Success for Your Schedulers: How to Build & Retain Caregiver Relationships

Home Care Office Staff Hiring Tips

Maintaining a loyal team of caregivers is linked to the success of your scheduler or care coordinator. Here’s how to set them up for success. 

Like it the old fashioned way?

If you ask any home care administrator to name the top three obstacles to success, one of those challenges is likely to be caregiver turnover. This is borne out by the data in this year’s Benchmarking Study which shows that nearly all the gains made in caregiver retention in 2019 were wiped out by the pandemic.

Maybe it is time to consider a new approach to caregiver retention. Maintaining a loyal team of caregivers is causally linked to the success of your scheduler or care coordinator. Last year’s Benchmarking Study revealed that the average turnover rate for office staff was about 25%. In addition, the data showed that, on average, for every office staff member who quits, your agency loses five caregivers.

This is especially true for schedulers because they serve as the link between clients and caregivers. If that link is broken because a scheduler leaves, caregivers may feel untethered, frustrated, or even neglected. As a result, communication errors build-up, causing caregivers to look for other jobs.

While much of the focus in home care is on training caregivers as part of a retention strategy, you can see from this data that training is equally important for your office staff. Providing your scheduling staff with the training they need to succeed can help tame caregiver turnover at your agency.

Offer the Right Job-Specific Training

Aside from the technical skills your schedulers need to learn, such as using any scheduling software and communication tools, there are a few job-specific skills unique to the role of the scheduler. Providing training on these skills will support both scheduler and caregiver retention.

Job Specific Skill #1: Understanding the Role of the Caregiver

“Caregiver” is a general term we use to describe a variety of healthcare helpers, from a companion to a certified nursing assistant. And each type of caregiver has different client care tasks they can and cannot do. Even if you hire a scheduler with home care experience, the role of the caregiver can vary from state to state and even from agency to agency. Before your schedulers ever speak to a client, train them on the role of the caregiver in your agency. Without this knowledge, they may give unrealistic expectations to clients and their families.

Job Specific Skill #2: Matching Clients and Caregivers

Your agency may use scheduling software that helps narrow down caregivers by availability and location, but there is so much more that goes into making a good match. Any training for your schedulers on matching should also include learning how to do the following:

  • Compare the client’s medical needs to the caregiver’s qualifications. For example, if the client has dementia, diabetes, or COPD, the caregiver should be qualified to care for individuals living with those medical needs.

  • Match the client’s physical needs with the caregiver’s physical abilities. For example, a client who is 6 feet 3 inches tall, weighs 270 pounds, and needs assistance while ambulating must be paired with a caregiver who is physically able to help the client.

  • Assess personality and culture as part of the matching process. Schedulers need to consider that a shy or reserved client may be dissatisfied by an outgoing, perky caregiver. Your training should also teach schedulers to take issues like language barriers and food preferences into account when matching clients and caregivers.

Related content: Training Your Schedulers: The Secret Ingredient to Happy Clients and Caregiver

Job Specific Skill #3: Reviewing the Plan of Care

Because the care plan impacts the client/caregiver matching process, your schedulers should receive training on how to find a care plan, how to read it, and who to reach out to if there are questions.

There are three important features of the care plan that help guide the matching process:

  1. The client’s medical needs (or diagnosis).
  2. The client’s physical needs.
  3. The frequency of services.

A top complaint we hear when conducting both client and caregiver surveys is that the caregiver is insufficiently prepared to care for the client. Taking the care plan into account during the matching process assists schedulers in assigning qualified caregivers only.

Don’t Forget Soft-Skills Training!

Job-specific skills are what most companies focus on when it comes to training. But here is some interesting data: companies that offer soft skills training on topics like communication, time management, and team building enjoy a whopping 250% Return on Investment (ROI) for those training dollars because of increased productivity and retention.

Soft skills provide the necessary foundation for being successful at job-specific skills. For example, a scheduler needs to be a good communicator and a good listener to succeed at matching clients and caregivers.

Soft Skill #1: Handling Conflict and Complaints

Because health care is a people business, conflict and complaints come with the territory. Chances are your schedulers are often caught in the middle between making your clients happy and providing a good work experience for your caregivers. Learning how to manage conflict and complaints is a key skill for every scheduler.

When training your schedulers on this skill, include information on the different ways that people approach conflict. For example, some people avoid conflict like the plague while others see it as a competition they must win at all costs. Your schedulers need to learn how to recognize and manage each approach. You should also give your schedulers some best-practice tips for resolving a conflict, including hearing both sides of a dispute and negotiating a solution.

