Jul 5, 2023
Dr. Jim Herbert, Professor of Counselor Education and Rehabilitation and Human Services at Penn State, is back in the studio today. In this second part of a two-part series, Jim discusses the retention challenges identified in his study- Recruitment and Retention of State Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors: A Mixed Methods Analysis.
Please listen in as Carol and Jim continue to unpack this study and have a frank discussion about the significant challenges and possible solutions you can apply to your situation.
Be sure to check out the Recruitment side of the study by Dr. Jim Herbert in the previous episode of Manager Minute.
Speaker1: Manager Minute brought to you by the VRTAC for Quality Management, Conversations powered by VR, one manager at a time, one minute at a time. Here is your host Carol Pankow.
Carol: Well, welcome to the Manager Minute. Joining me back in the studio today is Dr. Jim Herbert, professor of counselor, education and Rehabilitation and Human services at Penn State. Now we're going to discuss the second part of his study, recruitment and retention of state vocational rehabilitation counselors, a mixed methods analysis. And I'm super happy to have you back with me today. Jim, how's it going?
Jim: It's going well and I'm excited to be with you this morning with the podcast and appreciate the opportunity to kind of build on some of the information that we talked about in the earlier one.
Carol: Absolutely. I'm super excited. And for our listeners out there that did not get to listen to the first part of this podcast in June. Please do go back and look in the archives and you can listen to that so you get the full picture because Jim really painted a great foundational piece on the study that he had done, and we focused on one half of his work. And now today we're going to focus on the other half because there's a lot of really good information to unpack. So as I had said, you know, this is a second part of our two part conversation. We're going to focus on the retention aspects of your study today. And just to set the stage for our listeners again who maybe did not listen last month. I first met you through the CSAVR Operations and Personnel Committee, and I used to co-chair the old HRD committee that was evolved into the new Operations and Personnel Committee. But I did that with Cynthia Speight, and I continued to participate after I entered into this TA world. And Cynthia and I had been interested in this recruitment retention topic going back at least eight years. We were doing some different surveys with our states to see what was happening, and we just saw this shrinkage of people entering the field, the reduction in universities offering a master's in rehab counseling and knew back then even like we've got to do something.
So I was really pleased to see your work and you had come to the committee to collaborate on this study that you were doing that was supported in part by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehab Research, which is NIDILRR. And in the executive summary, you noted there had been this consistent shortage of qualified rehab counselors employed by the state federal VR program for several decades. I guess you know, some of us were thinking, Gosh, this has really been like the last ten years. Uh, this is actually been going on for a while. But the Covid 19 pandemic, I think, exacerbated the shortage. And so today we're going to look at this again, the retention aspects of your study. So let's dig in. And I do want to go over a few things in case our listeners, you know, didn't have a chance to hear you last time. So, Jim, can you just tell them again a little bit about yourself and how long you've been in academia and how did you get there?
Jim: Okay, so I'm an old guy. I've been here, as I kind of explained in the first podcast, I'll just kind of abbreviate. Yeah, I've been an academic for about 37 years and prior to that I worked as a work adjustment counselor and job placement specialist research specialist. So I've been around and as I explained in the initial podcast, like many of you, I became interested in rehabilitation as a result of having a family member with a disability and then started doing some volunteer work. Absolutely loved the field and I loved doing Voc Rehab because I could see kind of the difference that that you can make and you can impact on improving the quality of life for people with disabilities. So if you want to read more about my background, you have nothing to do and you have trouble sleeping at night. You can just look me up at the Penn State and within two minutes I'm sure you'll be falling asleep after reading my bio. So that's the deal.
Carol: I love it. I love it. So many of us did that, though. We kind of fell into it. I fell into it with my mom used to be the volunteer corridor coordinator at the state hospital in Faribault where I grew up. So she used to bring me up to the Pink Ladies canteen where they had donuts and treats and things that the residents of the campus could come in. And I remember being five and on campus and working with all these people with developmental disabilities and other disabilities and just got super interested in the work kind of through her and having people over to our house for Thanksgiving and Christmases and different holidays. It was super fun and I just grew up in that. And so that is the same case with many of our listeners, I'm sure. So last month we talked about the first part of your study. Today we're going to get into the retention aspect. So let's talk about the retention challenges that you identified in the study. So what are those top challenges VR is facing?
