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Why Implement a Peer Mentoring Program?

Updated: Oct 22, 2023

Innovative peer mentoring strategies have been shown to significantly improve staff retention for long term care providers. According to BC Care Providers Association, senior care will be the fastest growing industry in BC at 4.2% annual growth from 2020 to 2025, opening an expected 18, 000 positions for health care assistants. This is an alarming statistic considering the challenges that long-term care providers are having with staff shortages now.

Most recruitment efforts today are focusing on student programs, partnerships with education institutions, tuition relief, international recruitment and creating attractive, full time positions with benefits. While these efforts move the needle in the right direction, they fall short of the required target. Initiatives that place increased value on the role of health care assistants in long term care will promote culture change and likely make the biggest impact.

“We cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that created the problem” Albert Einstein

Research suggests that much of the turnover for direct care staff happens in the first 3 months of starting a new job but there are plenty of experienced care staff that are leaving the profession early. Exit interviews highlight a common reason for leaving as “no opportunities for advancement”, “feeling undervalued”, “stressful work environment” and “unmanageable workload”.

Well-executed, peer support programs reduce staff turnover by improving the on-boarding experience for newly hired staff and introducing them to a culture of collaboration, leadership and support. Experienced staff have more opportunities for growth and advancement within the peer support program itself.

Many health care assistants report feeling isolated in the workplace, especially when starting a new job. Peer mentorship fosters supportive connections to other team members from day one. The primary role of the peer mentor is to help new employees become comfortable with their job responsibilities, the team and culture. Mentors answer questions, offer guidance, help problem solve and prepare new graduates for the difficult emotions related to witnessing death while caring for adults that have complex physical and emotional needs.

Grief is undeniably present in long term care settings and staff require support to recognize and process their individual emotions and experience. Peer mentorship provides an opportunity for more seasoned staff to share their coping/self-care strategies and make staff aware of available resources to assist them.

Typically, there is no discussion around death and dying during job orientation and training programs focus more on the clinical skills/tasks required in long term care. This oversight undoubtedly impacts the retention of health care assistants as many are unprepared for the emotional impact of the work they do.

By investing in peer mentors, you not only offer new staff a comprehensive orientation with on-boarding support; you offer existing staff a workplace culture that attracts talent, drives engagement, values people, impacts job satisfaction, and supports continuous growth & learning.

Peer mentors bridge the gap between front line workers and managers, improving the manager’s understanding of new employee’s strengths and weaknesses and helping to ensure that any problems are addressed early in the employee’s tenure.

Peer mentors go beyond teaching new hires proper ways of doing tasks, they help them build and sustain relationships. To build these relationships, new health care assistants are supported with strengthening skills such as interpersonal, communication, self-awareness and problem-solving skills.

Implementing a peer mentoring program in long term care settings takes careful consideration and design. It is time consuming and involved when done right, but well worth the investment when you consider the potential impact on workplace culture and the economic benefits of reduced turnover.

Mentor selection is key and requires a formal and transparent selection process. An effective mentor understands your organization’s values and is familiar with the culture. Staff that demonstrate informal leadership and good interpersonal skills are good candidates. With adequate support and training, peer mentors do more than orient new hires; they advocate for their unit, support their co-workers and are actively involved in culture change activities such as developing and implementing client-centered caregiving practices and staff wellness.

Investing in peer mentorship is a wise investment with rich dividends

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