Mary Ann temporarily was residing in a nursing home while undergoing rehabilitation after surgery and a six-week hospital stay. So she relied on her daughter, Diane, to tour assisted living communities to find her next home.

Monticello West, a community in Dallas managed by Life Care Services, was appealing to Diane because of its layout and cleanliness, the 83-year-old said. “But the first thing Diane said to me was, ‘Mother, they have a great staff there, a staff with tenure, and aides with tenure. And I just liked the overall friendliness and comforting feeling I got and the happy faces I saw.”

Mary Ann said she saw “a lovely setting” when she arrived at the community, “but I knew from experience that you don’t look at the setting or the immediate facilities,” she said. “You look around you, and my first thought was, ‘The residents here look happy. They look well fed.’ It was just like, ‘Hey, this is going to be my home for the rest of my life. And I knew that, and I didn’t want to move again.’ ”

Mary Ann, who has lived at Monticello West for approximately seven months, was a panelist at a staffing-focused educational session on Thursday at the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care’s Spring Investment Forum in Dallas. She and other panelists shared tips to address senior living’s No. 1 challenge: recruiting and retaining workers.

What contributes to employment longevity that leads to increased resident satisfaction and move-ins?

Panelist Benedicta Musa, a CNA whose title is care pro at Honor, a San Francisco-based home healthcare company that provides services in various settings, said it’s a sense of stability and consistency, fair pay, some control over hours and a feeling of being appreciated by her employer. A smartphone app Honor care pros use helps, she added.

“We are able to choose our shifts by ourselves. It’s very, very flexible. You can choose whatever time you want to work,” Musa said, adding that she was moved to a desirable on-call schedule, where she is guaranteed 40 work hours every week and the opportunity for overtime, because of the high ratings that clients gave her in the app.

The app also allow caregivers to be reminded of upcoming shifts, switch shifts with colleagues, learn about clients before visits, check off completed tasks and enter notes throughout a shift, and clock in and out, Musa said.

“It is very user-friendly,” she said. “It’s a great tool.”

Musa has worked for Honor for more than a year, “which is a long time for a caregiver to be within the confines of one organization,” said panel moderator Kelsey Mellard, head of health system integration for Honor.

Mellard said that the company changed from a 1099 model to a W-2 model, so all caregivers are employees “with the hope that it will stabilize our ability to provide regular salaries to our care pros and stability amongst our workforce for our clients as well.”

Panelist Dan Guill, chief operating officer for Chicago-based Enlivant, said that companies reap multiple rewards from efforts to lower turnover and increase retention rates.

“We see in our business that a lot of that comes down to great leadership,” he said. At the community level at Enlivant, Guill added, the leadership team includes the executive director, a nurse and a salesperson.

Buildings see improved performance after a team has been together for a year, he said. And after two years together, Enlivant has seen a 20% higher retention rate, on average, over the total number of employees, as well as a turnover rate that improves by 50%, Guill said.

“That translates into making our owners happy because we see our [revenue per available room] go up about 10 percent, and our [net operating income] margin goes up about 20 percent,” he said. “As we address the needs of our employees and really start to invest behind consistency, pay or impact — empowering them to be able to do better things — you see that then turn into happier residents and happier families, you see occupancy rise, and then as a result we see that translate into better productivity and more money for paying wages but also for giving dividends back to our investors.”

When it comes to recruiting, word of mouth is still important in the secondary or tertiary markets in which Enlivant operates, Guill said. When high-quality employees join the organization, they can be “pied pipers,” attracting other good workers, he added.

Enlivant then uses a personality profile system, developed through years of employee surveys and observation, to assess job candidates before hiring, to ensure that applicants will fit in with the company culture and to improve overall retention, Guill said. “We have industrial psychologists working with us to help us interpret that kind of stuff,” he added.

The company is trying to attract and retain employees, Guill said, by letting them choose the shifts they prefer, when possible, and by using technology to help workers efficiently and conveniently perform scheduling and other tasks.

Business analytics also could play a role in identifying the right job candidates, according to panelist Christy Stone, senior vice president for human capital at Toledo, OH-based real estate investment trust Welltower.

“A number of our partners are using a group called Arena that basically analyzes how an applicant applies or responds to a job application, and based on that response, with about a 95 percent success rate, they’re able to tell you who will be successful in the organization,” she said.

The REIT also is trying to excite students at colleges with programs in hospitality, real estate and gerontology about possible careers in the field, Stone said.

“We’ve chosen a number of schools where we’re out there evangelizing about the seniors housing industry,” she said. “I don’t think it’s top-of-mind when folks think about what they want to do when they grow up, and yet the incredible opportunity and job diversity that exists within the industry is really compelling, and people want to be a part of a growth industry. They want to be in a growth organization. They want to be in a growth job.”

Welltower is considering expanding its internship program to have students spend a few weeks learning about operations and caregiving at senior living communities in its portfolio in addition to rotating through the other business functions at the REIT, Stone said.