Jim: Yeah, so part of our study, what we did, the first part, we basically interviewed state directors. We had them complete an online survey, but then we did about 20 interviews to sort of unpack. A little bit more. And basically we identified and I'm not sure to be frank, if this part is going to be new information for your readers or for the listeners. But it sets up what I want to talk about how do we address these problems of retention? So when we look at why are counselors leaving? Okay, well, the first thing I'm sure your listeners like no surprise on this one. Low salaries, big number one problem graduates coming out of programs now realize and also people are currently working in the field realizing I think in essence kind of the power really that they have. And I think this is sort of a nationwide thing. People are starting to realize, I've got choice, I have options and I want to exercise those. And so we've got to understand that and be receptive to that. So low salaries and we'll talk about, well, what can we do about that aspect? But just for introductory purposes, that's a big, big reason we're losing people to the Veterans Administration. We're losing them to community mental health programs, we're losing them to universities and colleges such as like the disability support services or even sometimes a career placement services. I know former alum from our program here at Penn State who've been in the state system for a long time and left to work at university settings such as disability services or career development. You know, the issue with that is, of course, when you think about the investment with the RSA training program coupled with the two years post-graduation that they have to use for the payback, well, that's a tremendous amount of investment that we've made in unfortunately we're losing them because after they do their two year payback, they're saying there's some other opportunities. Another big problem, and this is particularly true, I think, of the newer graduates, one of the things we know from research is that many counselors, what they do not enjoy is the amount of paperwork process information that's involved with the job data entry, documentation that's involved with that. And I've heard a number of students will say, I didn't get a master's degree in counseling to sit in front of a computer and enter data. I recognize that's a part of the job, I recognize there's information that needs to be recorded. But for the Gen Z and the millennials in particular, they want to work with clients directly. They want to have that client contact. They enjoy working with people. That's a lot different from interacting on a screen or processing paperwork in that way. So while data management, that's a critical part of the job, we've got to think of some other ways of how can we work with particularly the graduate trained personnel, more efficiently and more effectively in a way that benefits the whole mission of the program? That's a big reason why people are leaving. Another problem kind of related to that caseloads. And while it's different, I think with specialized caseloads such as people who work with persons who are visual impairments, vision loss, blindness, hearing deafness, while their caseloads are lower counselors with general caseloads, it's not unheard to have caseloads of around 200. I mean, that's. So how do you develop an effective working relationship when you have to interact with 200 people? The answer is you can't or it's difficult. So I mentioned these three problems because I think it provides a context for what are we going to do about that? How do we address those kinds of things that are underlying? So that's what we're going to be kind of diving into today.
Carol: Yeah, I agree. I appreciate you setting that backdrop because those are all things as I was reading the study, I'm like, Oh, absolutely. And I keep thinking if folks are continuing to be organized the way they were pre-wioa as far as staffing and structure and roles and responsibilities, man, you really need to rethink that because there are opportunities and I think we'll get into this. There's a lot of cool stuff folks can be looking at doing now differently. We talked about this in the first podcast, you know, about, well, we've always done it that way and I think in VR we can tend to fall into that trap. And you forget like, Hey, we are inventive, creative people. We have got to approach this in a different way. So let's talk about that. Let's get into what are some of the retention strategies I know the state vocal rehab directors believe would contribute to retention. There were a number of things that you had in the study I thought were pretty cool. So let's unpack some of those.
