Michele Holleran headshot
Michele Holleran

In the midst of steep workforce challenges, there is some encouraging news, according to the Holleran employee engagement benchmark third-quarter 2022 numbers: supervisor loyalty.

When asked whether they think they will be working at their senior living community three years from now, 46.4% answered positively. What’s more, the number of supervisors who are in the highest engagement category (we call these folks “catalysts”) is at its highest level in recent history, even greater than pre-pandemic.

What accounts for this level of loyalty and engagement among our supervisors?

One hypothesis is that supervisors who were less engaged left during the pandemic, and those who stayed were those who had the highest commitment levels and passion for the field. Although the pandemic took its toll on many employees, including the supervisors, it brought out the best in those with the tenacity and resilience to tough it out. And, if any doubt existed earlier that their role was critical and made a difference in the lives of older adults, the pandemic took all doubt away. The supervisors knew for sure that they were the glue that was holding senior living communities together. Their jobs had more meaning than ever before.

Supervisors were put to the test when it came to building strong relationships with their teams. In response, they became more compassionate and humanistic, realizing that their co-workers needed them to be there in a different way than before. They were challenged to draw from their vast reserves of human potentiality to support their teams.

Yet, in the aftermath, many supervisors themselves now are suffering high levels of burnout. In taking care of others, they have neglected to take care of themselves and their own mental health needs. Many CEOs report that supervisors are at a breaking point and need higher levels of support from their supervisors.

It is a well-recognized fact that supervisors are the key to retention. The old adage that people don’t leave their organizations, they leave their supervisors, is more true than ever. Therefore, focusing on our supervisor well-being has never been more important. What are some best practices for improving supervisor well-being?

1. Conduct a well-being inventory of all your supervisors.

Find out what their stressors are, as a group and individually.

Holleran collects employee well-being statistics around the major stressors among senior living workers and found that workload, household bills and personal mental health top the list. Yet each supervisor is facing her or his own challenges, and determining the exact nature of those individual challenges is a great place to start.

One-on-one meetings to elicit this customized information are recommended. Time-consuming, but worth the effort.

2. Offer more support to supervisors.

Mental health resources, a personal or group life coach, more time off — customize the support as much as possible without violating rules of fairness.

3. Check in often with supervisors to see how they are doing.

Executive leaders, don’t offer advice. Rather, listen deeply and perhaps offer solutions, if appropriate. People need to be heard these days more than ever.

Great open-ended questions include: “How are things going for you this week?” “What does help look like for you?” “How can this community better support you?” or simply “What’s on your mind these days?”

The holidays are particularly stressful for many people. Holding group meditation sessions, reducing the number of meetings supervisors are required to attend, sponsoring fun events, lightening the mood with positive energy and laughter — it’s often the small gestures that make a big impact on others.

4. Show appreciation.

A handwritten note sent to the supervisor’s home. A small gift that shows you care. A word of encouragement to someone who seems overwhelmed or disengaged.

The importance of supervisor engagement and loyalty cannot be underestimated. Most senior living workers leave within the first 90 days of the beginning of employment. Supporting supervisors and role-modeling the right leadership behaviors will have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the workforce, especially those new hires.

Although many new systems are being put in place to try to reduce the effects of employee turnover (robots, same-day pay, retention bonuses), no substitute exists for strengthening human relationships at work. The more we can encourage supervisors to take better care of their own needs, the more they will have the capacity to support their teams and, in turn, reduce turnover.

Michele Holleran is founder and CEO of Holleran Consulting, an employee and resident research firm offering engagement and satisfaction surveys and other assessments to strengthen senior living organizations. She is also a leadership educator and executive coach. Holleran can be reached at [email protected].

The opinions expressed in each McKnight’s Senior Living guest column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Senior Living.

Have a column idea? See our submission guidelines here.