Suc cessful retention strategies for community health workers

6 Retention Strategies for Keeping Your Best Community Health Workers

Agencies invest in setting up community health worker (CHW) programs and recruiting new workers, but budget constraints often make it hard to retain top talent because they can’t afford to keep up with employees’ needs.

The CHW job market is growing, but the turnover rate in the healthcare industry also growing. 

The turnover rate in the health care industry has risen nearly 5% — across all jobs in the industry — over the last decade, according to the National Healthcare Retention & RN Staffing Report. While many healthcare workers leave their jobs, not as many are being replaced.

It’s not hard to understand why. CHWs and other health promoters have plenty of reasons to leave their jobs:

  • low pay and benefits
  • lack of respect
  • high job burnout
  • high child care costs
  • difficult work hours
  • dissatisfaction with company culture
  • limited career advancement opportunities
  • unclear job duties

Many people feel stuck in their jobs since the COVID-19 pandemic, and this can feed into feelings of dissatisfaction. It’s always a smart decision to make your CHW team feel wanted and rewarded, but now is an especially good time to make sure they stay and know you want them there. Implementing retention strategies leads to a more satisfied team and better outcomes for your clients.

The 6 Employee Retention Strategies you need to keep your CHW program running smoothly

Here are the top 6 ways you can increase the retention of your community health team.

1. Build connections during your recruitment process

Successful retention strategies start before you even know who your candidates are. Start with who you recruit so you hire the best CHW.  This means you should set clear boundaries and protocols for any new CHW position so they understand exactly what the job is when they apply. 

Also go for complete honesty so all applicants understand your company culture and expectations for the job. This careful investment at the beginning will help both you and your new recruit start off in the right place. Here are some ideas of where you can recruit CHWs when you’re ready to post a job.

2. Provide foundational training

Professional development is one of the most effective retention strategies.

Making an investment in learning and development is a proven way to increase CHW satisfaction and also improve their capacity so they can make real improvements in your community. Training is an expense, but it’s far less than the cost of recruiting a new person to replace someone you haven’t invested in.

Some employees could have training in CHW core competencies depending on your agency and the state where you live. Others might not, so you need to provide this foundational training, such as through CHWTraining, to them when they begin.

They’ll also need onboarding as soon as they begin work so they know what to do. An onboarding program should teach your new hires what they should do, what your agency protocols are, necessary compliance training such as HIPAA, and company culture.

CHW Core Competencies

Find out all about what the CHW Core Competencies are, CHW roles, CHW careers, how to cross-train your staff, and how to get state certifications for the CHWs on your team

3. Offer mentoring or fieldwork partnerships

Starting mentoring programs is a powerful way to build on CHW knowledge and also increase teamwork at your agency. It’s also important for any new CHW who lacks experience working with clients or patients. 

Mentoring or a similar peer program also shares the training experience by allowing existing CHWs to build rapport and share on-the-job experience with new hires. Someone who’s been working in the job for a while is in the best position to teach best practices. It can also be less intimidating for a new hire to relate to a peer than to ask questions to a supervisor or manager.}

4. Create a culture of learning

If your agency doesn’t already value learning among employees, make this change now. Employees who feel isolated and stagnant are likelier to leave a job than those feeling satisfied and challenged. A culture of learning that encourages all hires, including CHWs, to expand and grow can significantly decrease turnover and foster a positive working environment. 

This is an important culture to develop because it feeds into the knowledge of your staff and encourages them to share that knowledge with others. This practice will not only level up the skills of your staff but also make your CHWs continue to feel valued beyond the beginning onboarding process.

5. Provide workforce development pathways

Some CHWs begin and stay in their job because they love it. Others look for ways to advance from the position into other jobs, such as a case coordinator, health coach, supervisor, or other specialization.

Providing a clear career path for your CHWs is one of the most effective retention strategies: It helps you recruit qualified workers and also helps you hold on to them when they decide they’d like to expand from their entry role. This will prevent them from being hired away by a new organization or out of your department.

6. Prevent and address Burnout to lower turnover rates

Burnout is a hazard among healthcare workers, and this can be especially true among community health workers. The coronavirus pandemic has made this even more of a problem. 

CHWs who suffer burnout can feel symptoms of loneliness, depression and anxiety. Adequate rest and work-life balance are key retention strategies that also improve your staff’s health. Considering this, as a program manager or supervisor, it’s important to make sure you’re looking out for these symptoms and address them right away. 

Here are some ways to address burnout adapted from SHRM:

  • Respect vacations and make sure your CHWs are taking them
  • Approach CHWs with burnout right away, because the sooner you address it the sooner you can prevent it from becoming worse
  • Promote work-life balance by providing a quiet place to unwind and giving opportunities for mindfulness

Improved workplace conditions are the most effective way to reduce turnover and foster an engaged CHW team

Some CHWs will leave, that’s the nature of employment. But if you follow the strategies above, you can hang on to some of them and make them feel like valued employees. This is just a start. Keep working with your larger team to identify specific reasons at your agency that might be driving people away, and keep investing in your team.

If you’re ready to offer professional development opportunities as part of your retention strategies, get in touch. CHWTraining offers off-the-shelf and custom training for health teams across the US. We’re here to help you launch a successful training program for your community health worker team.

CHW Core Competencies

Find out all about what the CHW Core Competencies are, CHW roles, CHW careers, how to cross-train your staff, and how to get state certifications for the CHWs on your team