Jim: All right. Well, let's tackle the big problem, the salary issue. And we've mentioned this a little bit in the earlier last month's podcast, but we've got to take a look at what is the salary structure. Okay. And are there ways that we can adjust that And just in terms of wages or benefits. Now, the first thing is, no, we can't. It's too difficult. It's, you know, it's really about. That's true. But at the same time, I know from talking with directors and to come to mind, Kentucky and North Carolina, where there are states, Maryland, I think we mentioned in the earlier podcast that have been effective in getting better pay, more equitable pay for counselors. Now, again, I think as we mentioned, I think actually, Carol, you mentioned this, you know, this isn't something like, okay, well, next week we're going to start that. No, this takes literally years to do because of the political influences. You know, like who are the secretaries of state and the governors, and is there support to do that And yes or no? And how do you build the case? So building that case of, you know, hey, we're losing people when we look at our salaries compared to rehab counselors in the Veterans Administration, compared to mental health counselors, compared to other comparable professions, let's look at what the data. So, you know, you don't need to be a genius to kind of figure out this job is going to pay $20,000 more for what I think is essentially the same job. And so it's like we've got to take a look at this because the thing is, you know, just kind of throw your hands up and say, well, we can't do anything about that. Well, I'm not sure about that. But I do know this, that to institute any kind of change, we have to have some sort of rationale and data to support why do we absolutely need to do that? And we'll talk about this aspect a little bit later. But part of the data collection also, and this is a tool that we have available but very few states use it, is when we conduct those exit interviews with people that they're leaving. And you ask, well, why are you leaving? I'd be willing to bet based on my understanding of either people I know that have left the agency or what I've seen in the review of the literature. These testimonials, I think are really critical and say over the last three years we've lost 50 counselors. We asked them, Why are you leaving? 85% is because of low salary. That's important data. Okay. And that's just not something that hey, wouldn't it be nice? But I can't think in terms of any kind of real data, anything more important than those kinds of testimonials. But the problem is that most states don't use exit interviews or if they conduct them, frankly, I don't think they do a good job or even if they do a good job the problem is the data doesn't always get communicated back to the state director. So here in Pennsylvania, anybody works for labor, Labor and industry. Well, that's just not VR counselors. That's a whole other group of professionals that get kind of lumped in together. And so those are kind of some important data that we need to start monitoring. We need to build a case we just can't keep kind of poor me, blah, blah, What are the data? And then ultimately how is that impacted? And I think those kinds of things are really important.
Carol: I agree 100%. I know as I have talked to different directors across the country, you mentioned Kentucky. Absolutely. Core McNabb talked to her. She's done some things, really big, impactful things with this. Scott Dennis, as we talked about, I know Brett McNeil right now in Florida has a big initiative that's taken several years, started before him, but and he's a newer director in but continued that fight. And I'm hoping fingers crossed that he's able to get that through the legislative session this year to get those increases for his folks. But for our listeners, I know some of you are thinking like, well, it's daunting. Like this is a terrible task. You've got to do all of this work. It's going to take all these years. But if you never start, you're never going to finish. If you never build the case, you never collect the data, you don't go after this. Three years from now, we're going to be talking about the same problem and you've done nothing towards it. And so I just really encourage people like you have to start this is so critical. This is a fundamental issue for your agency that pay piece. You need to work on it. And that's where you have to build your relationships. You got to look at any coalitions that you can engage in. You want to reach out to those other directors that have been successful to find out what they've done. Jane Donellen in Idaho General, she's done some interesting things around this as well. You want to talk to those other people, reach out to your CSAVR colleagues and say like, Hey, how you do that? I know every state is set up differently and you have your own civil service rules in your state. But by and large, doing something like this, what you said, Jim, you get to build the case. And so I don't care what state you're in, you're always going to want to come in with your data. Here it is. And you present it because you may be thinking that HR is like looking out for you. But think about it. HR has had these huge turnovers and staff to they don't know what's going on. You know your story, they don't know it. You're one of a whole bunch of books of business in that state. You've got you. If you're in a labor agency, you've got all these other programs, unemployment insurance, they'll remember that was kind of having problems. You're the one living with it every day. So if you can paint that picture, that helps them because I know there's always a method for doing this within the state. It may be a little daunting, but if you don't start I mean, I'm kind of on my soapbox right now, but if you never start, you're never going to get there.
