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

When it comes to employee retention, various reasons are being given for the hardships senior living organizations now face.

Outside competition often is mentioned as the main driver, or at least riding shotgun. Fair enough.

After all, it’s hard to win against the Costcos of the world when they offer more pay and better hours.

But there is a more troubling issue at play here. One that was clearly revealed in a study of registered nurses published Tuesday in JAMA Network Open.

What the investigation makes pretty clear is that many senior living organizations planning to keep the keepers need to, well, do a better job.

Fully 37% of respondents working in residential and nursing homes cited insufficient staffing levels as their top reason for leaving. The second leading cause was burnout/emotional exhaustion, which was cited by 32%. That’s a lot of unhappy campers.

Which begs the question: How can senior living communities reduce defections? There may not be one silver bullet, but there are lots of good bullets to be found. During a recent McKnight’s roundtable discussion, several industry experts shared a few.

It starts with finding people who are passionate about working in this field, panelists agreed. 

“We’re focusing a lot of our attention on building that joy and love for what they do,” noted Pilar Carvajal, CEO of Innovation Senior Living.

Easing caregivers’ pain points can also help managers keep their talent. That’s why Sherri Berghoff, CEO of OPS Living, offers life skill training such as financial awareness, childcare backup, car financing and credit improvement, as well as weekly pay options, scheduling flexibility and employee incentive “bucks” that can be used to pay bills.

“We’re trying to be creative in the solutions that we’re coming up with,” she explained. “Changing these life skills for our line staff is what’s going to create longevity for us.”

“[P]erson-centered case management and comprehensive wraparound services” are also keys, said Barb Clapp, CEO of the Jack and Nancy Dwyer Workforce Development Center.

Drawing talent from other industries, and other countries, can also be clever ways to widen the pool of candidates, several panelists noted.

To be sure, the senior living sector can do a better job of making their communities more attractive places to work. And learning from others is a pretty good place to start.

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.

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