Senior living communities, particularly life plan communities, are doing an extremely credible job with facilitating connection, a critical component of resident engagement.

In particular, we at Holleran are finding that campuses that encourage connections between employees and residents are building cultures of high engagement. And you feel it as soon as you walk into the buildings.

The strong relationship between employees and residents translates into a competitive advantage for senior living communities. Prospective residents are incredibly attracted to this culture of engagement. They want to feel like part of something bigger than themselves. When residents are connected to employees on a personal level, they experience a higher level of belongingness in their lives, so much so that when the staff members with whom they feel close are gone over the weekend or on evening shifts, they feel a bit sad and lonely.

Some communities have tapped deeply into this connection by asking residents to mentor newer staff members, especially certified nursing assistants and dining employees, who appreciate the wisdom and guidance of seniors. These connections actually lead to lower employee turnover, we have found. Some campuses still have not discovered the power of these connections, however.

A strong tie between employee and resident engagement exists. Through very apparent comment themes, when healthy relationships between the two stakeholder groups exist, and when residents believe that employees are treated well, higher resident engagement and satisfaction scores are achieved.

This is one reason why Holleran recommends that operators conduct both types of studies — employee and resident engagement and satisfaction — on a regular basis, and in tandem with one another.

As Holleran’s director of research, Erica Cavanaugh says, a tendency exists in the field to see these studies as being separate entities, but when an operator conducts resident and employee surveys simultaneously, it has a valuable opportunity to uncover important correlations and pervasive trends within the organization.

In addition to measuring connection indicators, the Holleran resident engagement survey asks residents to evaluate how well the campus supports residents’ successful aging in regard to hearing their voice, advancing their well-being and facilitating a sense of meaning and purpose. All four of these dimensions make up the tapestry of an engaged resident population.

Although it still is important to measure resident satisfaction, it also is important to measure engagement dimensions. All humans strive for self-actualization, and we cannot measure it simply by asking satisfaction questions. We still have work to do on the engagement side of the spectrum — but we are succeeding with the connection dimension.

Many employees and leaders in senior living are connectors by nature, and it is reflected in the scores in our national database. We need to leverage this tendency by encouraging personal relationships on campus as much as possible.