As the coronavirus pandemic has continued into 2021, senior living providers have put more emphasis on the mental and physical health of their employees, and those efforts have paid dividends in the form of employee satisfaction, as evidenced by the rankings in Fortune’s fourth annual lists of Best Workplaces in Aging Services, released Friday by Fortune in partnership with people analytics firm Great Place to Work and Activated Insights, the senior care affiliate of Great Place to Work.
The Great Place to Work methodology is grounded in a “trust index survey” that has been taken by more than 100 million people worldwide and features 60 questions measuring five dimensions of employee engagement. To be certified as a Great Place to Work, operators must survey all of their employees using the trust index survey. Providers earn Great Place to Work certification if at least 70% employees surveyed confirm that an employer is a great place to work.
Once certified, operators automatically are included in Fortune’s ranking process. Fortune and Great Place to Work then take the employee certification data and run it through an algorithm that adjusts for factors such as company size and consistency of all employee experience. The adjusted scores of each operator are then ranked.
Companies named to the lists “fought bravely and saved countless lives during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Jacquelyn Kung, DrPH, MBA, CEO of Activated Insights, the partner of Great Place to Work in senior care.
At Brightview Senior Living, No. 1 on the list of large senior living and care employers (1,000 or more employees) for the third consecutive year, 2021 became “a year of wellness” for its almost 4,600 employees.
“We continually challenged ourselves to focus on what it meant to be a Great Place to Work, specifically in the incredibly challenging environment in which we all found ourselves,” Brightview CEO Marilynn Duker said. “We have always believed we must first be a great place to work if we are also going to be a great place to live, but what that looked like changed and evolved over the course of the pandemic.”
When the COVID-19 vaccine became available at the beginning of 2021, Brightview partnered with pharmacies to bring on-site vaccine clinics to each of its 42 communities, trying to make them fun events, with games and treats. The company now requires all employees to be vaccinated by Oct. 1.
Brightview also implemented a “Roadmap to Mental Wellness” as a framework for identifying and responding to the stress that staff members and their families felt during the pandemic. The organization brought counselors onsite to every community through its employee assistance program partner BHS. Workers could meet with counselors in person or join an in-person or virtual support group led by a counselor. A licensed master’s-level clinician via BHS also is available to provide free, confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to employees and their families via phone.
Also in the realm of mental health, the company wellness manager leads brief meditation sessions weekly, and a spring wellness campaign included exercises centered on mental and emotional wellness.
Brightview held a special Associate Appreciation Week earlier this year, including daily prize drawings, customized sweet treat boxes and a visit from an ice cream truck. Special “thank you” videos allowed residents and senior leaders to express their thanks for extraordinary efforts made during the pandemic. Beyond the week-long celebration, department directors are empowered to acknowledge staff member efforts with on-the-spot gift cards and other forms of appreciation.
Ninety percent of Brightview employees responding to the Great Place to Work survey said the company is a great place to work, compared with 59% of employees at a typical U.S.-based company.
Sunrise Senior Living, No. 10 on the large company list, also credits its “commitment to protecting the health and well-being of its team members during the pandemic” with contributing to its high ranking on the Best Workplaces list. The company was an early announcer of a vaccine mandate for workers, publicizing in late March that all employees must be vaccinated against COVID-19 no later than July 31.
Seventy-seven percent of the company’s almost 22,000 U.S. employees taking the Great Place to Work survey said that Sunrise is a great place to work.
Not every strategy for success is necessarily related to COVID-19, although many can reduce stress in pandemic times. For instance, Brightview for the third year in a row waived all employee healthcare premiums in December and then reduced the employee portion of healthcare premiums by 6.5% for 2021. The company also uses tools such as the Healthcare Bluebook to enable employees to save money on routine screenings and then receive a share of the cost savings.
The company also is working to address another prominent issue in the public eye over the past year, racial injustice, by assembling an employee task force to focus on diversity, equality, inclusion and access for all. Almost 100 volunteers asked to participate, and the team is working on a multi-year plan to ensure that all associates are represented in internal promotions and leadership roles.
Communication, culture important
Communication plays an important role in employee satisfaction, too, according to Brightview. The company sends a twice-weekly bulletin to keep everyone at the company informed about all initiatives and uses an employee engagement app, BVLink, to keep frontline associates engaged with messages from senior leaders and others in their communities. For headquarters workers, surveys and focus group sessions gave them the chance to have input when a permanent remote work policy was being created.
Communication also played a role in Taylorsville, UT’s Summit Vista placing No. 1 on the list of small and medium-sized Best Workplaces in Aging Services (10 to 999 employees), according to CEO Mark Erickson. He credited weekly 15-minute all-staff meetings for part of the life plan community’s success. The meetings started when the community opened.
“We expected to hold these for the first month or two as we got up to speed,” Erickson said, adding, however, that “employees loved these as a communication tool, so we never stopped them.”
Over time, he said, the meetings changed from being information-heavy to being celebrations of the community’s mission and culture.
“We always start with ‘mission moments,’ little stories shared by any employee that represent our mission and values,” he said. “People want purpose, and these stories help connect the jobs that we do every day with the bigger picture and impact that we are having on people’s lives.”
Erickson said that the life plan community has seen “a significant increase” in the number of residents referring family members and friends.
“When we ask them why, they universally say that it is because of the experiences and interactions with our employees. Those positive interactions are a direct result of making Summit Vista a great place to work,” he said.
Ninety-six percent of Summit Vista’s approximately 115 employees said it is a great place to work.
Dave Coluzzi, president of Concord, CA-based Carlton Senior Living, No. 2 on the large employer Best Workplaces in Aging Services list, said the company’s culture is an important contributor to its position.
“This year, we have continued to cultivate a culture where our staff are treated as individuals, respected and embraced for their uniqueness,” he said. “Our philosophy ‘live your life’ is demonstrated through our one-of-a-kind benefits, our ‘best of the best’ recognition program, our Carlton University training and our unique ‘My Pay Plan’ structure.”
Eighty-five percent of Carlton’s approximately 1,250 employees said in the Great Place to Work survey that the company is a great place to work.