Using engagement tools to “nudge” staff members and residents into meaningful interactions not only creates senior living communities that are great places to live; it also creates the best possible homes for residents, according to a speaker during the American College of Health Care Administrators 2021 Convocation & Expo Virtual Experience.

A negative workplace culture can lead to employee burnout, depression and anxiety as well as high turnover or diminished provision of care, said Juliet Kerlin, iN2L’s director of program and research partnerships. The average staff turnover rate in senior living is 57%, with some communities reporting rates greater than 90%, she added. 

“This inhibits any type of strong relationships to form between staff and residents,” she said. “If staff are not engaged, they cannot create those relationships to keep residents engaged.”

Communities seeking to address the challenges and negative effects of disengagement and isolation may motivate workers with rewards, offer team-building exercises or identify mentors to coach new employees. But Kerlin said another concept is gaining traction: nudging.

Nudging, she said, uses positive reinforcement and person-centered indirect suggestions to motivate people. 

“To be the best place to live, you must be the best place to work,” Kerlin said. “Treat your employees the way you want your residents to be treated.”

Reimagining the use of technology in senior living can nudge employees into creating opportunities to build relationships with residents, she said.

Embodied Labs, for example, provides an immersive training platform that offers virtual experiences to simulate key problems and situations facing older adults and their caregivers. Staff members can experience reality in a way that someone living with dementia experiences reality.

“It creates more empathy for the challenges adults living with dementia deal with on a daily basis,” Kerlin said. “It’s using technology to nudge people to understand something that is not easy to understand.”

Engagement technology, which has been a part of senior living for the past two decades, can help residents stay connected to the world at large while helping staff members see residents as individuals, to learn their interests and to understand what brings joy to their lives, she said.

Such technology has been shown to increase energy levels, general health, social engagement, self-efficacy, job satisfaction and therapy tolerance, while reducing the use of antipsychotic medication, depression and hospitalization, Kerlin said. 

“If you see someone less as a patient and more as a person with joys, with needs, with challenges, with frustrations, you are more likely to want to engage with them,” she said. “Engagement technology can help you create opportunities for residents and staff to find common ground.”