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BlogAssisted LivingThe Key to Staff Retention in Senior Living: Staff Engagement

The Key to Staff Retention in Senior Living: Staff Engagement

Here’s some good news on the hiring front: the senior living staffing shortage appears to be easing somewhat. While reporting varies slightly, the latest NIC survey shows that fewer executives are reporting staffing shortages than they did in the previous 18 months.

The not-so-good news: 82 percent of those respondents are still experiencing a staffing shortage.

To get at the heart of the staffing shortage, and understand how communities can stabilize their talent pipeline, we spoke with our CEO Ryan Galea. Keep reading to see Ryan’s view of the senior living staffing crisis and how you can retain staff members long term.

Background: Senior Living Is a Values-Driven Field

It’s important to remember that “most people aren’t entering this field for pay,” Ryan noted. “These people have a vision of wanting to help and make an impact.”

For context behind this, look to news stories about ​​long-term care employees leaving for fast-food jobs with higher starting pay. When your employees feel disconnected from your community’s mission – from the work that drew them to you – they may leave.

With that in mind, here are three strategies that can help you stay true to your mission while keeping staff engaged.

1. Recognize and Commend Staff for Great Work

Employee recognition is one of the most crucial elements of workforce retention. In fact, a Gallup 2022 study found that employees who receive great recognition are 20 times as likely to be engaged as employees who receive poor recognition. But employee recognition isn’t just the occasional “Good job!” Slack message. To build a culture of recognition, it’s important that you create opportunities for compliments and affirmations to happen on a regular basis.

Remember, your senior living staff may not be getting recognition from the people they help regularly: your residents. Caregiving is a physically, emotionally, and mentally demanding role. “Unfortunately, people get disillusioned quickly,” Ryan stated. “That’s why recognition is so important – it reminds your team that they’re essential.”

Recognition can come from different sources, too. Yes, if you’re a manager or department head, you can build in time during one-on-one meetings with your staff to highlight what’s going well. But you can also seek out ways of gathering feedback from other members of your community, whether it’s fellow staff members, residents, or families.

Making recognition a priority won’t just help you retain your staff; it’ll also set you apart from other employers. Case in point: more than 80 percent of leaders in a 2022 poll reported that recognition isn’t a strategic focus at their company.

2. Offer Performance-Based Incentives

While margins in the senior living space remain fairly tight, there are still opportunities to reward employees for their hard work. (Plus, when the average staffing agency features roughly a 30 percent markup, an incentive program that keeps employees around can pay for itself.) The rewards themselves don’t need to be elaborate, either. The core focus here is recognizing employees in a tangible way.

There is a caveat, though. “One issue with most bonus programs is they can pay out three months after an employee has hit the benchmark,” Ryan said. When you’re doing this hard work, you want gratification quickly. So if you’re launching a performance-based incentives program, look out for ways to reward employees within a week.

Maybe that reward is more PTO. Maybe it’s a DoorDash gift card. Maybe it’s a nominal pay increase. The point is that, whatever the benefit, your employees feel its impact shortly after doing exemplary work.

3. Gamify Aspects of the Staff Experience

There’s a reason gamification has become a mainstay in the world of learning and development; it engages employees and improves knowledge retention. Plus, “it benchmarks great work,” Ryan added. But the principles of gamification extend beyond your community’s training needs. At its core, gamifying the staff experience can help encourage friendly competition among your staff and serve as the bedrock for incentives you may offer.

What might this gamification look like in practice? You may host weekly competitions to see which staff members get the most shoutouts from families. If you have a sales team onsite, you could create a leaderboard that measures how many deals each salesperson brings in each month. Whichever “game” you set up, you’ll want to make sure it’s easy to track and visible to all your staff members – that visibility is what fosters the friendly competitive spirit.

Use Senior Living Technology to Simplify Your Staff Engagement Efforts

Each of these strategies is crucial for staff retention. But setting up a recognition program or putting together a gamification tool can be time consuming. And when 87 percent of communities have used agency staffing over the past year to fill in the gaps, this added work can feel burdensome – no matter how beneficial it is in the long run.

This is where senior living technology comes in. Here at Icon, we’re developing a Rewards & Recognition Platform that will help do all of this work and more. With it, you’ll be able to quickly source reviews and shoutouts from residents and family members, create challenges and leaderboards, and give staff a way to engage with your community on another level. But until we release that platform (keep an eye on our LinkedIn and subscribe to our newsletter for updates), other forms of senior living tech can help automate and simplify tasks in your team’s day to day. For more information, feel free to set up a demo!


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