Top 6 Tips for Successful Senior Living Employee Recruitment

Employee recruitment and retention has been a hot-button issue in the senior housing industry for some time—and the topic was front and center at last week’s LeadingAge Illinois 2018 Annual Meeting & Expo in Schaumburg, Illinois.

Two not-for-profit senior living providers and one workforce management software company shared best practices that have helped operators keep staffing numbers high and turnover at a minimum.

Here are their six best tips for successful senior living employee recruitment and retention:


1. Leverage all of your connections.

To identify employees who are most likely to stay with a senior living organization for the long-term, it’s best to turn to that organization’s current staff members, Dawn Mondschein, CEO at Central Baptist Village, suggested at LeadingAge Illinois.

“We started looking at who our best employees were and who we were bringing to our communities that were most successful in integrating into our culture,” she said. They found that many of these employees had been “recruited through connections”; in other words, they had been referred to the job by an existing resident or employee.


The not-for-profit life plan community in Norridge, Illinois, has 230 employees, and Mondschein estimates that about 50% are connected, either by blood or friendship, to a current staff member or resident.

“With that comes that loyalty and that connection to us,” Mondschein said.

2. Recruit from outside the senior living industry.

Many senior living providers can be hesitant to recruit employees from different industries, but this shouldn’t be the case, Gigi Walker, chief finance and operations officer at Clare Oaks, said at LeadingAge Illinois. Clare Oaks is a not-for-profit continuing care retirement community (CCRC) in Bartlett, Illinois.

“We’re a very inward-looking industry,” Walker said. “We limit our options and choices, a lot of times, for hiring.”

For instance, Walker explained, a senior living finance team may be inclined to poach employees from a different senior living organization because they’re already trained in certain skill sets.

“We want someone who knows how to bill Medicare,” she offered as an example. But it’s possible to teach someone how to do this and other senior living-specific tasks—and this one-on-one training often pays off in the form of employee appreciation and loyalty.

“Some of my best hires have been people who aren’t in the industry— people who are eager and want to learn,” Walker said.

Recently shuttered retail outlets—like Toys”R”Us, which liquidated all of its U.S. stores in March—could also be a good source of new hires, according to Jessica Modic, director of customer service for Cleveland-based workforce management software firm OnShift.

“Think about the places where you’re able to recruit those individuals to come work for your organization,” she said. “There’s a lot of stores are downsizing the amount of retail space they have.”

Modic also recommended partnering with a local training organization to help get those new hires certified for a senior living job.

“If you’re willing to invest in them and help them get certified… they’re going to be more loyal to you in the long run,” Modic added.

3. Web presence matters.

Senior living providers should also pay close attention to social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, Modic said. Though many providers have a company- or community-wide presence on one or more of these sites, it’s also a good idea to make a separate careers page for job-seekers.

“So, when potential residents or families of residents go to your Facebook page, they’re not seeing that you’re looking for 11 CNAs or anything like that,” she explained. “Try to separate the two, but make sure you are posting those careers… in the social media space.”

Providers should also pay closer attention to company review sites like Glassdoor, a kind of “Yelp for employers,” Modic said. Though reading what current or former employees have to say online can be a nerve-wracking experience, these websites are worth keeping an eye on—especially when prospective employees are reading those reviews, too.

“We have customers that say they have [interviewees] come in who bring up reviews or things that were written online,” Modic said. “It’s something to keep in mind. You don’t want to be caught off guard regarding any negative feedback and you want to make sure you’re addressing those issues.”

4. Make applying a breeze.

Sometimes, the biggest roadblock to attracting top talent is the application process itself. Senior living providers should think about whether finding or applying for a position is quick and easy, and fix it if it’s not.

“At this point, they’ve probably spent quite a bit of time researching you, and they don’t want to spend another hour applying for something,” Modic said.

An initial application should take just one to two minutes to fill out, she added. One easy way to truncate that process is to whittle applications down to only the most important information. That might mean asking for an applicant’s most recent job as opposed to their last three or four.

“There are things you’re collecting where, you might not need it for the interview,” Modic said. “You may need it if you’re going to hire them, but let’s collect it if you’re actually going to hire them.”

Once a prospective new hire has made it to the interview stage, it’s always a good idea to set follow-up expectations. Because job-seekers usually apply to multiple employers at once, it’s crucial to hire the most qualified ones as quickly as possible.

“Make sure that they know they’re going to receive a follow-up if things went well, and how quickly you’re planning on moving,” Modic said.

5. Onboard effectively.

The battle for top talent doesn’t end with a job offer, either. In the senior living and care industry, new employees are especially prone to quitting in their first 90 days, according to Jim Rubadue, OnShift’s chief customer officer. The onboarding and training process can go a long way in shaping a new hire’s view of their employer, for better or for worse.

“Until they’re in your front door, they’re still looking [for other work], so they’re usually applying for multiple jobs,” Rubadue said.

On or before an employee’s first day, they should have a good idea of what they’re supposed to do, who their direct supervisor is and what their responsibilities are. It’s also a good idea to send a new hire a note and possibly a small gift thanking them for coming aboard—though the medium of that message is important.

“A note is certainly a nice thing to do, or a small gift, but that note should be a text or a phone call,” Rubadue said. “Try to make sure the first step into that building is the best step that they’ve made.”

New hires should be able to start the onboarding process well before their first day on the job. And don’t forget to give workers enough time to socialize and meet their peers on their first day, he added.

Then, when employees finally get started, training materials should be presented to them in “quick hit” format that’s easy to digest.

“Make sure it isn’t that three-days-in-a-room where people are nodding off halfway through the first hour,” Rubadue said.

6. Adjust expectations around staffing.

Nowadays, it’s simply unrealistic to believe that most part-time senior living workers are going to stay with a community for years on end.

“We’ve reframed our expectations of how long staff are going to stay with us,” Mondschein said. “They’re not staying with us for an extended period of time like they used to.”

This is especially true for the community’s youngest part-time workers, she explained.

In fact, Central Baptist Village has had “tremendous issues trying to recruit and retain culinary staff”—who are usually high school students—due to a surplus of fast food restaurants that have opened nearby in recent months.

Some of these restaurants offer perks that high school students appreciate, but Central Baptist Village cannot financially justify—including college tuition reimbursement. To stand out against these competitors, leadership at Central Baptist Village has focused on creating an engaging and dynamic company culture.

And, if a community can succeed in retaining an employee for one year, their chances of keeping them around long-term may increase exponentially, according to Walker.

“If we can keep staff for one year, that’s sort of our magic time,” Walker said.

Written by Tim Regan and Mary Kate Nelson

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