Senior living providers are going to have to confront the labor shortage sooner or later—but exactly how remains up in the air.
Vi President Randy Richardson has some ideas, though. Vi is a Chicago-based senior housing company that owns and operates 10 high-end continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) and serves about 5,000 residents throughout the U.S.
“We’re feeling the pressure in a lot of different areas,” Richardson said at this year’s Post Acute Link Care Continuum Conference in Chicago on June 12. “When you’re starting to compete with McDonald’s…you need to do some things differently.”
For starters, senior living providers should be prepared to think outside of the box, according to Richardson.
Grow wages without trimming your bottom line
One of the simplest ways to retain workers is to boost wages, Richardson said. When that’s not possible due to budgetary constraints, providers might also consider restructuring their workforce.
Richardson pointed to a “creative experiment” at Abe’s Garden, a standalone memory care community in Nashville, Tennessee. Essentially, Abe’s Garden gave some of its employees a pay bump while cutting its overall workforce. In return, employees who got a raise took on some new responsibilities, he explained.
“They said, we’re paying you more money, but you’re going to have to do your job differently,” Richardson recalled. “They were able to cut staff and do the same job, and buy a little bit [of a] higher wage for their existing employees.”
Though Vi hasn’t implemented this idea, Richardson said it was certainly worth examining.
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“The jury is still out on the results, but they had higher level of engagement for those employees that were there because they’re getting a little bit more out of their paycheck,” he added.
Hire well, then train well
One of the biggest mistakes providers can make is hiring someone who’s just not a good fit in the company’s culture. Another big mistake relates to training, which can be vitally important in retaining an employee.
“You have to have an organization that allows people to be engaged and empowered,” Richardson said.
It makes sense to invest a lot in training new employees upfront, rather than fearing to commit time and resources to new workers who might leave quickly.
“We found that it makes us a lot more sticky in the long run,” Richardson said of training. “When people go to another organization and find that the culture isn’t nearly what they left, sometimes they come home.”
One other big piece of advice: be careful not to churn and burn your employees. At Vi, the annual turnover rate is a little more than 20%—with half of that voluntary—but at other companies, it can be much higher.
“You’re going to be chasing that turnover number every year in an industry that has 40% to 50% turnover,” Richardson said. “How can you deliver [high quality] care with that much turnover?”
Part of that responsibility lies with managers.
“The number one reason people leave their job is because of their manager,” Richardson added. “It’s more than a paycheck, it’s an emotional connection, as well.”
Don’t discount millennials
Millennials: they’re not all that different from previous generations. Or at least, that’s Richardson’s working theory. Though the younger workers have a reputation for being flighty, they’re probably not any more likely to jump from job to job than previous generations.
“My experience with millennials is no different today than the way I felt [when I was younger],” Richardson said. “A lot of the comments about millennials are far overstated.”
Moving from one company to another is just a fact of the modern workplace, he added. Instead of pressuring employees to stick around, employers should look at showing them many different opportunities within the company itself. That way, if employees want to switch things up, they have options internally.
Just make sure you show workers that they have options sooner rather than later.
“Across our organization, the first year is critical,” Richardson said. “The highest level of turnover is within 12 months.”
Written by Tim Regan