Senior Living: Not Your Grandmother's Nursing Home Recently, I was asked by Seniors Housing Business why I thought the senior living industry’s penetration rate has been stuck around 10 percent. This was my short response: “While the industry has made great strides in overcoming some of the stereotypes, an image makeover is still needed. Terminology, such as the dreaded “nursing home,” is widely used, creating barriers to growth. Changing those longstanding perceptions for the future resident and adult children takes a lot of education. We also need to think about those efforts for attracting the next generation of talent into the senior living workforce. Many communities are in dire need of a cultural shift. Focusing efforts on employee engagement and creating a hospitality experience have been widely successful for many organizations, resulting in lower employee turnover, higher resident satisfaction, more referrals, and increased occupancy.” Damage Control The workforce shortage we have all been hearing about is real. Merely finding the volume of workers ready, willing, and able to care for the aging population is challenging alone. But attracting the talent and skills necessary in a less than appealing industry adds another layer to the mix. So what’s the solution? First, take a hard look at your culture. Are you an employer of choice or simply a job? We know pay and benefits are important, but what else do you offer? Employers are starting to branch out and offer non-traditional perks such as flexible schedules, fitness reimbursements, continuing education, and even Amazon Prime memberships. Would all this require a lot of time, energy, and probably a monetary investment? Of course. Will there be a return on that investment? No question. Your employees have the most direct impact on the residents’ experience. And start small, there are a lot of perks that require little to no cost, but pay dividends. While it may seem a bit daunting, it’s definitely attainable. Take Santa Marta, a breathtakingly beautiful continuing care retirement community (CCRC) located in Olathe, Kansas for example. Opening in 2007, early resident surveys revealed they found the community to be “Good” and “Acceptable,” resulting in minimum to no resident referrals. This lack of referrals stalled the community’s growth, which also made staff retention a challenge. In 2009, a new Executive Director, Chet Surmaczewicz, was brought in from the hospitality industry. The leadership team at Santa Marta embarked on a journey to increase employee engagement and connect the employees to the organization’s mission and vision. This included changes in the hiring and selection process, new employee orientation, and ongoing training. In just two years, the community reduced its turnover by 20 percent, increased resident satisfaction by 12 percent, increased resident referrals, and achieved 98 percent occupancy. Long-term Thinking Educating the future workforce is another key to survival. Like it or not, the industry needs the millennials. This generation of employees will be attracted to a work environment where they can continue to learn, live, socialize, and connect. Simpson College, a private accredited school in Iowa, recently started offering a Health Services Leadership program. Taking a unique and proactive approach, the college formed an advisory board with a handful of companies that serve the industry in a variety of disciplines, including management, human resources, wellness, and healthcare. Through first hand exposure to these organizations, students have started to pick up on the “campus” connection between the campus/community feeling in senior living communities and the campus/community at college. In addition to the curriculum, the students have been exposed to the vast jobs the industry has to offer in areas such as business, finance, human resources, and marketing. Finally, you are not only selling to an audience of future residents, but also to those who will care for them. Attracting top talent will require the same marketing efforts aimed at attracting new residents. Final Thoughts The good news is the industry has a bright future. But it all depends on us thinking differently. What got the industry to this point is not going to propel us forward. Do you need to re-think how you engage your employees and attract talent? Lisa Welshhons Lisa Welshhons has been with Aureon HR since 2000 and has more than twenty years of experience in human resources, serving the senior living industry for over sixteen years. Lisa has a bachelor's degree in public relations and is a member of the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM).