John O'Connor illustration
McKnight’s Editorial Director John O’Connor
John O'Connor
John O’Connor

By most accounts, senior living is recovering from COVID’s darkest days.

Occupancy levels are rising across the board. Dealmaking is back in play. And many operators are reporting profits that are robust. In some cases, they are unprecedented.

While the rebound is welcome, one nagging problem persists and might even be getting worse.

Simply put, communities cannot find or keep enough employees to do the work that needs to be done.

Various reasons have been put forth for this continuing challenge. One is that the work is physically and mentally exhausting. A second is that the hours are ridiculous. And yet another is that many workers simply don’t have enough career-advancement opportunities.

These are true enough, as far as they go. But they do overlook the proverbial elephant in the room. All too often, the pay stinks.

In many ways, senior living doesn’t really have a labor problem; it has a math problem. For many candidates and job-leavers, the numbers being offered by their senior living employer simply don’t add up. So they either go away or stay away.

If it’s any consolation, senior living is hardly alone here. The hotel sector currently is experiencing an eerily similar phenomenon.

A recent survey of more than 400 managers by the American Hotel and Lodging Association found that about two-thirds (67%) also face a staffing shortage.

This comes despite the fact that front-line employees in the hotel sector make $23.91 an hour on average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

More than 80% of the respondents said they had increased wages in the past six months alone.

But despite those and other efforts, hotels have nine open positions to fill on average.

The senior living sector and the hotel sector don’t just share the same problem. Both also will need to do the same thing to truly address the issue: pay workers more.

I realize that is not exactly the answer many of our readers will want to hear. Especially as other operating costs continue to climb.

But here’s the thing: Your employees are not widgets; they are people. And most people tend to do things that they see as being in their own interest.

If you are going to tempt workers to go elsewhere for more money and/or other benefits, you shouldn’t be surprised if they take you up on the offer.

John O’Connor is editorial director for McKnight’s Senior Living and its sister media brands, McKnight’s Long-Term Care News, which focuses on skilled nursing, and McKnight’s Home Care. Read more of his columns here.