3 Tips for Recruiting Senior Living Workers During Covid-19

The complexities of Covid-19 have thrown a wrench in many senior living providers’ recruitment efforts during a time of need. But there are some ways companies can retool hiring for the new pandemic age.

Forging ahead with a new hiring strategy is especially important, given that Covid-19 has only made hiring harder in recent months, according to Peter Corless, executive vice president of enterprise development for Cleveland-based workforce management software firm OnShift.

“I think providers need to look back over the last few months to see if there’s been a change in their historical turnover rates and the positions turning over, so that they can use that information to inform their recruitment strategy moving forward,” Corless said during an OnShift webinar Thursday.

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There are some ways providers can get ahead of the Covid-19 hiring crunch. Specifically, senior living providers should focus on reaching out to workers in other companies or industries (including but not limited to the hospitality industry), learn to embrace virtual interviews and streamline their hiring processes to quickly move on candidates they’re interested in.

Here are three tips on how to do that from Thursday’s webinar:

Reach out to other industries

Senior living providers can and should look to other industries as sources for new talent when recruiting. Specifically, providers should get in the habit of looking for companies that have had to reduce staffing levels as a result of Covid-19, or non-traditional sectors where workers have been displaced.

One easy source of new employees could come from home care agencies, some of which have laid off workers or put them on furlough during the pandemic. Providers can also reach out to former hospitality workers such as housekeepers, kitchen staff, maintenance people and laundry workers.

“There are a lot of … people who may not have worked in health care, but worked in hospitality, that you can seek out,” Corless said. “You can meet these displaced workers’ need for a paycheck, and through that you have the right people available at the right time.”

A new flexibility from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) on retaining non-clinical staff could make hiring workers from outside the industry easier, he added. Previously, workers in a nursing assistant or “universal” role could only work for four months before they were required to become certified. But with the pandemic, CMS has temporarily waived that requirement.

“Most of the associations have an eight-hour training program available on their websites, and you can bring in a non-traditional worker and have them go through that,” Corless said. “And that frees up time for the CNAs and nurses, so they don’t have to deal with those duties.”

Even residents’ family members can present an avenue for hiring. Corless said he is aware of some senior living providers that have brought in family members as universal workers specifically so they can see residents while the community is in lockdown.

Embrace virtual interviews

The Covid-19 pandemic has pushed everyone farther apart, but that doesn’t have to stop the interview process. Savvy providers have switched from screening applicants with in-person interviews to mostly virtual ones — and that trend will likely only accelerate in the future, according to Greg Lawton, executive vice president of enterprise development with OnShift.

“In the next few years, I think that a lot of folks are going to move towards virtual interviews,” Lawton said.

There are many methods providers can use to conduct virtual interviews, from consumer-facing technology platforms to ones tailored for the senior living industry. In crafting a virtual interview, Lawton recommends providers stick to structure.

“We recommend … that people use structured interviews — in most cases behavioral research interviews — that allow the candidate to be asked the same questions as every other candidate in the same manner and in the same format each time,” he explained.

Virtual interviews should also use video conferencing, so that hiring staff can observe body language and how applicants present themselves, Corless noted. And while some applicants can feel uncomfortable with virtual interviews, that shouldn’t stand in the way of the process itself.

“You may need to be a little bit more lenient with them and help guide them along,” Corless said. “Don’t let their unfamiliarity with technology influence how you assess the answers to their questions about their occupational qualifications.”

Streamline and optimize hiring practices

Speed is another crucial factor when hiring employees during the Covid-19 pandemic. Providers should examine their hiring processes for ways to move the process along — and background checks are perhaps a good place to start.

“No matter how efficiently background checks and screening is done, it takes time and resources,” Lawton said.

One tip for optimizing hiring is to more closely integrate applicant tracking systems with background checks. And, providers should only perform background checks on candidates they are sure they want to hire.

“It costs money, and we don’t want to run background checks on people we’re not going to hire,” Lawton said. “And if we try to run a background check before a conditional offer of employment, we risk some compliance issues.”

Providers should also be prepared to offer different benefits that will help appeal to workers during the Covid-19 pandemic. These may include free meals, daycare services or other things that help make their lives easier during a hard time.

And providers should not forget about retaining the workers they have, as it is easier and less expensive to keep an employee than to have to replace them. That’s a process that starts from the moment an employee comes aboard.

“If they have good buy-in on the first day, and in the first part of onboarding, they’re better and more likely to stay,” Lawton said.

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