Jim: You're absolutely spot on. And I would agree with that. One of the things I'll ask my students when we talk about problems and problem resolution and those things is the issue of control. And one of the things I'll ask is, what is it? Because there's so many things we can't control, but what is it that we can control? And I think that's a question that you're asking. And then also, too, is the perception because you think, oh, well, we can't. And it's like, well, maybe we can, but the first thing we've got to collect the information to support the case. So related to that kind of issue of control, and I'm going to spoiler alert to your listeners, I'm going to probably say a few things that might be a little bit controversial. No surprise there. But kind of related to that and this is going to be hard, I know, is the question of how are we conceiving of this job. You know, I said earlier that the millennials and Gen Z in particular, they didn't come in to be a rehab counselor to six out of eight hours of the day in front of a computer and data entry that doesn't light it up for them. And so one of the things we know from a number of studies of graduates, they're saying to us, we want opportunities that are going to give us greater client access. So I got into this because I like working with people. You know, I enjoy that interaction. I love that part of the job. And so what some states are doing and a couple come to mind, North Carolina General, Tennessee, they're saying, okay, how can we reduce the administrative data entry task? Is there a way that we can maybe allocate those aspects to maybe someone that you don't necessarily have to have a master's degree to do that? And we know that, Carol, you know this you know, a number of states now are kind of rethinking this baccalaureate position. Maybe there are opportunities at the introductory level, if you will, professional level that require a baccalaureate degree. So the thinking, of course, being if we can assign those tasks to and sometimes states use different titles, sometimes you'll hear the term counselor, aide paraprofessional, which personally I don't like that because I think at the Baccalaureate you're a professional. I think to me it kind of denigrates that. But the point is the intent here is like, okay, can I have someone's going to help me with the case management functions aspect, the documentation that I might now be able to spend more time with clients. The other thing too, that we learned I found this was interesting New Hampshire developed kind of a pilot project with I think this is I think was a University of Wisconsin Stout. I believe if it's wrong, my apologies to the other university who did, but I think it was with Stout in helping them in the decision making process of eligibility determinations. So they would outsource this to UW stout personnel who then review the case. Now, they didn't make the I want to be clear on this. They didn't make the determination. They made maybe a recommendation for that. The counselor makes the final determination, but was interesting. I believe that by doing that, New Hampshire was saying that saved about 30% of time that a counselor might have to allocate for that, that now that if we outsource that, that allowed them to have greater contact. So that's another thing.
Carol: Yeah. So it's funny you bring that up, Jim. So I'm actually doing a podcast in August with and this really started in Wisconsin. Wisconsin was the spearhead of this and New Hampshire jumped onto it with the Stout doing that. So my August podcast is going to be focused on how Wisconsin created this project with Stout. And we're going to talk about how they did it, because now more and more states I still remember when Wisconsin brought this up back at CSAVR, you know, probably four years ago, and everybody was kind of like, huh, Like, oh, that's interesting. Or why did you do that? Well, now everybody's going, Hey, I want to know more about that. And Lisa Hinson Hatz in New Hampshire. She dug into that to going, Hey, we need help out here. And that's where I was saying earlier, if you're organized in the same way you were pre WIOA stop it. Like you need to think about this because there's a lot of things that fundamentally have changed. And I love what you said about can you use other positions that are maybe more of the case manager of that case and doing all that chasing around? Can you use technology solutions? I did a podcast with our friends from Alaska in March on SARA with a semi-automated rehab assistant. You know, you're chasing down these MSGs and I need your transcript and all of that. Are you looking at other solutions? Friends that can help to automate maybe some of this that your staff are currently doing. I just think to look wide.
Jim: Absolutely. And I think that is again, kind of like, is there another way that we could do this? And I think we talked about this a little bit earlier. Sometimes we fall in the trap. Well, we've always done it this way. Well is it working well. If it's not working, that says we have to change that. So increasing the time again, either through technology or perhaps the creation of and I'll talk about this a little bit later, different levels in terms of a career ladder. Another thing and again and this is it's particularly problematic because when you don't have enough counselors, typically what happens then? The supervisor fills in, the counselor leaves. Now the supervisor or it gets redistributed to other counselors so their caseloads increase. And then here's some academic telling your audience that, well, you got to reduce caseload size. So, yes, I live in the ivory tower. Okay. But let me just say this again. These problems are interdependent and the solutions are interdependent. You can't implement one because we'll have about ten or so that we're going to go through. You can't implement one and think, oh, that's going to solve it. It's not. It's a combination of confluence of all of these that will change, if you will, in terms of the retention aspect. So reducing caseload size, you know, next to salary. The other thing, too, you if you talk with counselors, what is it that they have too many clients and we talked in the earlier podcast, again, while there's some specialized caseloads may be different 30 to 50 clients, other generalized caseloads, they could be 150, 200 clients. So it's difficult to believe that you can have any kind of effective working relationship with that size. And the other thing I'll just mention, it's interesting because when you look at what factors predict who's going to have a successful rehab outcome, when you look at the literature, basically what you find is that a significant contributor is the relationship. There's that word again, the relationship