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You’re a behavioral health leader. You need staff, so you post a job ad.

Theoretically, you should get hundreds of applications, hire someone qualified, and then enjoy a years-long working relationship with that person, right?

Unfortunately, the reality is a lot more complicated.

The behavioral health hiring landscape is tight. In the next 15 years, there will be a shortage of nearly 70,000 mental health counselors alone. To stay competitive in this field, you’re going to need more than just traditional recruiting tactics—you’ll need standout strategies and a deep understanding of what motivates high-caliber professionals to join your organization.

But hiring isn’t the only issue at play. Once you get employees through the door, you have to get them to stay. That’s a tall order considering that one in three employees in behavioral health leave their job each year. Turnover not only threatens care continuity and consistency, but also hits your bottom line in a big way: the average cost of losing an employee is around one-fifth of their annual salary. For an organization with 100 providers each earning $60,000 annually, that’s nearly $400,000 lost every year to staff churn.

In this article, we’ll share some essential tips for building a thriving behavioral health workplace in 2024 and beyond—a preview of the deeper exploration of staffing best practices you’ll find in our ebook, “Rising Above the Workforce Shortage: Building a ‘Best Place to Work’ in Behavioral Health.” (Grab your free copy here!)

Without further ado, here are 6 employee benefits you’ve just gotta have to compete in today’s behavioral health hiring environment. 

1. Generous Compensation

Compensation is the first way potential hires will size up your organization’s priorities. National averages—like $60,130 for Mental Health Social Workers or $63,300 for Marriage and Family Therapists—should be a starting point, not a standard. Offering a ho-hum compensation package isn’t going to make your organization stand out to top talent—and it makes current staff more likely to leave for greener pastures.

Generous wages form the foundation of a supportive workplace. This approach isn’t just ethical, it’s also practical. A Harvard study showed that a $1 per hour wage increase led to a nearly 19% decrease in turnover, while a $1 per hour wage decrease led to a 28% increase in turnover. In other words, paying your staff well now will help you avoid losing tens of thousands of dollars in turnover costs later.

Oklahoma-based GRAND Mental Health, which boasts a nearly 90% staff retention rate and has received national recognition as a Newsweek Most Loved Workplace®, is a shining example of an organization that makes competitive wages a priority.

“We have to put our money where our mouth is and pay the individuals who are working so hard in this field,” said Matthew Spencer, Chief Clinical Officer at GRAND. “At our agency, our minimum wage is at least $18 an hour—so for all levels of staff, not just the clinicians, we want people to feel like they’re well compensated for the hard work they do. They deserve it.” 

2. Comprehensive Health Insurance Benefits

Competitive salaries are obviously important, but don’t forget about health insurance—as these benefits also play a major role in attracting and retaining behavioral health staff. According to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 56% of US adults with employer-sponsored benefits say health coverage plays a crucial role in their decision to stay at their job—with 46% saying it was a major factor in accepting their role initially.

Behavioral health work is both emotionally and physically demanding. That means offering a robust health insurance package is not just a perk—it’s a vital support system for your team. Comprehensive plans that cover a wide range of health services, including mental health, help keep your team healthy while making your company more attractive to new recruits.

“We have an advanced option on our medical plan now,” Spencer continued. “You’re able to utilize a medical plan with lower deductibles and copays, depending on what you choose.”

3. Flexible and Plentiful Paid Time Off

You don’t have to offer unlimited PTO to keep employees around. Sure, “Unlimited PTO” sounds great on paper—but it’s only meaningful if it’s backed by a culture that genuinely encourages employees to use it. In many workplaces, this flashy perk translates to hardly any time off at all—which, in behavioral health, quickly leads to burnout.

Leaders have to do more than just provide vacation time; they have to make sure employees actually take it. That often means arranging coverage for staff who are out of office and getting rid of any other obstacles that might stop clinicians from taking leave.

Some organizations even offer “mini” PTO perks like weekly self-care time. It might not sound like a lot, but it can be a huge differentiator for provider recruitment and retention.

