Dished: Generational Divide Plays Out in Senior Living Dining

Staffing. It’s a major consideration for most operators, comprising a bulk of resources that go not only to hiring, but to training and retention of qualified senior living employees.

Dining is no exception. Many providers have recently implemented programs to target and recruit the best and brightest chefs, dining management personnel and staff. And they’re having some success in hiring from hospitality organizations and schools, hotels, restaurants and country clubs.

But hiring right, and retaining employees is still of paramount concern, and providers today run into a problem that companies of all types are confronting: three generations working alongside one another, comprising three very distinct groups of workers.

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“It’s not that I worry about getting people,” says Dan Fedro, division president for FLIK Lifestyles, a senior living culinary and hospitality service provider focused on the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. “It’s getting the right people that keeps us up at night.”

FLIK Lifestyles recently launched with a strong association to Morrison Community Living and FLIK Hospitality Group (Compass Group North America sectors). The company provides individualized and authentic culinary and hospitality services to senior living clients.

The challenges

Senior living hasn’t always done the best job of marketing itself as a desirable place to start and build a career.

FLIK Lifestyles and its partners are doing their part by working to “get ahead” of the problem of an industry that has often been misunderstood. The company’s services across dining as well as some additional operations include combating the old ideas about senior housing as a “jello and puree” type of business.

And a look into some of the trends behind job seekers also sheds light on some of the solutions.

Consider the three groups that comprise the majority of employees today: Baby boomers, ages 52 to 71; Gen Xers, ages 32 to 51; and Millennials, who today are 21 to 31 years old.

Recent research from online job search hub Indeed.com finds the preferences diverge all the way down to the device a prospective employee is using to search for jobs. For boomers, it’s most often a computer. But for the other two groups, it’s a mobile device.

And senior living jobs may appeal to both ends of the spectrum, as is seen across communities that employ a broad array of ages. Indeed concurs.

Millennials may be known as a generation of “entitled” employees, but Indeed found in its research that the younger searchers click more on “community and social services” jobs than older generations. The older set counted “healthcare practitioners and technical” among its three top-search job sectors. And millennials outranked both of the other groups for food preparation and serving related job functions.

In senior living dining, providers are getting creative in the way they attract new workers. They have launched top-chef style competitions, they have partnered with culinary institutions, and they have targeted well known celebrity chefs to run their dining services departments.

Fedro and his associates made a similar effort when their company recently attended the HEFG Expo, hosted by the Hospitality Education Foundation of Georgia. The event attracted 2,000 students from around the state and offered the opportunity to interface with chefs and ask questions. The organization is also working to get the word out through trade shows, finding that often, the younger workforce doesn’t realize the opportunity around working in senior living.

Much of the challenge in not only attracting but retaining a younger workforce lies in generational expectations and differences, Fedro says.

“Years ago it was easy to find young adults who wanted to work for us,” Fedro says. “Today, it’s tougher to find young workers to work part time. They’re not as ready or able to come in and work with us as they have studies or social activities that are very important to them.. But we’re getting ahead of it, by getting to high schools, and offering incentives…We are a hospitality-driven organization, and when people really get to understanding what it is we do, you see a lot to eyes opening.”

The solutions

Despite the headway in hiring a new workforce, there remains a challenge in retaining it. Many of the same generational differences apply when comparing today’s workforce to those who have long held positions in senior living, dining and in general.

Surveying employees often is the foundation of that retention, Fedro says.

“If you don’t ask your people what they feel, how are we ever going to get better and make shift in our business?” he says. “We are serving a multigenerational population, and we are hiring a multigenerational workforce. We have folks in the Silent Generation as well as the Gen Ys coming in. We must understand what makes them tick.” But it’s not just gathering the information, it’s doing something with it, Fedro says. That includes site follow ups and regular divisional follow ups across the regions Morrison works in nationwide.

The results may not be predictable: Fedro has found that money is not the biggest driver of engagement. In fact, training and upward mobility are far more important to employees.

“Employees want to be treated fairly, celebrated, listened to and heard,” he says. “We are relentless in our training. We train, and train and retrain, and try to get our people to grow with us.”

For the newer generation, it’s also a different approach.

“They’re not going to be as loyal to a company as the former generations and we are going to have to find ways to keep them excited, motivated, and provide recognition and remain nimble,” he says. “With young adults, it’s amazing how we need to recognize them, pump them up, and motivate them. We need to do this to stay ahead.”

Written by Elizabeth Ecker

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