Manny Ocasio

With unemployment at historic lows and an aging workforce, senior living leaders rank finding and retaining employees as a top challenge. Add finding high-quality employees to the mix, and the challenge increases.

For the past three years, Asbury Communities’ human resources team has put significant resources toward creating a culture of accountability among our existing workforce and putting measures in place to attract and retain such candidates.

An important sign that our efforts are beginning to pay off came in late April when Asbury achieved Great Place to Work certification for a second consecutive year – having last year earned a spot on Fortune’s Top 40 Workplaces in Aging Services list.

Our Great Place to Work survey highlights included:

  • 88% of associates said their work had special meaning.
  • 86% said they are made to feel welcome when they join Asbury.
  • 86% said they believe they make a difference at work.

By focusing on two key areas, we are moving closer to our goal of becoming the employer of choice in our markets.

Creating an accountable culture

In 2016, Asbury partnered with Cy Wakeman, whose Reality-Based Leadership model uses psychologist Julian Rotter’s locus of control research to reframe and strengthen themes and specific behaviors related to accountability.

We began communicating the principles of accountability across our organization and more fully embedding it within our systems and processes. At the same time, we sought organizational opportunities to identify people whose mindsets lean toward personal agency — “I control the outcome” — versus those who seek external reasons for a perceived failure.

Today, we interview for accountability through questions addressing an applicant’s resilience, commitment, ownership and desire for continuous learning. We redesigned our annual performance review to more consistently measure this trait, and we added questions to the annual associate engagement survey that reflect it.

Attracting and retaining engaged associates

It’s commonly stated that millennials seek purpose in their work, but in my years in human resources, I’ve observed that most of us hunger for meaning in what we do.

In addition to such necessities as living wages and flexible benefits that reflect a diversity of needs, we intentionally are focusing on and communicating the higher purpose behind associates’ daily tasks.

An upcoming video series celebrates stories of accountability in action and spotlights the relationships and family atmosphere that inspire associates to build careers here.

Our associate app provides a user-friendly way to engage with all of our associates — including frontline — and along with a robust recognition and rewards program reinforces that associates are valued.

In 2011, Asbury began its person-centered culture journey with Planetree, and in 2018, Bethany Village became the first life plan community in the nation to earn Gold Level certification from Planetree.

We took some of the best practices and success stories from Bethany’s handbook and used those to redesign our associate orientation to clearly convey our mission and vision, organizational focus on accountability, a foundational principle of person-centered service. Associates attend this experiential, full-day session on day one, with residents joining them for lunch. Feedback routinely includes such comments as “I’ve never been through an orientation like this before,” and “I know I made the right decision.”

In the pilot community, where the program has been in place for a year, turnover in the first 90 days dropped by 30%. Now, we’re building out a longer-term onboarding process to make sure that when associates head to the floor, what they just experienced doesn’t fall flat. Stay interviews with supervisors on a 30-, 60-, and 90-day timeline will provide check-ins to ensure that associates are getting the feedback and information they need to be successful.

Where does this lead? We believe it is to a workforce of results-driven people supported by a culture of trust. Trust that their colleagues and leaders will provide the resources necessary to provide the highest level of service possible.  

When combined with the person-centered principles of listening to and honoring each other’s needs, it’s an attractive and rewarding workplace culture.