“With my current employer, we have 4 hours of self-care every week,” said New Mexico-based therapist Elena M. Petre, LCSW. “There are no limitations on how it’s used, when, or for what. We don’t have to be in the office for those hours. So our weeks are actually 36 hours for a full-time salary. It’s hugely appreciated.” 

Implementing a policy with a clear minimum time off requirement can also be a game-changer. This sends a strong message (to current as well as prospective employees) that your organization truly values the health and well-being of its team members.

4. Positive Workplace Culture

Creating a great workplace culture in behavioral health is a must. Consider this: a landmark 2019 Glassdoor survey revealed that 77% of workers would consider a company’s culture before applying for a job. Even more telling: 56% felt that a positive workplace culture played a bigger role in job satisfaction than salary.

In behavioral health, the quickest way to ruin company culture is to take away staff autonomy. That’s why flexible work arrangements are a fantastic starting point. They give your team room to adjust their schedules and caseloads as needed, aligning their work with their strengths and interests. This ultimately drives higher employee engagement and better client care. 

Creating a healthy workplace culture also means managing workloads well, starting with setting realistic productivity goals that emphasize quality of care over quantity of care. Regularly assessing and balancing staff workloads will help you keep burnout at bay. And remember, productivity isn’t the only measure of effort, because sometimes caseload numbers and session counts don’t tell the full story.

“When therapists are given unrealistic workloads or caseload expectations, not only do they suffer significant burnout and potentially secondary trauma, but clients suffer as well,” said Ohio-based counselor Meggen Horwatt, LPCC. “It has become a numbers game or a quantity-over-quality mindset. What therapists need in order to truly help their clients is reduced caseloads and support for their own mental well-being. Quality of care is much more important than the number of clients being seen.”

5. Professional Growth Opportunities

Employees want workplaces where they can grow—whether they’re looking for new jobs or deciding if they want to stay in their current one long-term. According to Gallup, learning and growth aren’t just a priority for one generation; millennials and baby boomers alike prioritize career development opportunities as they make job decisions.

By offering diverse career pathways, you give staff room to grow without outgrowing the organization. For example, supporting therapists in becoming in-house experts on specialized areas such as family counseling or addiction treatment helps them grow in responsibility while also improving the breadth and depth of care your organization provides. 

Another way to make your organization more attractive to prospective clinicians is helping them meet continuing education requirements. Clinicians usually manage this responsibility outside of work, which can be a juggling act. By offering a curated CEU course list, covering training costs, hosting courses in-house, or giving time during work hours for learning, you can help your team stay sharp, improve their skills, and provide better care—all while taking some of the stress off their shoulders.

6. Innovative Tech and Tools

Administrative work—especially documentation—is the bane of many a provider’s existence. About one-third of behavioral health workers spend the majority of their time on paperwork, eating into valuable time with clients. Most clinicians didn’t get into behavioral health to write notes; they want to help people.

To streamline this work, employers can provide user-friendly EHR systems, robust administrative support, and automation of routine tasks (by implementing an innovative CareOps Automation tool, for example).

Matt Spencer, the Chief Clinical Officer at GRAND Mental Health in Oklahoma, explains why he believes tools like Eleos offer a unique advantage in a competitive hiring environment, saying clinician-focused documentation tools signal to potential job candidates that the organization invests in its staff in a way that actually makes their job easier.

Adopting the right cutting-edge technology in your behavioral health org can significantly enhance job satisfaction and retention. It can elevate client care while creating a more dynamic and fulfilling workplace, making your organization a more attractive environment for A-plus candidates.

Andrew Schmitt, Director of Outpatient Services at Gaudenzia, Inc., and Stacy Massey, a Gaudenzia counselor, talk about how Eleos AI helps providers worry less about note-taking and focus more on having meaningful conversations with each client.

Building a “Best Place to Work” in behavioral health goes beyond the basics. From offering competitive compensation and comprehensive health benefits to fostering a culture that prioritizes well-being and professional growth, going above and beyond the norm will help you not only attract top talent, but also keep them engaged and satisfied. Remember: your staff is the heart of your organization, and their satisfaction directly translates to the quality of care your clients receive.

Want to see more strategies for building a best place to work in 2024? Download our free workforce ebook here.