Why Behavioral Health Staff Leave and How to Keep Them

Behavioral health staffing remains an ongoing challenge for substance use and mental health facilities and organizations of every size. The struggle to keep top talent might feel endless. But with the right strategy, your business can successfully retain behavioral health staff

The Behavioral Health Workforce Crisis

Even before COVID, the demand for mental health and substance use treatment was on the rise. But that need skyrocketed in the aftermath of the pandemic, and the demand for behavioral health services continues to outpace availability. 

In a 2021 survey of its members, the National Council for Mental Wellbeing said that the demand for behavioral health services grew in the last three months, according to 78% of respondents. 

But nearly all their members (97%) said they’ve had trouble recruiting behavioral health staff, citing lack of qualified applicants, inability to offer competitive salaries, and burnout from COVID as some of their top challenges. 

With behavioral health staffing shortages projected to outlast demand for the next several years, is the behavioral health workforce in crisis? 

Why is Behavioral Health Retention So Important?

Eric Scharber, managing principal for SimiTree and founder of SimiTree Talent Solutions firm, says the behavioral health workforce crisis starts with retention, not recruiting. 

“I believe we have a retention problem rather than a recruiting problem,” said Scharber, who’s worked in the recruiting industry since 2005. “According to Gallup, 54% of all turnovers are avoidable. How much better would your behavioral health organization be if you only lost half of those people?” 

Behavioral health staffing is expensive, says Scharber, with the real cost of employee turnover ranging from 150-250% of an employee’s annual salary. 

So, how do you retain behavioral health staff in today’s employment environment? 

What Factors Affect Behavioral Health Staffing Retention?

Each person’s reason for leaving a job is different. But Scharber’s Talent Solutions team has interviewed well over 100,000 healthcare professionals, and they found some common themes when they asked candidates why they left their previous positions. 

They found that the top factors that affect behavioral health staffing retention are:

  • Compensation – With inflation increasing the cost of living, salary has become even more important than ever when it comes to job satisfaction. And when someone isn’t getting paid what they consider a fair wage, this can magnify other things they’ve felt dissatisfied with that they might have otherwise overlooked. Try to evaluate your compensation structure twice a year by doing salary surveys, networking with other industry professionals, or bringing in an outside consultant.
  • Chemistry, Culture, and Engagement – In an industry centered around helping others, behavioral health professionals want to feel like their jobs have meaning. Moreover, they want to feel like management cares about them for who they are as people — not just as tools used to produce financial outcomes.
  • Growth Potential – Growing in a role isn’t always about earning a new title; it also involves helping behavioral health staff become better versions of themselves. Clinical and front-line staff, for example, might have an interest in learning about the business side of the behavioral health industry. Offer chances to grow in ways that enrich your staff personally and professionally.
  • Professional Development – Employees who are hired without experience but developed by that organization often stay three times longer than an industry re-tread. You can develop your behavioral health staff through continuing education, training and development programs, and management training.

While covering all four areas isn’t always possible, becoming strong in one can be a great jumping-off point. Over time, you can work toward building a more robust behavioral health staffing retention strategy.

“It’s important to remember that we’re in a people industry,” said Scharber. “Take care of your employees, and they’ll take care of you.”

SimiTree Talent Solutions is the only healthcare recruitment firm dedicated solely to behavioral health, home health, and hospice. Our experts are ready to help you with your behavioral health staffing needs.