between the client and the counselor. I know we use the term customer. I'm kind of old school. We don't get into that. But anyway, I still use the term client. The point being is when you have an effective working relationship, you have better outcomes. And so it only makes sense then, well, you know how many of you, when you go to your physicians appointment, you get in a rush, you know, two minutes, and then you come at a physician that actually spends 30 minutes with you, you know, like, Wow, this is so good. They feel like they took time to know what my problems are, what the issue is, what's kind of going on. The person that spends too, like, look, I don't you know, I'm overworked, I'm underpaid, I don't have time for this. Those messages get communicated. Clients are pretty savvy and picking that up. I don't think we give them enough credit for that. So part of that is when we were talking about providing more access to clients and developing that relationship, but also reducing the client caseload size. So related to that, we have to think about again, maybe modifying some of those caseload practices. So when we talk about grief, thinking how the job is done, again, maybe there's some components that we could institute that might allow greater access. So I think it was Iowa for the Blind that had a specialist that maybe would assist the counselor. I think the same thing like in Indiana, a case coordinator. So maybe there's specific roles that other people might do, particularly at the baccalaureate level, to maybe determine or help determine eligibility and help with the caseload aspect. So by implementing that in conjunction with that reduction, again, I think is going to contribute to successful outcomes. And the only other thing I'll just mention, I remember one director that made this statement. It's always interesting to me, like Carol, you're talking about in Maryland and Florida and other states, do they have some sort of secret sauce, some magic thing? You know, what did they do? The question that comes up is like, well, if it can be successfully implemented in one state, can we duplicate it in my state? So what is it that we can do with that?
Carol: One of the things I've learned some years ago that Joe started this Joe Xavier out in California was implementing this team model concept. And so the counselors like the orchestrator of the team, but you have a lot of people that surround an individual as they're going through their VR journey. You know, you have placement people that are working with them. You know, your business specialist could be in a blind agency. You might have an assistive technology specialist and you've got your rehab tech and all these different folks. And so we borrowed from California when I was in Minnesota to leverage all the people on the team so that that client could feel supported, even as counselors are working with lots of people. But it could be that the case aide is talking to them. It's your AssistiveTechnology Specialist is talking to them, your business specialist. So they feel surrounded by this team of people that are ultimately supporting the counselor and the customer and getting this employment goal accomplished. So taking a look at leveraging all your resources, because as you say, when you tell me like 200 people on a caseload, I'm like, that is too many. Think about how many days there are in a year and how many days a person works and you have 200 people. You're trying to keep this relationship going. If you can leverage the support of your team members too. So the person is feeling like people are reaching out and they're contacting them and they're in touch, it will lend to a better outcome.
Jim: I'm glad you kind of amplified that a little bit because it lends itself to the next point is when you think of the career ladder structure that exists in old VR, we kind of have that one counselor, one client kind of model. And what you're talking about is more a systemic approach. And recall that I think it was in Indiana where they had I think it was Indiana. If it wasn't, then my mistake. But anyway, I think they have what was called kind of a work project group. And so you had staff that collectively worked together. So when it talks about a particular client, so you had multiple people. So now in their work group, as I recall, they might have like an individual who might be the eligibility determination counselor. And then other people worked as caseload counselors and others work more in terms I'm going to use the term therapeutic counselor relationship aspects. And my recollection from talking with the director there was when they looked at that approach, what they found was that actually the time spent in eligibility that was reduced. So it's like we're providing more effective service, more timely services and the benefit in terms of the counselors, in terms of their training, that also was kind of reduced because they're kind of specializing on this aspect of the job. So part of that is thinking about, well, maybe we have to think things a little bit more systemically. The other thing is when we look at the career ladder structure, this is all over the place because you have states that basically have like level one, level two counselors and some there's three or some four or some five and that's all as a function of how many years that you've been with the agency, whether or not you have a graduate degree, whether or not you're a CRC, all of those things contribute. So one of the things that you have to think about, is there a way that we can kind of build in a little bit more? Because again, basically you kind of go from a counselor to a supervisor and most counselors, at least that I've found, they're not clamoring necessarily to be a supervisor. That's not an easy job. In fact, much of my research and I do a lot of training on clinical supervision for state rehab agencies. And I can tell you, I know firsthand I've been doing this for 20 years. That I think is the most difficult job in State VR, is to be a counselor, a supervisor or a manager. So that being said, it was interesting. I think it was Missouri when they looked at when counselors are leaving, what they had found was that their counselors were their most susceptible were counselors that had been with the agencies 4 to 6 years. Looking at that, one of the actions that they took was, well, maybe what we need to do is try to build in some sort of other kind of a counselor level creating another level so we can retain those because it's bad when you lose anybody. But those are the people that have gained the experience. They've got something to contribute and now they're the ones you can least afford to lose. So they created something specifically for that career ladder to address that problem.
