Diane Wiley

Regardless of the industry, a growing question in recruitment is: “How can we attract millennials?”

People have pored over research and surveys to pinpoint what members of the country’s now-largest workforce demographic are looking for in an employer. That analysis has led to targeted outreach by many organizations in the hope that millennials will flock to join their teams.

Seniors housing and care is no different. There’s a very strong alignment between what millennials are looking for and what we can offer.

In general, millennials put an emphasis on doing meaningful work that improves the lives of others, which is a central focus of long-term care. Other aspects of long-term care also are proving to be natural fits for millennials, and organizations such as ours need to emphasize those aspects in the recruitment process.

Important among those key perks:

  • Broad entry points. The varied range of skills and schooling needed to break into the LTC industry allows for a broader spectrum of eligible candidates. A high percentage of millennials who have gone to college may find themselves out of work or underemployed in their fields. Others are foregoing college altogether and are in need of work that they can walk into with minimal post-high school education. With positions ranging from certified nursing assistant to food service, senior living communities and LTC facilities have myriad opportunities for millennials seeking to build careers and not just acquire jobs.
  • Flexible hours. Research shows that millennials are not married at all to the 9-to-5 day, 40-hour-per-week schedule that previously had been a goal for job-seekers and a sign of stability. Senior living uses full-time, part-time and per-diem employees. Three shift options, available through many employers, also allow employees to build their work around their lifestyle.
  • Employment sustainability. The demand for LTC services continues to grow. With 10,000 people turning 65 every day, the seniors housing and care industry by necessity will experience a steady increase in its workforce.

Address “red flags”

That said, we must be aware that aspects of senior care can present what seem like “red flags” to millennials. One of those red flags is the heavily institutionalized culture that still exists at many senior care providers due to the state and federal regulatory nature of our industry. The medical model that provides the framework for traditional skilled-care facilities and increasingly is part of many assisted living communities fosters vertical leadership and can limit contributions from talented employees who feel restricted by their pay grade.

At St. John’s Home, we’re in the middle of a programmatic and structural evolution that will help facilitate a culture change that empowers all of our team members. Our small homes project deconstructs the medical model and creates teams with interchangeable parts and increased autonomy, encouraging ownership and accountability. With smaller teams, each team member knows that he or she is needed to be successful. With fewer residents to focus on, they build relationships that quench their thirst for having a meaningful effect.

The foundation of our culture is revealed in our mission and values statements. Our mission says: “St. John’s embraces life with vibrant, caring and life-affirming relationships.” Our values, known as our brand characteristics, are that we embrace living by being:

  • Friendly: Welcoming, engaging and willing to be open and interactive with others.
  • Respectful: Polite, demonstrating that others have value and deserve your time and attention.
  • Responsive: Reacting quickly and positively.
  • Compassionate: Showing tenderness, empathy and care for others.
  • Innovative: Continuously looking for new and better ways to do things.
  • Fun: Allowing yourself to be spontaneous and joyful.

A core tenet of our small homes model is to establish and nurture meaningful relationships between employees and elders, built on respect and empowerment. In addition, millennials are looking for work-life balance and challenging, meaningful work. The opportunities at St. John’s match these objectives.

Appeal to all generations

Providing a workplace culture where employees are encouraged to speak up and where members of management sees it as their responsibility to listen, investigate and respond is a must-have for millennials. The desire to be heard transcends age, and we are finding that it is a concept that employees of any age readily embrace.

Throughout the transition, our administrator of skilled services has held monthly, 30-minute information sessions. This open-forum format created a dialogue that included staff, elders and family members, allowing all to share their concerns and perspectives. At one point, rollout of the entire plan was put on hold after staff members shared the need to slow down and take time to listen. This continues to be a valuable vehicle for culture change.

In the fall, we completed a series of 18 focused listening sessions to ensure that the voices of our direct care and clinical support employees, as well as elders were heard. They were asked to share their input on three questions:  

  1. What do you like about working/living at St. John’s?
  2. What areas of concern do you experience here?
  3. What are your ideas for solving these concerns?

After listing responses, each group was asked to vote on the top concerns and solutions. The leadership team then met to review this input and decide on top priorities to address and resolve the concerns. Regular feedback will be provided regarding our progress.

Start with onboarding

Demonstrating that you are the right employer at the right time for millennials starts with an improved strategic on-boarding process. Turnover is at its highest during the first six months of employment, and often, that can be traced back to a miscommunication regarding expectations. Miscommunication can be procedural, but just as often, it is cultural. The orientation presents the job one way, but the reality is quite different. If the message on Day 1 is “You have a voice,” then this message should be reinforced on Day 13, Day 94 and Day 170 as well.

At St. John’s, we are creating more touchpoints in those first six months to identify possible miscommunications and correct them before employees self-select out of our organization. Our human resources business partners and talent acquisition specialists connect with new employees during their first few months of employment. We also use Survey Monkey to gather and track information about the new hires’ experiences at the seven, 45 and 90-day points. A preceptor program recently was launched to ensure that new clinical employees have additional support and resources for help in acclimating to their new role. Even the leadership team welcomes new hires during the orientation process.

The changes we are making are to position St. John’s as a best workplace destination not only for millennials but for all employees. Creating a culture that supports employees both fosters service excellence and improves care and service delivery for seniors and their families.

Diane Wiley is the vice president of work/life at St. John’s, a full-spectrum senior services provider ranging from independent living communities to long-term care in Rochester, NY.

McKnight’s Senior Living welcomes guest columns on subjects of value to the industry. Please see our submission guidelines for more information.