When analyzing other service industries, it seems that senior living is good at recruiting talent for entry-level positions. However, turnover needs to be reduced, and internal referral pipelines need to be developed by these providers, and they can do this by looking at competing industries.
According to Activated Insights, a research firm that is responsible for the yearly Great Place to Work survey, the senior living industry has a high percentage of voluntary worker termination, especially those in housekeeping, maintenance, and waitstaff. These are similar positions you one can find in hospitals, retail, hospitality, and grocery industries. Every year, the top businesses are listed in Fortune magazine list called Great Workplaces in Aging Services.
According to Activated Insights, the termination rate for full-time senior housing employees was 29%. For the retail and hotel industries it was 18%, 10% for the hospital industry, and 13% for the grocery industry.
The numbers are striking when they are compared to the average number of people who are applying for each open position. Grocery averaged 14 applicants for each open position, 20 for hospitals, 21 for retail, 22 for hotels, and 30 applicants for senior housing.
This indicates that senior living has to interview more people to fill positions than other healthcare and service industries. The biggest issue is keeping workers, which shows Jacquelyn Kung, CEO of Activated Insights, that the industry does not do a good job in providing new hires with opportunities for career paths, continuing education, or promotions.
Kung calls Wegmans Food Markets, based in Rochester, New York, a great example of a company that clearly defines its work culture and professional opportunities, starting with recruiting new employees.
The recruiting strategy of “Wegmans” focuses on teenagers, and they make sure that they benefit from within. It has a high retention rate and is a supermarket business. Senior service providers can be inspired from other industries to reduce employee turnover, and they can also learn how their colleagues tackle the problem, including organizations that have been highly rated in the Great Workplaces ranking.
One reason for high turnover rates with full-time employees is that the newer employees are not equally prepared for the intensity of the work when it comes to emotional reactions in the lives of our elderly, said Mark Erickson Executive Director and CEO of Summit Vista. Summit Vista is based in Taylorsville, Utah, and is the first entry-fee community to offer Retirement Care facilities within Utah. The community has 109 employees and ranks 20th in the category of small and medium-sized enterprises in this year’s Great Place to Work survey.
Unlike grocery and retail stores where the customer-employee relationship is just transactional, the employees of senior living will interact with the customers every day. The intensive nature of being able to work in senior living is pushed and a constant reminder to applicants from the first interview. To those that are invited back for a second interview are then asked to take a behavioral assessment, so that it may show the commitment they have in aligning themselves with the mission of Summit Vista and the residents.
“We are very aware of our culture, mission, and behavior in the workplace and we make people responsible for their place, so if you are not ready to sit down with the residents, be flexible and have difficult conversations with them, then you will not make it in this industry, “Erickson said.
Summit Vista management also conducted interviews with resigned employees to identify and investigate the reasons for leaving, and to implement best practices and adjustments in the hiring process and induction process.
In its first year of operation, Summit Vista’s sales rate is around 35% on an annualized basis, which is within the supplier’s goals, and Erickson expects this percentage to decline once the operation stabilizes and is implemented.
According to Jeff Petty, President, and CEO of Wesley Enhanced Living, many new employees enter the life of seniors without knowing exactly what the industry needs. Headquartered in Warminster, Pennsylvania, Wesley employs 1,020 people in six communities and ranks sixth among major suppliers in this year’s Great Place to Work survey. Wesley has a turnover rate of 23% among full-time employees and tries to reduce it to less than 20%.
“The truth is the jobs we offer are challenging. It is hard work. It is not necessarily a pleasant job. People come in, not knowing what they are getting into, “he said.
Petty believes that there are immaterial rewards to work in old age that are not found in other areas, namely the closest relationship between employees and residents.
Changing the Ways of Thinking
Vendors must be willing to change over time if they want to improve employee retention, Wesley Vice President, Human Potential Pat Lamoreux said.
The life of the elderly as an industry grew out of a command and control environment in which managers who had matured in their work were trained to control everything in running their community.
This attitude remains prevalent throughout the industry. Wesley has devoted a lot of time and energy to talk to his leadership about breaking this mold, training them to question the intangibles the provider is looking for in a particular area of expertise, and the front-line employees of the agency for the daily processes and management.
They can look at how a candidate fits with the values and mission as well as looking beyond their skill sets. Are the candidates able to provide examples? Will they willing to be challenged? What do they want to bring to the business? What they are bringing in terms of their abilities to grow and learn as well as in their character.
Wesley is provided with insight into the satisfaction of employees from the Great Place to Work survey, and they conduct their surveys to gather information and then it is shared with their workforce.
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