Carol: Absolutely 100%. I have loved it because we've had a number of states reach out to us as we've been doing this recruitment retention pilot through the VRTACQM and other people have been like, Can you help us a little bit? Look at these career ladders for our staff? Because some folks I didn't realize how many states are just sort of flat. You have your counselor come in and then like you said, then you're the supervisor and not everybody wants to go into management of any sort. There's a lot of people that like that individual contributor, but they want to grow that role. And when you look at those people, as you talked about with that vast experience, if you can create more of that team lead or a counselor lead or a senior counselor or whatever, they can take on mentorship of the new people coming in, they're the go to person for those really difficult cases is your problem solving. And they love it because they thrive in that space. And so we have been successful. I know we worked with South Carolina Blind and them instituting some levels in their system. That was really fun work to do and helping folks just think again, like, let's not be organized the way we were pre WIOA. We need to look at this differently.
Jim: Absolutely. And, you know, and I think the other thing, too, Carol, is, again, maybe you can invite me back for a third time. I don't know. Clinical supervision. But and that's exactly the problem because, yeah, a lot of counselors don't want to be the supervisor, the manager. So when you think in terms of the career, it's like, well, you're a counselor and you go right to the supervisor. Is there a way that we could structure so you can also when we think of career ladder, we can do kind of hierarchical, you know, typical, but also we can do kind of across horizontally. And again, I've seen some states that will create kind of a specialist, a job placement specialist or the eligibility determination. There may be some ways that we can kind of create because there are some counselors will say, actually, I love doing the intakes, I love doing the eligibility. I'm not so keen about the paperwork on that aspect. Others will like the job development, The job placement will go getting out, working with the employer. So everybody's different. So the question is how do we tap into that individual strength that the counselor provides and then match it? Basically what we're doing like the same principles of rehab that ostensibly we do with clients is that, well, maybe we should be doing it with our own agency and our own folks, which I know to varying degrees we do.
Moving on, because I know I'm cognizant of the time and I'm looking like, oh my Lord, my list. But just very quickly, another thing is how well do we promote within the agency? How many times have we worked with clients? When you think like, well, you know, actually this person would be a really good rehab counselor. Now I know that we do that, but that's something again, you know, just kind of think about, you know, in doing that. But let me get to some other things that maybe we don't do as often and might be a little bit more controversial for some folks.
It's always amazing to me how we promote rehabilitation principles and practices for our clients in other employment settings, but how well do we do it in our own settings? So let's unpack that a little bit. Now, one thing that the pandemic has done is if we were to have a room of 100 counselors and supervisors and directors and mixture sampling, let's say we met five years ago and say, okay, well, here's the deal, folks. We're going to move to. Everybody can kind of work at home and we're going to allow you to basically do all that. And in terms of the work schedule, yes, you have to put 37.5 hours. But if you want to do that on your weekends or you want to do that at night, you can do that, like, what are you smoking? It ain't happening. And yet with the pandemic suddenly now we've rethought. And this reminds me of the old way back when, when Henry Ford was building cars and said, Hey, we're going to move from that six day, ten hour work week to a five day, eight hour. People like you can't do that. It's impossible. Yeah. And look what happened? Production. And so we're operating with historic principles that may not be in the best interest for the current worker. And change is hard. Again, particularly, I think as a baby boomer, it's like, well, we've always done it this way. It worked. Then why can it work now? Well, maybe, maybe not. So the big recommendation or a recommendation is we have to offer greater work, flexibility, telework, flexible schedules, job sharing. Interesting enough. And I'm not going to call out any particular states, although I do know particular states. But what I see, and be honest with you, is a little troubling. It's like, well, we're going to go back to where it was before, really. And I'm just kind of wondering, how is that going to work? I'm not really seeing that. It's sort of like you opened up the box. Oh, wow. There's something really nice here that I like. Okay, let's cover it back up. I just don't see that working.
