How Senior Living Can Build a Stronger Workforce

Workforce issues are top of mind for executives in the senior living industry, and they will be for the foreseeable future.

Given the constant stream of studies and statistics released about today’s labor market, it’s no wonder why. Disengagement among employees is a pressing concern across all industries, and a majority-millennial workforce is changing the way organizations structure their work environments. Senior living isn’t immune to these realities, meaning providers must shift their approaches if they want to attract top talent and combat caregiver turnover.

Nine quality of life trends, in particular, are impacting today’s workforce, as identified by Sodexo in its 2016 Workplace Trends report. Two of those trends strongly relate to senior living: employee engagement through recognition and gender-balanced teams to boost business performance.


The annual report provides details on trends, including everything from healthy lifestyle initiatives in the workplace to office layout designs for facilitating teamwork and communication. Sodexo is a dining, facilities management and quality of life services company working with clients in several industries, including education, energy and resources, health care, senior living and more.

Rules of Engagement

Only 29% of millennials are engaged in the workplace, meaning less than one-third are emotionally and behaviorally connected to their job and company, according to a recent Gallup report consisting of information from various of the consulting firm’s databases. That means most millennials aren’t engaged, so they lead the pack as the least engaged generation.


Since millennials represent the largest segment of the overall workforce, this proves especially troubling. Staving off disengagement requires all hands on deck, regardless of how things have run in the past, according to Sodexo.

“Perhaps the persistently low employee engagement scores of the past decade or so can be attributed to the fact that employee engagement has traditionally been the responsibility of human resources, even though engagement can be impacted by every department in an organization,” the Sodexo report states. “Seen from this broad vantage point, employee engagement becomes a core business strategy, as opposed to an HR function.”

Sodexo indicates two key areas organizations should focus on to improve employee engagement and business performance—improving quality of life for workers and reaching every employee in an organization.

  • Quality of Life: Enhancing employees’ quality of life goes beyond pay raises, as work-life balance also matters. This might involve health and well-being programs geared toward employees at work, at home or in the community, as well as employee programs based on management, peer and social recognition across all departments. Recognition programs can increase engagement by 20%, according to Sodexo, but recognition should be coupled with other programs for the best results.
  • Reaching Every Employee: While it can be a challenge to effectively recognize and communicate with front-line workers like caregivers, these employees play a critical role in a company’s success, and they note communication with top management is highly important to them. As such, organizations must prioritize reaching every employee. Technology is one solution for this, but active and formal outreach through meetings and training and leadership development is another avenue.
Senior living companies are taking on engagement in various ways. Des Moines, Iowa-based Life Care Services LLC, for example, which was the third-largest senior living operator by resident capacity in 2015, is drawing lessons from Southwest Airlines’ approach to employee engagement. And Maryland-based Asbury Communities, which operates five continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs), embraced the employee wellness trend in launching its WoW! (Working on Wellness) initiative.

Importance of Gender Balance

Women account for a limited amount of leadership roles across all industries, yet they make up 45% of the S&P 500 labor force. What’s more, men still earn 21% more than women in equivalent positions, according to 2014 figures from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

However, research suggests gender-balanced leadership positively impacts the bottom line, and Sodexo conducted an internal study to explore and understand the correlation between gender-balanced teams and overall performance. As opposed to most gender balance studies to date, which have extensively explored top-tier management positions and financial performance, Sodexo looked at the topic at all levels of management and financial and non-financial performance results.

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The Sodexo study analyzed key business performance indicators from 100 global entities and 50,000 managers in 80 countries, from C-suite to site management. Performance measures included employee engagement, brand awareness, client retention and three relating to financials.

Results across the board indicate success when a male-female ratio between 40% and 60% was maintained between 2010 and 2012. Brand awareness was 5% higher for such a blend of employees, client retention was up 12% and gross profit skyrocketed by 23%.

“This study reinforces the conviction that gender balance is a significant driver of performance and only delivers results if it is embedded in the global strategy and systematically addressed at all levels of the organization,” the Sodexo report states.

Senior living is getting better when it comes to gender balance, but there’s still room for improvement, says Juniper Communities Founder and President Lynne Katzmann.

“If you want to change business in this country, you have to do one thing, and that’s make sure that 50% of every corporate board is women,” she says. “I think it’s that simple. There’s a lot of research about what happens to a company when you put women on the board.”

Others in the industry echo Katzmann’s sentiment. Brenda Bacon, President and CEO of Brandywine Senior Living, urges leading without personal emphasis on ethnicity or gender, for example. Meanwhile, Debra A. Cafaro, Chairman and CEO of real estate investment trust Ventas, Inc. (NYSE: VTR) has set an example, recently being named to the list of Forbes 100 Most Powerful Women in the World.

Written by Kourtney Liepelt

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