Happy staff talking around a table.

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Adopting an employee-first philosophy is key to addressing the senior living staffing crisis, according to a report from a think tank of industry experts.

Senior living thought leaders met for two days in December to identify issues and best practices around senior living workforce shortages. The result is a recommendation to adopt a formula used in the hospitality industry, transferring the person-centered care approach to the daily lives of people in the workforce. 

The new report, produced by the International Council on Active Aging, concludes that an employee-centered culture can help reduce turnover and improve care. From a business point of view, organizations that prioritize employees also experience higher profits and growth, according to advisory firm Gartner.

“We are moving toward person-centered solutions for our customer, our residents, so wouldn’t it make sense to focus more on person-centered solutions for our staff?” ICAA CEO Colin Milner said. 

An employee-first culture recognizes staff as a company’s biggest asset, encourages and appreciates employees, acts on worker suggestions, measures employee behaviors against organizational values, prioritizes people over profits, and has managers be accountable to employees, according to the document.

“Building a new revenue model means recognizing that staff members are an asset, not simply an expense, and they are more important to occupancy than fancy lighting or beautiful rugs,” the report reads. “After all, needs of the pandemic have changed exterior and interior design, so the staff members and the atmosphere they create is even more important.”

Action items to move senior living to an employee-first culture, according to the document:

  • Focus on employee wellness. Reposition resources already available and integrate wellness opportunities into work schedules.
  • Empower local leaders and staff members to bring frontline workers into the decision-making process.
  • Build a culture of trust through regular communication.
  • Revamp human resources to be a solution provider, update benefits packages and compensation, and provide technology to streamline HR tasks.
  • Prioritize training, career path creation and professional development for employees, executives and managers.
  • Use technology to support staff, and provide training on new technologies.
  • Update the revenue model. Offer employee benefits a la carte, extend perks and benefits to all employment levels, and offer scheduling flexibility.

“We have spent the last two years calling people heroes, but what has really changed?” Kendal Corp. President and CEO Sean Kelly asked in the report. “We should generate new models where people want to come to work knowing they will be paid well, grown well and seen as vital parts of the world.”

According to the report, a move to person-centered, employee-first workplaces is a “strong foundation for a new model that equally serves everyone who walks in the door.”  

“The paradigm shift creates the opportunities to build on the positive aspects of senior living, marshaling enthusiastic, well-trained staff members, delivering excellent service, shifting business models, and opening the door to a new image of senior living,” the authors concluded.