulse recently reported that the biggest cause of the industry’s high rates of caregiver turnover is poor communication with the office.
You’d never think of being rude to a client. Given the nature of home care’s double-sided transactions, you shouldn’t be rude to a caregiver either.
If you teach your staff to treat your caregivers like clients, you will listen to their needs and make efforts to accommodate them. Caregiver job satisfaction will increase. Turnover will decrease. And your caregivers may be more inclined to respond to your karma in a positive way when you’re desperately seeking to fill that last minute shift.
That’s Nina’s secret: over time, the honey is always more effective than the vinegar.
During his career, Dr. Aaron Blight has held leadership positions as a caregiving provider, policymaker, and researcher. Learn more about his caregiving journey here.