Carol: It's not working. So I know a couple of those states where now we're post pandemic and the governor of the state is like, Oh, everybody's going to come back into the office. You're all coming in five days a week, 100% of the time, and it's killing them. They are losing staff by the droves. It has been an absolute nightmare. I'm not understanding the thinking behind that because it is literally killing them.
Jim: Here's the other thing, too, and this is where, again, we talked about the importance of data collection earlier. There are studies in the business world I haven't seen too many, and there may be some that I'm just not aware of. But studies have said, well, let's look at the impact of offering this kind of what does this do? How does this change in terms of our numbers? The bottom line status 26, it's like, well, have we witnessed a significant drop off of that? And is that attributable because of offering counselors options? I would contend and I'll talk more about what I refer to as the big enchilada. I'll save that to the end. I would contend that giving people greater choice, I think, helps in terms of kind of their morale gives them more control, particularly single parents managing children, you know, and also when you think it mirrors the life that our clients I mean, people can't take off. Necessarily between your 8:30 to 4:30 day, I may have availability at night or maybe on the weekends. So offering workers, not just telework, because I think that's pretty common, although as you say and I would agree, I know states are kind of like, let's go back to the way it was, but also in terms of offering flexible schedules, it's like, where's it written that it has to be 8:30 to 4:30? And I know a number of states all have like four day work weeks or ten hours a day. But then again, here's one of these rehab principles. We talk about job sharing. Do we do any job sharing in rehab counseling, practice? Do we do? How does that. So again, it's something we espouse for our clients, but we don't necessarily how do we practice that in our own offices? That's something that we need to do. Related to that is and again, this might be a little bit controversial is allowing people to work part time. Now, again, it's like, no, no, no, no, no, we can't do that. Or if we do that, it's only under kind of medical reasons. So if someone has a medical issue and they're trying to get back to work, I guess my question is, would you rather lose a counselor 100% of the time? Or would you rather have somebody rather than a complete loss that they're working half time Now? I'm not saying that we should all move to half, but I'm saying allow counselors choice. If there's one thing that's clear, and I think this is what you were alluding to, Carol, People want choice and people I think the thing is, they understand for probably the first time in a long time that I've got choice in the workplace. Okay. So allowing them to work part time.
Carol: I love that one, Jim, because especially when you think about your retirees, you know, you and I are in that age.
Jim: Some might say I should have already been retired. Yeah, Well, and you go, okay, so you know, a lot of times folks are looking at retirement and it's an all or nothing thing. You know, you're working full time, 100%, and then you go to nothing. There's a lot of people that want that staged piece of it. So you take a look at some of your longer term counselors. Sure, they want to retire, but they wouldn't mind helping out work in part time like that would be good for them. And they could still get some benefits and some things and work 20 hours a week. And especially given you can do things with telework and different things that can keep you going like versus having nobody there. And then you're adding on caseload to other people. You keep a person that understands your system, but they're just willing to do it at a reduced rate. And again, it's one of those things like, does it hurt to ask HR like in your practices? So because the state has never done it before doesn't mean they can't. And you are not the only industry isn't the only industry facing that same issue. It's all of state employment. So people are starting to look at things very differently where they may not have done that even five years ago. So again, using your words and at least asking if you could do it, absolutely. Again, they kind of phased in retirement part time. Yeah, because especially the older worker, I mean, all that history there, the people that when you have a staff meeting and a new person comes on hey, let's try such and such. And that's the person that says, Yep, we did that in about 20 years ago. We tried that.
