Better aged care starts with better workforce support

By Nick Bailey
Tuesday, 08 June, 2021

Better aged care starts with better workforce support

The aged-care sector has welcomed new government funding of $17.7 billion over the next five years. With the funding comes a range of targets. The most ambitious is a commitment to, by 2022, increase care for residents to 200 minutes per day, including 40 minutes of registered nurse time.

It’s unlikely the target has considered the administrative burden of rostering and tracking care workers and Registered Nurses’ (RNs’) time. Facilities will be required to strictly implement reporting of daily staffing hours, specifying necessary details to maintain balanced working conditions for the care workers and reviewing the service given to the residents.

It’s fair to say this responsibility will rest squarely with providers, and it’s essential that aged-care providers plan for these changes ahead of the Aged Care Act, due in 2023, when regulation will be mandated.

Similar issues face the healthcare sector, where the call for an increase in nurse-to-patient ratios has been ongoing. While regulation in this space is yet to catch up, the cumulative pressure served up by the COVID-19 pandemic, and slow vaccination rollout, has exacerbated the need to find real solutions to combat employee fatigue.

It’s a challenge on multiple fronts for leaders in the sector: maintain or improve service levels while looking out for staff wellbeing and remaining 100% compliant at all times.

The key role of technology in complying with the government’s mandate

Technology plays a key role in overcoming these challenges. Cloud-based workforce-management systems, artificial intelligence and machine learning can enhance efficiency, safety and employee experience.

Configurable features create real impact by ensuring staff have the right qualifications, rest periods and remunerations for each shift. The technology can also create a supported environment for learning and facilitate meaningful communication between employers and managers.

Is the workforce qualified for the task?

Workforce-management software can integrate with existing healthcare-management systems and be configured to automatically generate rosters for certified and qualified staff to ensure regulatory parameters are honoured.

For unplanned absences or when staff call in sick, the rostering system can present last-minute shifts and overtime opportunities to the next qualified worker in the queue, eliminating the risk of under-qualified staff taking on work.

Machine learning, sourced from data captured in real time, gives management visibility over resourcing shortfalls, predicts future outages and enables future planning.

Are you paying staff correctly?

Under Australian awards and enterprise agreements, paying workers is fraught with complexity. As the regulatory net tightens, providers will need robust systems to not only pay employees fairly, but to provide accurate reporting.

Robust, rules-based workforce-management software can be configured to automatically calculate pay rules such as minimum wage and annualised salary conditions to ensure compliance.

In addition, time and attendance data can be accurately captured and precisely change over to overtime or penalty rates, and bridge seamlessly into the payroll system.

Conversely, the software also flags where staff might be consistently late or leave the workplace early to enable management to address staff issues and avoid overpayment.

Do staff have agency in organising their work?

The advantage of a cloud-based system is that it can be accessed anywhere, anytime on any device. Giving employees who don’t have access to a company computer the means to communicate with management, and transparency over their work practices, is a key building block for employee satisfaction and retention.

Kevin Britton, National Payroll Manager at Opal HealthCare, has been running workforce-management software, Workforce Suite, for rostering across 80 care homes. He notes the employee experience has been positive.

“Team members can now view their roster and current timesheet on their phone in real time before it’s exported on payday,” Britton said.

“Any discrepancies can be addressed ahead of payday and get amended before payroll runs, meaning no incorrect pay, no frustrated team members and no additional work.”

The added benefit of the technology is to give employees the ability to balance their job with their lives outside of work. For example, if an employee suddenly needs to attend a medical appointment, they can request time off on the system from their mobile phone and the system will automatically call out for cover.

Where a staff member knows another employee is available and qualified, they can organise the cover or swap shifts among themselves, before submitting the request for sign-off.

This significant shift in employee experience is enabled by technology, fast-tracking the cover process, and negates the need for qualified employees like RNs to spend their time ringing around to fill shifts.

In an environment where management has little contact with the workforce, managers can also check in with employees via app. This feature could be used to help reduce burnout and mitigate fatigue by delivering instant app-based check-ins with employees working excessive overtime — for example, by asking them how they are feeling about the added shifts.

This simple interaction — where one employee might need more time at home with family and another might really appreciate the extra shifts to cover costs at home — can make the world of difference to employee satisfaction and worth.

While demands for better care of residents and patients dominate the cultural agenda, it’s imperative that providers do everything they can to streamline systems, optimise resources and safeguard the wellbeing of employees.

Successful providers who are evaluating to bring about positive change need to bring their people with them on the journey, and workforce management technology is perfectly placed to enable this.

Nick Bailey is Senior Vice President at WFS: A WorkForce Software Company, Asia Pacific and Japan.

Image credit: © Images

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