‘Symptom of a Larger Issue’: Senior Living Operators Grapple With Quiet Quitting

The term “quiet quitting” might not mean the same thing in senior living as it does in the corporate world, but that doesn’t mean that some operators aren’t devoting time and resources preparing for it.

Quiet quitting, which first became popular through the video-sharing social media platform TikTok, refers to the practice of doing no more than your job description entails

The idea that workers may choose simply to clock in, clock out and go home has in recent months sparked a debate about the future of work in America — and in the senior living industry, which has largely struggled with staffing this year.


Senior leadership at operators like Arrow Senior Living, Summit Vista and Discovery Senior Living have spent time examining workplace culture and the need for good workplace culture. And they are accomplishing this by getting a better understanding of what workers want and what motivates them.

And quiet quitting may be here to stay. A September poll by Gallup reports that so-called “quiet quitters” make up as much as half of the American workforce.

“I think quiet quitting is a symptom of a larger issue,” Arrow Senior Living CEO Stephanie Harris told Senior Housing News. “In light of the pandemic, people are considering how they want to spend their life … being more mindful of how they dedicate their time.”


Quiet Quitting: Problem or Opportunity?

Whether senior living workers doing their jobs and nothing more is a problem or an opportunity is not an agreed-upon notion.

For example, Harris believes that quiet quitting stems from workers feeling like they don’t have agency or recognition, and that it represents a genuine chance to build a better bond between employer and employee.

She sees how the domino effect of Covid-19 led to workers needing to do more, and to work in areas outside their comfort zone. That in turn can lead to high turnover, which then prompts staffing shortages.

In Harris’ view, the industry needs to be more inclusive of workers and their desires, and seek to involve them in decision-making. In other words, if operators are to fix the staffing problem, the workers must be part of coming up with the solution.

“If we don’t get serious about that and get more inclusive in the problem-solving, I think we’re losing the opportunity to learn from this particular symptom,” said Harris.

Discovery Senior Living CEO Richard Hutchinson, on the other hand, sees quiet quitting as a cultural mismatch between operator and associate.

“Quiet quitting I’m not good with,” he told SHN. “If you don’t want to be here and you don’t really want to lean into your job and make a difference — at the end of the day, despite the labor challenges, it’s hard to retain people, I am not modifying our culture.”

Discovery’s headquarters sits in Bonita Springs, Florida, about 30 miles south of where Hurricane Ian made landfall on September 28 as a Category 4 storm.

Discovery — the eighth largest operator in the country — operates 120 communities using a performance-minded culture. So when Discovery CEO Richard Hutchinson saw how his team responded in the aftermath of a hurricane, he was affirmed in his belief in Discovery’s culture.

Harris believes that a natural disaster of a different sort caused a mindset shift that led to the quiet quitting phenomenon; a shift that operators need to be aware of.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly in the early days, frontline staff at senior living communities made sacrifices and faced risks to care for residents.

But nearly three years into the pandemic, workers’ willingness to do that without what they believe is proper compensation seems to be drying up.

“I think people are done sacrificing,” Harris said. “They don’t feel like they have a voice and they’re not being represented.”

Workers Looking for a Voice

When it comes to quiet quitting in senior living, not everything is what it seems. For example, it may be a knee-jerk reaction to see quiet quitting as simple laziness or inflexibility

“But as operators maybe we’re the one’s being inflexible,” Kare CEO Charles Turner told SHN.

Kare, launched in 2019, is a senior living staffing startup that connects workers such as caregivers, nurses, CNAs and hospitality staff with open shifts at communities of their choosing. The service exists in part as an alternative to agency staffing.

Workers in the senior living industry are often motivated by a desire to care for older adults. Kare has honed on other characteristics shared by senior living workers to better understand them.

For example, caring for residents in a community is oftentimes a second job for workers, according to Turner.

“They want to work harder and make extra income, they just don’t want to have a fixed schedule that interferes with their life circumstances,” he said.

Other senior living workers work fewer than 40 hours per week, but not due to a lack of need.

Internal Kare data shows that many non-full-time workers have life circumstances that may prevent them from being able to commit to that amount of time.

Approximately 70% of the frontline care staff in senior living are single, either divorced or never married, according to Kare. Additionally, a similar percentage of workers have at least one minor dependent and about 30% have at least one adult dependent.

“So you have a population where they can’t work a full-time job,” Turner said. “And there are people that, for whatever reason, they just want to work a little bit and make enough income and that’s what they want to do.”

As Turner sees it, workers need to understand that quiet quitting will lead to fewer opportunities for advancement, increased compensation and other benefits. But operators need to figure out what workers want and what makes a good workplace culture, or else they run the risk of employees quiet quitting.

“Operators tend to worry about how to build a great culture and it’s a waste of time,” Turner said. “Because how we define great culture is not the same as how a frontline caregiver defines culture.”

Utah-based life plan community Summit Vista is facing a labor crunch exacerbated by employment conditions in Utah, which is home to the nation’s lowest unemployment rate of around 2%.

Few are feeling the sting of those conditions like Tineka Hardwrick, associate executive director and COO at the life plan community.

Hardwrick, who in the past has championed offering more money and more flexibility to workers as a way to beat the labor crunch, said she is still struggling with a way to address the quiet quitting trend, even with years of experience as the community’s former director of human resources.

“I don’t know what the answer is anymore,” said Hardwrick. “I used to have it but it has definitely changed.”

One way operators can get ahead of quiet quitting is by building a better workplace culture — not one that merely strives to be the best, as Turner alluded; but one that actually treats workers like valued members of the team.

Harbor Retirement Associates (HRA) spends time in the field to understand not only what’s happening on the ground at its 36 communities, but how its team feels about what’s happening.

“We want people to want to be here,” HRA CEO Sarabeth Hanson told SHN. “We know that they could go work in fast food or at a grocery store for the same wage … they are called to make a difference.”

HRA puts effort into making the workplace fun through small efforts, like a community throwing a “spirit week.” The Vero Beach, Florida-based company also wants to break down barriers between the frontlines and the C-Suite.

“We want our associates to know who the CEO is. We want them to feel free to call us,” Hanson said.

Still, at the end of the day, operators that treat frontline workers as commodities should be concerned not only about quiet quitting but about losing them.

“If I’m a frontline caregiver, I want to work for a community where I’m respected as being an equal member of the team,” Turner said. “Do you respect me for my thoughts, my knowledge, my background, the care that I give?”