With an eye toward recruitment and retention, and maybe even luring some previous employees back, Dallas and West Des Moines, IA-based Lifespace Communities is investing $17 million into wage increases, beginning with its lowest-paid employees.

The higher wages will kick in over the next two months for the company’s 3,600 employees, located across 14 life plan/continuing care retirement communities.

“The average increase will be around 11%, which equates to about $2.50 an hour,” Lifespace Chief Communications Officer and Chief People Officer Nikki Kresse told the McKnight’s Business Daily.

The Lifespace management team has committed to “overarching team member and resident engagement” to find out what the company needs to do to be competitive, she said. Feedback has revealed that workers and residents believe that employees deserve more pay for the work they’re doing, Kresse said, so the management team made the decision to be aggressive in wage increases.

“We didn’t think we could ‘drip, drip’ it out. It was important that we made a meaningful step” so that we could not only retain existing staff but attract new talent, she said.

Every position will see a wage increase, beginning with line-level positions such as clinical roles, housekeeping, servers and cooks, Kresse said. “We made it a priority to kind of pull those up,” she said.

Recruiting new workers is a priority as well, Kresse said, adding that Lifespace is compressing its hiring process. When a qualified candidate comes to an on-site job fair, for example, the company tries to hire that person on the spot rather than having the candidate wait a long time for an answer, she said.

In addition to recruiting new workers and holding onto its existing workforce, Kresse said, Lifespace is contacting former employees who might have decided to leave the company for higher wages but would be open to “boomerang” back to Lifespace. The company is looking at ways “to communicate that, ‘Hey, we’ve reevaluated and we loved the work you did, and we’d love to have you back,” she said.