April 4, 2017

Health and Human Services Sector Faces Uphill Battle With Recruitment and Retention


People who work in the health and human services (HHS) sector undoubtedly have positive impacts on the lives of others. Working in a field that allows you to improve others’ quality of life is commendable and rewarding in many ways.

Yet, HHS jobs tend to be highly stressful and low paying. As a result, jobs in the sector can be difficult to fill and keep filled. To succeed in 2017, HHS organizations need to make recruiting and retention major focuses.

And it looks like that is happening: According to the 2017 Workforce Management Trends Report from HR and talent management software firm DATIS, more than 84 percent of HHS executives believe recruiting and retention are “extremely important” or “very important.”

Recruiting and Retention: Desire vs. Ability

HHS executives truly believe in the importance of recruiting and retention. It isn’t a willingness to follow through that causes the industry’s problems. According to Erik Marsh, CEO of DATIS, it’s often a lack of resources that holds organizations back on these fronts.

“The gap between executives ranking recruiting and retention as very important [and] not feeling ready to address it can be attributed to a lack of people, systems, or processes [needed] to manage the challenges that are currently being faced,” Marsh explains.

More than a third of the executives surveyed for the report said their organizations suffer from turnover rates of more than 20 percent. In large part, this is due to the nature of work in the HHS field.

“While the survey did not specifically delve into the reasons for turnover, this high rate is very common in the health and human services industries, where salaries tend to be low and the job responsibilities can be extremely taxing, especially when dealing with behavioral health clients,” Marsh says. “Most of the clients we work with can tell us that their turnover rates for the higher, more executive-level positions are much lower, but it is the front-line, service-level workers that drive the average turnover rate up so high.”

Marsh also points to a potential correlation between retention and performance management processes.

Bike“A large majority of respondents reported that they only collect employee feedback on an annual basis, a cadence that most modern industry leaders say is not nearly enough,” he notes. “An abundance of research … indicates that annual performance reviews are ineffective in terms of employee engagement and productivity.”

If HHS organizations want to boost retention, they may want to implement “more consistent feedback loops” and incorporate “feedback from peers, not just managers,” Marsh says.

The Millennial Effect

As younger generations enter the workforce, their new opinions and practices may collide with the old order, adding fuel to the fire in high-stress industries such as HHS that already struggle to hang on to employees for the long term.

“Today, organizations are facing an increasingly ‘melting pot’-like workforce situation, where four distinct generations have begun to collide in the workforce, each with their own unique traits and working styles,” Marsh says. “This has made collaboration and teamwork more complex within the workplace. To keep retention rates high, organizations must determine how to satisfy the needs of their millennials while also keeping their existing employees happy.”

The good news for HHS is that millennials have also shown a willingness to work for more than just good pay. The emotional rewards that come with giving first-line help to those in need may go further with the next generation than they did with previous ones, alleviating some of the turnover the industry suffers from. HHS organizations that lack resources could also look into benefit programs that cost little but appeal to millennials, such as unlimited vacation packages, free office yoga, free lunch, or negotiated employee discounts at retailers.

Read more in Turnover

Jason McDowell holds a BS in English from the University of Wisconsin-Superior and an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. By day, he works as a mild-mannered freelance writer and business journalist. By night, he spends time with his wife and dogs, writes novels and short stories, and tries in vain to catch up on all of those superhero television shows.