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When the COVID-19 pandemic finally ends, senior living operators will be able to exhale and look back to gather lessons for the future. Those lessons undoubtedly will include ones related to the industry’s ongoing top challenge: recruiting and retaining workers.

Some industry-wide insights that might be helpful in that effort are available right now via a recent survey of assisted living communities that reveals a mixed bag for employers and employees.

For the 23rd annual Assisted Living Salary & Benefits Report, released Friday by the Hospital & Healthcare Compensation Service in cooperation with LeadingAge and supported by the National Center for Assisted Living, 1,220 of 1,379 participating assisted living communities answered new questions about the effects of COVID-19 on their businesses.

Good news for employers and employees is that the majority of respondents reported not having had to cut employee benefits (97.6%), implement hiring freezes (92.6%), lay off workers (78.9%) or reduce employee hours (65.9%) due to the pandemic. Those findings probably are not surprising to most in the industry, given the intense efforts needed to fight the virus and serve residents during the pandemic, as well as the challenges related to enticing new people to join a work setting perceived by some to be riskier than ever compared with some other settings.

More good news for employees is that 59.3% of communities reported adjusting pay for key employees — assuming those adjustments were increases. That’s certainly a positive reflection on employers.

Bringing up areas to explore, however, were findings that a majority of communities participating in the survey did not change benefits eligibility policies (100%), did not change overtime pay amounts for certain employees (76.1%), did not change vacation and paid time off policies (69.9%) and did not increase employee hours (52.8%).

It could be that these communities have relatively strong policies in place and so change was not warranted. And even if change were warranted, such moves come with a cost that many communities may not be able to bear, especially at a time when senior living occupancy is at an all-time low.

But when COVID-19 disappears as the primary focus for operators (and we’re all hoping for that day to come as soon as possible), questions will remain about what additional steps operators can take to keep people in the industry and attract new people, too. It’ll be time for a good, honest look at pay, benefits, hours and other factors.

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