Great Place to Work Data Holds Surprises for Senior Living

In just three months, Fortune magazine will publish the first-ever “Best Workplaces in Aging Services” list. To be considered for inclusion, senior housing and care providers had to complete an initial process by June 18, to become “certified.” With that deadline now past and the industry data being analyzed, some surprising results are emerging related to employee engagement.

“There were surprises in all three categories—senior housing, skilled nursing and home health/private duty,” Jacquelyn Kung, CEO of Activated Insights, told Senior Housing News.

Activated Insights is based out of the Great Place to Work corporate campus in San Francisco and is spearheading the creation of the aging services list. Kung brings industry knowledge from her time with organizations such as senior housing provider Erickson Living and home care software giant ClearCare.

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To vie for a place on the “Best Workplaces in Aging Services” list, employers had to earn certification by submitting an application and having at least 55% of their workers complete a survey. It was this process that had to be completed by June 18, and participation exceeded expectations.

“We expected for 100,000 employees to be surveyed this first year, and we had just under 150,000,” Kung said.

Typically, to be certified as a Great Place to Work, an organization has to achieve a score of at least 70 out of 100, based on employee survey results. For the first year of the aging services list, that threshold was lowered to 50. It will go up to 60 next year, and then to 70 the following year. However, many providers across the senior care spectrum got certified this year based on the usual standard of 70, which Kung described as “pleasantly surprising.”

Next, the Great Place to Work data team will take the results of all the certified providers and crunch the numbers using the same algorithm that generates the other Fortune “Best Workplaces” lists. The algorithm takes into account factors such as company size, complexity and consistency—for instance, to ensure that it is a great workplace for a diverse cross-section of people, not just a particular worker profile. This data analysis will then determine the final list, to be published in September.

In the meantime, though, it’s possible to glean some insights from the information gathered through the certification process.

Among senior housing applicants, about 40% were nonprofits and 60% were for-profit. While Kung’s hypothesis was that non-profits would generally have higher employee engagement, this was not the case. Employee engagement scores were similar for non-profits and for-profits across various categories, and there was more variability among non-profits.

“So, if you’re at a non-profit, you could have an awesome or a terrible experience,” Kung said.

Further investigation is needed to understand these findings, she noted, but it appears that non-profits do not necessarily attract or cultivate a workforce that feels more connected to purpose or mission than for-profits. For both types of companies, some of the top-scoring statements on the employee surveys were “this is more than a job,” “my job has meaning” and “I feel like I make a difference.”

Activated Insights is also starting to analyze how employee engagement scores correlate with performance metrics such as turnover and occupancy, and is finding that the correlation is tight.

“So, a company with many sites, looking across your communities, the one with the higher employee engagement score has lower employee turnover,” Kung said.

In the future, as the data sets grow over multiple years, the goal is to become predictive. In other words, being able to say, if a company’s engagement score goes up by X, its turnover will go down by Y, and its occupancy will increase by Z.

“I think we’re going to get pretty predictive, because the correlations are pretty tight, and if they’re not tight, we tend to know the white noise factor,” Kung said.

For example, a major “white noise” factor in occupancy is location. A senior living community in Chicago is in a stronger market than Houston but a weaker market than the Bay Area, based on factors such demand versus supply.

When market is held as a constant, the relationship between employee engagement and occupancy “really pops,” Kung said.

Juniper achieves a first

Various senior living providers have been certified as a Great Place to Work, with Holiday Retirement and Senior Lifestyle Corp. among those recently touting the achievement.

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But Bloomfield, New Jersey-based Juniper Communities achieved a particular distinction, being the first provider to not only have the company as a whole certified as a Great Place to Work, but to have all of its individual communities also receive that designation. Juniper operates 21 communities in four states—Colorado, Florida, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

“I would say it’s our values and culture, which we’ve worked really hard to institutionalize,” said Juniper Founder and President Lynne Katzmann (pictured at right), of how the entire portfolio was able to achieve certification.

These are a few other tips that Katzmann shared, based on how Juniper approaches worker engagement:

Do engagement surveys and learn from them. Juniper surveys its workers each year, and has designed its training and professional development efforts in response to findings. These efforts include Juniper University, for ongoing education of the workforce as well as residents and their family members. The company’s “Traveling the First 40” is an on-boarding approach to help guide new associates through their first 40 days and establish a strong foundation for success. Juniper also offers a leadership academy to help cultivate top talent, and having long-tenured leaders at each community has been essential to helping the company’s culture take root and flourish, Katzmann said.

Keep strong ties between communities and the corporate office. Each member of the Juniper executive leadership team visits each community every year, meaning there are at least six touchpoints annually. The executives contribute something from their area of expertise; VP of Finance and Business Development Chuck Hastings might offer lessons in financial literacy, for instance. On site visits, Katzmann enjoys bestowing giraffe awards. These are giraffe pins awarded annually to five people at each community. Katzmann hand-picks those who have “stuck their necks out” for residents, family and associates.

“When we’re there, we don’t just walk through and tell people what they need to change, but talk to people, to convey that we’re all on the team and our purpose is to listen and be with one another,” Katzmann said of the visits. “It starts to eliminate the us-them mindset, and it creates a sense of engagement with leadership so that people feel they have a voice.”

Be patient and methodical as the company expands. Acquiring a new community brings many challenges, including instilling Juniper’s culture. “To acculturate a community typically takes 18 to 24 months, and it really depends on where they start from,” Katzmann said.

For Juniper, that process involves the leadership team visiting the property prior to the acquisition closing, to introduce themselves and begin to form relationships with existing residents, workers and family members. Each employee then goes through a re-hiring process with Juniper and experiences the “Traveling the First 40” program. The company’s signature programs, such as Connect4Life, are rolled out, and there is training involved in that as well.

“It’s not like people immediately become converts, but they should feel good about themselves through the process,” Katzmann said.

Written by Tim Mullaney

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