Blue pins on four days in a week on a calendar. Friday, Saturday and Sunday crossed out. Four day work week concept.
(Credit: sinseeho / Getty Images)

When two Wisconsin senior living communities announced that they were participating in a four-day work week pilot, job applications jumped significantly and jobs that had been open for an extended period of time were filled within weeks.

A $907,000 grant from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services allowed Capri Communities to pilot the employment program at two of its communities — Village Pointe Commons in Grafton and Harbor Campus in Port Washington.

The program, which launched Jan. 8, will test the value of a flexible, scaled-back work week that offers employees more free time, less travel, lower childcare expenses, less burnout and more free time. Employees will work 32 hours but will be paid for a 40-hour work week. The program amounts to giving employees 52 paid days off each year.

Village Pointe Commons is testing the program with its full-time and part-time caregivers but hopes eventually to expand it to all of its hourly employees. Harbor Campus is testing the program with its cooks and dietary aides and plans to roll it out to caregivers in March. If the program proves successful, Capri Communities will consider implementing it company-wide to its 18 senior living campuses in southern Wisconsin.

Since launching the program, Village Pointe Commons has seen its number of applicants jump 10-fold, according to Greater Milwaukee Today. At Harbor Campus, the kitchen became fully staffed within three weeks, with a 3,000% increase in applications.

The program was funded by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, which used American Rescue Plan Act funding to award grants to 69 organizations that submitted applications for programs providing innovative ways to address the workforce crisis.

Capri Communities was part of the first round of funding. The state received more than 717 applications requesting more than $200 million in funding. Ultimately, 69 applicant projects were selected, representing $17.3 million in project funding. 

“Wisconsin’s direct caregiving workforce is the backbone of home- and community based services. However, the industry is in crisis,” a DHS spokeswoman told McKnight’s Senior Living,  adding that one in four direct caregiver positions in the state remains vacant. “The grant program will direct news resources to some of the most pressing issues faced by Wisconsin residents who receive HCBS, including innovative ways to address the workforce crisis.”

During his State of the State address in January, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) emphasized the need for targeted workforce investments for sectors — including healthcare — that have been particularly challenged over the past few years. 

In its proposal, Capri Communities said that it designed a schedule to ensure appropriate weekend coverage, building processes into its payroll systems to track and award a fifth day of pay to employees who hit appropriate thresholds. The provider will use the grant dollars to establish and market the program until it can drive turnover and training costs to more sustainable levels. 

“Increased tenure and decreased burnout benefit residents and improve care quality and resident satisfaction,” the Capri Communities proposal read.

The state health department spokeswoman called Capri Communities’ proposal  an example of an “innovative strategy” to address the workforce shortage.