Senior Living Operators Grapple With New Reality of Recruiting Challenges

Senior living operators have spent the last couple of years beefing up their recruiting methods to help fill roles and hire more workers. The job is not getting any easier.

At the tail-end of 2023, senior living companies are grappling with challenges such as an increasing number of applicants “ghosting” interviewers in a variety of roles.

Senior living hiring managers have reacted to those challenges by increasing the speed through which they contact applicants and remixing the methods they are using to get in touch with them. They are also rethinking from where employees should be hired by adopting a hybrid of centralized and community-level recruiting efforts.


That shift in effort is already having an effect at The Springs Living, according to President Brenda Connelly. The company has been able to reduce its staff vacancies by 35% since the darkest days of the pandemic.

“We believe we’re seeing a greater degree of qualified candidates entering the pool …. and many of the shifts we have made both during and now post pandemic have really paid off,” Connelly told Senior Housing News.

Speed and communication

In senior living sales, the concept of speed-to-lead refers to the need to move a prospective customer through the sales process quickly, before they decide to live in another community. The same concept applies to recruiting, where getting in touch with potential candidates quickly before they interview elsewhere can be an effective strategy for hiring them.


Senior living providers including The Springs Living first grasped this lesson earlier in the pandemic, when workforce shortages were hamstringing their ability to recover much-needed occupancy and revenue.

Tommy Comer, chief HR officer at Commonwealth Senior Living, said recruiters have a target time of four hours to contact applicants to schedule an interview once they have applied.

“The sooner the better, that’s just the nature of the game,” Comer said. “We try to coach our hiring managers to understand that they’re just like sales. People are shopping.”

In order to accommodate its speed-to-lead recruiting style, McMinnville, Oregon-based The Springs Living upgraded its digital hiring platform. The switch has been a “game-changer,” Connelly said.

The change was needed due to the sheer number of applicants The Springs Living was receiving. The company saw a 90% increase in the number of applicants in its system, rising to 12,711 in the third quarter of 2023, up from 6,698 a year prior..

Louisville, Kentucky-based Atria Senior Living has set a target time to close on an applicant at 10 days for frontline staff, VP of Employee Recruitment and Engagement Sarah Pitts said. That target is down from 16 days in 2022.

Atria has been able to fill vacant roles thanks to that strategy, she said. At the moment, the operator is tracking about 1,800 vacant frontline staff openings in the U.S. and Canada, and around 200 department directors. Around this time last year, that number registered at 3,000 frontline openings and 300 department directors.

Part of the shift of speed-to-lead recruiting is inherent in the shift to digital applications.

“In this digital age of recruiting, employees have a multitude of options, and many companies and options for employment are providing a quick to apply button,” Connelly said. “At the touch of a finger, they can apply to many, many different jobs in a short period of time.”

To keep up with an increasing number of applicants is increased flexibility, which is a significant change compared to pre-pandemic strategies, Comer said, such as interviewing after hours or on the weekends.

“Now, it’s like we need them more than they need us,” he said. “I don’t think that was the case three years ago.”

Budgeting for recruitment

Alongside adaptability for recruitment strategies, the budgets set aside for recruiting are seeing a need for fluidity as well.

At Dallas, Texas-based 12 Oaks Senior Living, “budget bootcamps” have been conducted with each of the company’s community leaders in regards to staffing models, Chief People Officer Melissa Labor said. While there aren’t immediate changes expected to be budgeted for a changing employee count, there is going to be a more concentrated effort on growing the company’s recruiting team.

“We are committing more resources to this team to add value and streamline efficiency for the communities. This will continue to be refined as we listen to our communities needs along the way,” Labor said.

Going into 2024, Connelly said a budgeting goal is to reduce the overall expenditures for recruiting due to the “exorbitant” costs associated with it.

Thanks to smarter hiring ad placements and better geolocation, The Springs Living has been able to see a savings of around $52,000 comparing the third quarter of this year to the same period in the year prior.

Comer added that while he wasn’t able to provide a figure for budgeting purposes, the intention is to overall spend less on staffing while budgeting in a smarter way . Part of that includes investing in advertising on smaller recruiting platforms in the hopes of a bigger payoff with applicants.

Busting ghosting

During the pandemic years, senior living operators have noted a growing trend of applicants “ghosting” during the interview process. The term refers to applicants who mysteriously disappear without any notice.

Ghosting is occurring at all levels at Atria, not just frontline staff, Pitts said. To cut down on it, Atria has improved communication with candidates by using texting and video calls to help get candidates “through the door” for interviews.

“What we’ve been doing at Atria is a lot of commitment around the candidate experience,” Pitts said. “We’re looking at each step in that candidate’s experience to really start to whittle down this ghosting issue.”

Another potential factor that could cause a candidate to “ghost” is the time from receiving an offer to the official start date, according to Comer. While Commonwealth has experienced ghosting as well, Comer noted the amount has decreased since the company added dedicated recruiters and prioritized speed in recruiting.

But given the nature of the job market, ghosting may be “the new norm in the digital age,” according to Connelly.

“We have to recognize that’s part of the process now, and we have to compensate by adjusting the target number of leads that we need to bring in,” she said. “The more candidates you have, the more opportunities you may have to have a fallback plan in the event that hire doesn’t work out.”