Offering continuing education and more time to interact with residents are keys to retaining employees, Brookdale Senior Living executives told those attending its Investor Day in person or online on Thursday.

Employees are “telling us that we need to continue to put tools in their tool belt,” said Labeed Diab, chief operating officer of the country’s largest senior living provider. “We need to continue to give them that continuing education, not just at the onset but as they grow and develop their careers.”

The company’s proprietary tools and programs help with retention as well, said Mary Sue Patchett, executive vice president for community and field operations. The Brookdale Excellence Standards Tool, or BEST, is designed to help ensure a consistent resident experience, inform risk analysis, manage performance and promote compliance. And the proprietary Brookdale Service Alignment system, she added, has the goals of aligning staffing patterns, balancing work assignments, pricing care, continuously improving quality and ensuring that associates are supported.

Employees “want to spend time with our residents and their families, connecting with them and becoming part of their extended family,” said President and CEO Andy Smith. “That’s the magic of our business. And these operating tools that we’re talking about are designed to free folks up who are on floor, starting with our executive director but all of those folks, to … create that magic in our business.”

The BEST and Service Alignment tools have just been put in place in the former Emeritus communities that Brookdale acquired in 2014, Smith said. “As we’ve now gotten through all of this turmoil from the integration, we’re able to have people focus on the utilization of the programs that we have, the tools that we have, all so they can perform better, be happier in their jobs and so that we can retain them,” he said.

And what’s good for employees is good for business, too, Diab said. Freeing up executive directors and others to spend time with associates and residents helps prevent move-outs, he said. “When we spend time with our residents, there’s nothing that we don’t know,” he said. “And if there’s a reason for them to move out, we can help control that, and we will and we are.”

A program to onboard executive directors has been revamped and launched throughout all Brookdale properties, Smith said, and the company is just beginning an effort to update its professional development program for everyone from frontline staff to executive directors to managers above the community level.

Also, although employee engagement is more important than wages when it comes to retaining employees, Diab said, “We’re constantly evaluating wages to ensure that we’re paying a very competitive wage to get that off that table. Just as we talk about resident satisfaction, associate satisfaction is just as critical. And when you have 82,000 of them, it is first and foremost for all of us that we are ensuring that those associates are engaged.”