John O'Connor
John O’Connor

A senior living center in China’s Jiangsu province has found a rather unique way to increase visitors: bribery.

Visitors are rewarded with cash, depending on how often they come to see their aging parents. For example, children who visit 10 times over a two-month span receive about $10. For 30 trips, the payment jumps to $29.

Before the program began, only 10% of the residents were receiving regular visitors. Now it’s about half, according to several reports.

The visits are helping to improve both the morale and health of the community’s residents. Family members insist the frequency increase has less to do with payments than a sense of shame for not having taken care of their parents in the past. That may be at least partially true.

But let’s not forget one of the basic rules of economics: People respond to incentives. And that clearly seems to be happening here.

Al Capone has been credited with saying you can get much further with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone. Perhaps the corollary for this field is that you can get more visitors with a reward and an invite than an invite alone.

So what’s the message for American senior living community operators who want to see a spike in visitors? Bribe the children with money? Perhaps.

But there may be other options to consider as well. Perhaps instead of offering cash, gift cards make more sense. Or monthly drawings for meals at nice restaurants. Or maybe a free month’s stay to a lucky winner? Or a nice vacation? The options are almost endless.

In my experience, people generally prefer to do the right thing. But sometimes they need a little nudge.

John O’Connor is editorial director of McKnight’s Senior Living. Email him at [email protected].