If your schedulers complete training that helps them understand their role in handling conflict, they will gain the tools they need to remain calm, professional, and respectful whether they are dealing with an angry client or an upset caregiver.

Soft Skill #2: Time Management Skills

Time management training can help your schedulers identify any time-wasting habits they have, such as taking shortcuts. Imagine that your scheduler has three new admissions. Instead of taking the time to get to know the clients’ needs and the caregivers’ abilities, she “saves time” by selecting the first available caregivers.

What is the result? The caregivers work with the new clients for a few days before it becomes painfully clear the pairs are mismatched. Now because of taking that shortcut, your scheduler must go through the matching process all over again! In addition to wasting time, she wound up with three sets of unhappy clients and caregivers.

Another time management myth is that multitasking saves time. In fact, multitasking may be costing your schedulers more time than it is saving. Studies show that people who think they are saving time by performing several tasks at once may not accomplish anything as well—or as fast—as if they tackled one task at a time.

By providing your schedulers with training on time management that encourages alternative ways to save time, you will give them the tools they need to complete their work without resorting to shortcuts or multitasking.

Soft Skill #3: Relationship-Building Skills

The most successful schedulers are those who are trained to build meaningful relationships with both clients and caregivers.

Connecting with Clients

A scheduler’s relationship with clients affects both client satisfaction and caregiver retention. To develop top-notch schedulers, offer training on the following communication skills:

  • Communicating consistently with clients. A scheduler will earn your clients’ trust through regular and reliable communication.

  • Individualizing client communication. When a scheduler honors the client’s communication preferences, it deepens their relationship.

  • Communicating changes promptly. Informing clients as soon as a schedule change occurs helps prevent stress, confusion, and dissatisfaction.

  • Getting to know their clients. The best schedulers learn to ask clients about their day—and truly listen to the response. Engaging in a few moments of personal conversation with clients helps the scheduler build lasting and trusting relationships.

As the scheduler builds strong relationships with clients and their families, they will be in a better position to recognize and resolve issues before they lead to an unhappy client and a caregiver who quits.

Bonding with Caregivers

Building relationships with caregivers may be one of the most challenging yet important parts of the scheduler’s job. What makes it so challenging? Distance! Only 16% of remote employees (like caregivers) say they feel “connected” to their teams.

Why does this matter? Caregivers who are connected are less likely to quit or “ghost” the scheduler when someone is needed to fill a shift. Caregivers who feel a strong bond with their scheduler experience more satisfaction in their jobs. This feeling trickles down to the quality of care they give to clients. Everyone wins!

To encourage meaningful relationships with caregivers, train your schedulers on these practices:

  • Respect their caregivers. It is crucial that caregivers feel respected for the contributions they make and the experience they bring to the job. Teach your schedulers to ask caregivers for ideas regarding clients and their care needs—and to take their suggestions seriously.

  • Be an anchor for their caregivers. Train your schedulers to be that one person caregivers can go to when they have questions, concerns, problems, or even good news about work-related issues.

  • Check-in with caregivers regularly. Texts or app notifications may be efficient methods of communication, but schedulers build a deeper bond when they have regular calls or video chats with caregivers. And a strong bond leads to increased caregiver retention

Set your Schedulers up for Success

Home care schedulers serve as an internal and external “face” of your agency, a role that is critical to your daily operations and your reputation in the community. Providing them with the training they need to succeed is a key action that helps drive staff retention. Here are three specific actions you can take to get started:

  1. Calculate your current scheduler turnover and see if the 1 to 5 ratio applies. Do you lose five caregivers when you lose a scheduler? This is essential data for your agency.
  2. Evaluate your scheduler hiring process to ensure you are adequately assessing a candidate’s proficiency in both job-specific and soft skills.
  3. Assess the current initial and ongoing training you offer your schedulers. Is it comprehensive, or could you add to it to increase its impact? (Hint: Be sure to study any negative client or caregiver reviews to identify any gaps in training.)

Should you decide that your scheduler training program could use some “punch,” what are your options? If you have the time and resources, you can develop your own in-house training for your schedulers. If you use a third-party training vendor, check their course catalog for topics applicable for your schedulers. For example, Home Care Pulse offers online scheduler training as part of our regular eLearning subscription.

The goal of any scheduler training curriculum should be twofold: 1) to develop exceptional home care schedulers who serve successfully as the link between clients and caregivers, and 2) to cut the turnover rate for both your schedulers and your caregivers.

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