Attracting and keeping employees who will be passionate about their work is crucial at a time when workforce challenges are a top issue facing senior living operators, speakers told those attending an educational session Tuesday at the LeadingAge annual meeting in Indianapolis.

When hiring, look for heart, personality and skill coupled with motivation, recommended Yvonne Rickert, vice president and senior director of human resources for Des Moines, IA-based LCS. And of the three, she added, heart is the most important.

“A passion to serve, with a heart, is so important for everyone, from our CEO to our housekeepers and laundry aides,” Rickert said.

Hiring hard-working, engaged workers is important, she said, because in addition to being productive, they will draw other top performers to the workplace. By contrast, Rickert said, employees who aren’t top performers will draw people who are even less engaged than they are. And it takes four engaged employees to mute the effect of one who is not engaged, she added.

Low productivity and morale have financial implications, too, said Steven Still, executive director of Marquette, an Indianapolis retirement community managed by Life Care Services, an LCS company. Wages, salaries and benefits account for 62% of his community’s budget, he shared. Replacing an hourly worker can cost an equivalent of six to nine months’ wages, Still said, and replacing a salaried worker can cost an amount equal to two times the person’s salary. Effects continue, he said, as it could take a new employee up to a year to be fully effective in his or her job.

Rickert and Still shared several best practices to increase the likelihood that operators will recruit and retain employees who will be engaged.


  • Measure turnover across the company and by position.
  • Create a plan to address any issues that are identified.
  • Build a culture that employees want to be a part of.


  • The top site on which to post your recruitment ads is Indeed, for any position. LinkedIn is appropriate for higher-level positions, and Craigslist works for some frontline positions, Rickert said.
  • Use behavioral-based questions in the interview process, with different questions targeting different positions.
  • Take the job description and the completed application to the interview. Ensure that the interviewee has a clear understanding of the job requirements and that you have a clear understanding of the person’s capabilities.
  • Interview each prospective employee multiple times.

After the hire:

  • During orientation, make sure that the new hire knows what is expected of him or her. Go over the human resources manual thoroughly, and be sure to answer all of the questions that the new hire has.
  • Try to address any perceived weaknesses in skills with coaching at the beginning of employment rather than what might be perceived as disciplinary action later.
  • Get to know employees and what matters to them. Meet with them regularly, and respond to their questions and concerns as soon as possible.
  • Recognize and reward engaged employees.

“Recognition is huge,” Rickert said. “We all know that on every survey, the two things that everyone can always improve on are communication and recognition.”

Also on day three

Day three of the LeadingAge conference also featured morning educational sessions, exhibit hall hours and a general session at which keynote speaker Sanjay Gupta, M.D., a neurosurgeon and chief medical correspondent for CNN, shared insights gleaned from his career “at the intersection of medicine and media.”

“The topic of longevity just seems to strike a chord with everybody,” he said. “It’s this big common denominator all over the world. Every demographic is interested in this topic, and I’ve come to realize a very important point: As much as individuals want to learn about longevity for themselves, I think in some ways they want to learn about it even more so for the people they love. They want to learn about things that could actually help extend the quality and the length of people’s lives.”

Research shows that keys to living to a healthy old age are exercising the mind and body, eating healthfully, and getting enough sleep and rest, Gupta said.

LeadingAge also presented additional awards at the general session:

The meeting concludes Wednesday with more educational sessions and exhibits.