As the great resignation continues, it has become clear that what employees want, and what employers think that employees want, are two very different things.

McKinsey & Company’s recent study put this disparity on full display. Its survey noted that employees want to feel valued by their manager and organization, and to have a sense of belonging. Employers thought about this in a more transactional sense, believing that employees wanted better compensation and more work-life balance.

What’s interesting about the phrasing of the “great resignation” is that these employees aren’t just quitting their jobs to live a life of leisure. They are going to other employers. Some culture consultants predict that the grass isn’t greener elsewhere and that many of those employees will wind up back at your doorstep. What is clear is that multiple factors have created a perfect storm, exacerbated by the pandemic.

The pandemic forced all of us to reassess what matters most and envision life in a new way — which is certainly feeding into the job market’s revolving door.

So, what’s the answer? I believe sincere storytelling in business can be a strategy that differentiates your company in the marketplace and can attract and retain employees.

Since the dawn of time, humans have been united by storytelling. Our brains light up like pinball machines when we hear stories. Storytelling helps us learn, remember and connect. There is an art and science to storytelling, and although some may think it is only a buzzword for slick marketing and advertising campaigns, that is not the kind of storytelling I’m referring to.

The reason storytelling can be so powerful is that it taps into our emotions. Stories inspire us and move us to action. Stories can create change. Retail brands use this as a mechanism to sell more product, but just think how much more impactful a sincere story is in senior living.

Your story is important in every facet of your business, from marketing campaigns and advertising to reputation management and customer experience. The experience you should be curating is not just for prospects, but for employees, too. When an adult child is looking for a place for his or her loved one, or a senior is contemplating your community over another, that is an emotional buy, and if done well, a choice they reaffirm by continuing to live in your community or use your service day after day.

A sincere and genuine story also can be what attracts and connects employees to your organization. It is part of how you communicate values, mission and culture. According to the Digital Marketing Institute, the power of a great story increases your company’s or service’s value by 20 times.

So how exactly can you incorporate storytelling as a retention and recruitment strategy? Here are five ways.

1. Create a shared experience by telling your company’s story.

How did your organization get started? What is the story behind it all? Has that ever been shared? What is the ‘why’ that encapsulates the soul of your organization? What makes you different? Why is your mission important? Why should employees care?

That unique story can cultivate a shared experience, one that bonds employees together and becomes a narrative that is woven throughout the culture, as well as the recruitment and onboarding process.

2. Weave your narrative internally and externally.

A good story that is sincere and unique can attract or repel the type of talent you want. It does the same for our prospective residents and clients.

You can use stories to help prospective candidates envision how they align with your values and mission, along with what is important to your organization. Likewise, when employees are the first to know, rather than the last to know, you foster open communication and trust.

Building a culture of storytellers, who also become brand ambassadors, reaps the rewards countless times over because that will directly affect the customer experience. I’m sure you can quickly rattle off horrible customer service stories that served as why you swore off a brand.

In senior living, the stakes are so much greater than someone who simply doesn’t want to frequent that corner coffee shop or use the latest shampoo. When that narrative is strategically woven through every facet of your organization, it creates cohesion rather than chaos, consistency rather than confusion.

3. Paint a vision of the future.

Although consumers have become increasingly conscious of aligning their buying power with organizations and products that they believe mirrors their values, employees aren’t really any different. Employees are assessing this same thing when it comes to selecting a company to work for.

A good story can paint a vision for the future and give employees something to believe in and strive toward. When employees understand how their daily roles impact the bigger picture, they are more likely to be aligned and connected organizationally, which fosters a sense of belonging and importance.

4. Align your words and actions.

Trust is the greatest currency you trade on daily. A story cannot save a flawed product, service or process. That story must be sincere and truthful, and it must also be the language of leadership.

If leaders in the organization do not align their words and actions, that will undermine all the good you do. Anytime there is a disconnect between your words and actions, consumers and employees will be quick to call that out.

No one, and no organization is perfect. But the more you admit that and own your mistakes, the greater a culture of trust is built and that further cultivates an environment where employees feel safe to bring forth new ideas, challenge old ways of thinking, and contribute to the overall mission.

5. Leverage employee stories.

Once you know your organization’s overarching narrative, you can celebrate employees’ stories and why they believe so deeply in your mission. Your employees are your most unique asset and they become the best storytellers for your recruitment and retention initiatives. From targeted campaigns to onboarding, there is no shortage of ways to leverage these treasured testimonials.  

In the words of Virgin Founder Richard Branson, “today, if you want to succeed as an entrepreneur or leader, you have to be a good storyteller.” So, let’s be storytellers with conviction, sincerity and intentionality, transforming our organizations from the inside out.

Courtney Malengo is the founder of Spark + Buzz Communications, a strategic communications consultancy that helps brands tell their story to inspire audiences and galvanize growth. She has 19 years of experience leading branding, marketing, public relations and communications initiatives, 10 of which were spent in senior living. Courtney is an accredited public relations professional with a master’s degree in communication and organizational leadership from Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA. She is passionate about providing creative and strategic solutions to bolster brands, enhance reputation, boost sales, cultivate culture, increase employee engagement and build market differentiation.

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.