According to a survey of behavioral health professionals and U.S. adults from the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, “the vast majority (83%) of the nation’s behavioral health workforce believes that without public policy changes, provider organizations won’t be able to meet the demand for mental health or substance use treatment and care.” As if that statistic isn’t alarming enough, consider these from the same survey:
- 93% of the professionals surveyed have experienced some degree of burnout.
- 90% of total respondents are concerned about access to care.
- 48% of the professionals surveyed say the impacts of the talent shortage have made them consider other employment options.
Already, approximately 160 million Americans live in areas with mental health professional shortages. And although educational institutions, governments, and various types of organizations are working to combat the burgeoning talent shortage and make the space more appealing, progress has been slow. It takes months, even years, to grow funding, increase reimbursements, and recruit more people to (and back to) the profession.
For behavioral health, care management, and provider organizations, this leads to an important question: What can we do now to successfully recruit and retain behavioral health professionals from such a small pool of candidates? While there’s no “easy button,” there are several levers you can pull to build positive relationships with candidates and employees:
1. Listen to your employees.
Behavioral health professionals want to be heard, and they are seeking employers who truly listen to their thoughts and concerns. They’re often on the frontlines, working with patients directly, so they not only understand each patient’s unique needs, but also how your organization can serve the patients. Failing to actively engage these employees, or being dismissive in any way, can result in a negative relationship, which may trigger their decision to exit. And with the talent shortage so severe, it’s relatively easy for them to secure a competitive job elsewhere.
2. Recognize and care about them.
Burnout is real, and few people are more stressed from America’s mental health and substance use disorder crisis than behavioral health professionals. They’ve dealt with an exhaustively long list of patients, with no end in sight, for years. While private and public “thank yous” can help lift their spirits, it often requires more than that. Recognize them in a measurable way, perhaps with bonuses, extra time off, and/or opportunities to grow their careers. You can think of this recognition as a form of investment, which returns a higher level of retention.
Behavioral health professionals must also consider their own wellbeing. Reduced workloads, time off, and access to their own resources are becoming necessities. Employers and state governments are starting to recognize this. In Florida, for example, the state “contracts with private, nonprofit organizations, the Professionals Resource Network and the Intervention Project for Nurses to promote health professional wellness for a variety of provider types, including psychologists, marriage and family therapists, clinical social workers and mental health therapists.”
3. Discuss career paths.
Behavioral health is a broad space with many different types of jobs and levels. Although there are plenty of exceptions, most professionals prefer not to remain stagnant—in the same job at the same place, year after year. Ask them about their career aspirations. Are they happy where they are? Where would they like to go next? What’s their ultimate goal? From there, you have the information you need to offer career paths and support each step of the way. One Medix client recently determined that there was a high demand for continuing education among their full-time staff, so they set up a tuition reimbursement program, which offered $10,000 in tuition reimbursement each year for full- and part-time staff with at least one year of employment. It resulted in more fulfilled staff, increased retention, and better overall care.
Helping individuals launch their careers is also paramount to getting them on a path. There’s no better group to illustrate this than social workers. They face a challenging journey to reach a point of practice—from education, to internships, to paid work outside of the profession. And when they begin their professional journey, they often carry debt, and earn modest salaries. There’s a growing push for employers to provide some degree of additional financial assistance for social workers and other professionals, to improve their financial wellbeing and allow them to focus on career growth.
4. Know your market.
The number one way to remain competitive when recruiting and retaining behavioral health professionals is to know your local market, and convert your knowledge into compelling offers. While there’s an obvious talent shortage in the industry, it varies by specific locales. Find out how sharp or mild it is in your market. Next, research the competition. How much are they paying? What benefits are they offering? How flexible is the work schedule? Because you must make an offer equivalent to the competition’s, at a bare minimum. If your entire package is equal to or better than market average, turn your attention to other factors such as conditions, culture, and reputation.
5. Partner with an experienced staffing agency.
An experienced, specialized staffing partner should understand your local market, from the average pay to the competition to the size of the candidate pool. They should also have a team of recruiters who know the industry intimately and are capable of connecting with the highest-quality candidates quickly. Partnering with a staffing agency can also be cost-effective for a number of reasons, namely because it saves your HR team from spending so much on recruiting and eliminates the opportunity cost of spending an inordinate amount of time posting job ads, screening resumes, interviewing candidates, making offers, onboarding new hires, and more.
Medix has 20+ years of experience helping healthcare organizations find behavioral health and care management professionals, including contract, contract-to-hire, and direct hire behavioral health care managers, licensed social workers, licensed clinical social workers, and licensed professional counselors. We’ve monitored the talent shortage in behavioral health for years now, and countered it by creatively building deep candidate pools, consulting our clients on what it takes to attract candidates, and carefully vetting candidates to identify which ones are most likely to be retained.