Gig Economy Fallout Worsens Ongoing Senior Living Labor Crisis

The ability to attract and retain frontline workers is often cited as the biggest challenge for today’s senior living providers — and many think it’s going to stay as bad, or even get worse, in the next three years as they compete with the so-called “gig economy” for new workers.

That’s according to a new survey from OnShift, a company that provides senior living workforce software and services. The new bi-annual report, “Workforce 360,” asked 1,500 long-term care, senior living and health care professionals how they viewed the ongoing senior housing labor crunch.

Of the professionals surveyed, 63% said they expect it will be as or more difficult to retain workers in the next three years as it is today. Similarly, 73% expect that finding qualified employees will remain as hard or get harder in that time, and 69% said the same about managing labor costs.


These results underscore the fact that many providers are grappling with competition for new workers from inside and outside the senior care industry. About 66% of all respondents said they also regularly fight for talent against hotels, restaurants, retail and app-based companies representing the growing “gig economy,” such as Uber, Lyft and Instacart. They also reported fierce hiring competition from home health agencies (58%) and hospitals and health systems (69%).

“They are really suffering from all of the fallout of the gig economy,” OnShift President and COO Ray Desrochers told Senior Housing News. “The problem was already difficult enough in terms of the number of caregivers required to address the needs of the growing and aging senior population. Now, it’s getting exponentially worse.”


That’s not the only workforce challenge providers are dealing with. When asked about the effects of turnover, 70% of the surveyed professionals said they’ve seen an increase in worker burnout. Higher turnover also leads to higher labor costs (47%) and an increased reliance on overtime (62%), according to the survey. And, turnover correlates to a decrease in the continuity of care (68%) and resident satisfaction (44%).


For providers struggling with workforce issues, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. But in beating their health care, hospitality and gig economy competitors, senior living providers will also have to resemble them — at least in terms of offering similar perks and benefits for workers.

“[Other companies] are coming in with what I consider to be modern benefits and modern affordances for employees,” Desrochers explained. “Providers are going to have to find ways to differentiate, and they’re going to have to find ways ultimately to provide some kind of vision to workers.”

Already, some providers are looking at providing creative perks and benefits as a way to get ahead of the hiring curve. Benefits such as more flexible scheduling, financial assistance programs and tuition reimbursement are gaining steam among savvy providers in the senior living industry, Desrochers noted.

Of those surveyed, 62% said their company has an employee reward and recognition program, while 50% offer or plan to offer tuition reimbursement and more flexible scheduling options. The respondents also said their companies offer or plan to offer discounts for meals (37%) and some kind of access to earned wages between paychecks (34%).


Providers are also testing out some truly unconventional approaches to employee perks and benefits.

“We’re seeing benefits from free coffee to cruises,” Desrochers said. “Each of them is trying to differentiate themselves, and they’re trying to provide things that, for this caregiver population, are really exciting.”

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