Okay. We talked a little bit about exit interviews. Some states, One of the things that they're doing and you've mentioned this several times, ask if you don't know, ask another thing states are starting is the use of stay or exit interviews. So have kind of open ended discussions with your employees about why do you stay here? And then those that are leaving, what are some of the factors that are contributing to your leaving? So having like Kentucky did this kind of open ended listening tour, which was kind of really cool. So talk to your counselors, try to understand like, what are those issues? It might be that, for example, maybe you as the state, the district administrator, rather than that person conducting the interview, maybe someone outside. So because there's questions or concerns about who's asking the questions or those kinds of things. So let me talk about some other strategies that necessarily maybe weren't mentioned by state directors, but our research team have come up with and then our work with the Operations Personnel Committee, with CSAVR. So, we talked about part time options and Carol, actually you mentioned about phased retirement. Again, if you know someone that's going to leave in a year or two, maybe we can kind of phase that in doing kind of a part time.
The use of affinity groups that can also be important to enhance career longevity. Affinity groups usually are groups that are created where people share a common characteristic, a common concern. So they might have people that share in terms of maybe disability aspects age, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, where there are common interests, common identities, common kinds of experiences. And. What we know from research in the business world is that affinity groups often can contribute to employee well-being and also reduce workplace stress. And I talk a little bit more of this in the Journal of Rehab article that was just published the other month. So if you want to learn more about that, let me get to the big enchilada, though, while we have a few minutes left.
Okay, I know like what I'm about to say may be heresy, but remember that Henry Ford history note? Okay, This is for states that boy, you know, that salary, that all sounds good. It'll take years. But, you know, who knows? And I said to you, well, think about what is it that you can control? So getting salary adjustments may be really kind of difficult. Here's a question I have for you. Where is it written that? Is it possible that rather this sort of five day, 40 hour work schedule, we could go to a four day, 32 hour work schedule? Here's the kicker. At the same pay as the 40 hour work week, if I was with some of the listeners, was like, Oh man, this guy is really kind of gone off.
Carol: They're having a heart attack right now.
Jim: Suddenly everybody just clicked off on the podcast. They just Bloop. That's it. Well, as I mentioned, while there's certain states Kentucky, North Carolina, Florida, Maryland that may have successfully negotiated pay raises, a lot of states it's more difficult. And so the question is, can we create a full time at the same pay for 32 hours? Now, it's interesting. I'd love to work with states who want to implement or think about that. I've heard through the grapevine there may be 1 or 2 that are seriously thinking about this, but I know in the business world, when you look at the evidence of a shorter workweek, while it is mixed, but at least the studies that I've seen, some of the benefits, one of is, is that greater, higher employee retainment, they also have a better work family balance. You know, my wife and I, we have a son who's 26. He's a hard worker. But his view of what's important in life and my view, it's different. So like, why work was everything. Work is important. But he said, Hey, dad, there's more important things to or just my social life, my love life, my recreational life. I want a better quality of life. I want to have a better work family balance. And so when you look at some of the literature, what you see is there are a lot of benefits. So my point is, before you just sort of offhand like, no, that won't work. Think about and start informing. Start looking at, well, what is the literature say about that? So I think working toward that four day, 32 hour, I could be wrong. But I really think and again, state federal government usually are not the leaders to this, usually the kind of the last to react. But I'd be willing to predict that within 5 to 10 years that's going to be happening. And if states start doing kind of pilot studies looking at the impact on that and if they find like, wow, there are ways that we can kind of reduce it because, sure, we waste time. We don't always kind of eight hours every minute we're doing working. But the point is that I think is a proposal worthy of discussion that needs to be had.
Carol: Well, Jim, appreciate you leaving us with the big enchilada for sure. I'm sure folks are going, holy cow. But I know there's been a number of articles done on this and research done on this. I believe it was over even in the UK where they were taking a look at the 32 hour workweek. So it is definitely food for thought. I did want to wrap up and let our listeners know that at VRTAC-QM.org we have recruitment and retention strategies and ideas listed, many of which come from Dr. Herbert's research as well as what your colleagues are doing across the country. So I invite you to go to our website. Probably the easiest way is in the search box. Just go human resources and it'll take you right to that piece of it. But we have a lot of great strategies that folks have implemented with their examples and how they've built the case and done different things. So that could be of help to you as you're on your journey. So Jim, thanks again. I really appreciate having you on. Your work has been super interesting and I look forward to more things that you're doing in this area. So have a great day.
Jim: Thanks, Carol. Appreciate it. Thanks for the opportunity.
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