It’s hard to overstate the value of a solid onboarding process.
Industry watchers say the high turnover rate in senior living tracks directly back to the hiring process, especially those early days in which a new worker gets familiar with the senior living environment.
Those who fail to click with the culture tend to jump ship. Leading global recruitment firm Robert Half reports 75 percent of executives say they have lost a staff member because of “cultural fit.” People quit when the job isn’t what they thought it would be.
This holds especially true in senior living. This isn’t like any other job you will ever have. It straddles the line between hospitality and health care but doesn’t fit squarely in either: It’s not Starbucks and it’s not Hilton. So, it can be challenging to onboard workers who have no senior living experience—to immerse them in the unique challenges and joys of this work.
Do it right, though, and the rewards can be substantial.
“We have one community in particular that honestly does everything it is supposed to do; every little detail is lined up. Their turnover is half the company average, and their satisfaction is the highest,” said Tommy Comer, chief human resource officer at Commonwealth Senior Living. “When you walk in it’s just a vibrant place to live, and I don’t think that is coincidental. I want to just clone that kind of feeling.”
How do you do onboarding right? How do you clone that feeling? To answer that question, we first have to ask another: What is the senior living culture? As the executive director, the human resources manager, the department lead, what do you need new hires to know about this industry?
For almost any new hire, the conversation about what we are begins with a primer on what we are not. People come to the front door with preconceptions. “They have a vision in mind that it is a nursing home, that it is very medical, and then they are surprised that there are not a lot of RNs running around,” Comer said.
Certainly there are medical concerns in any senior living community, but new hires need to understand that this is just a small part of the job. Executives in the field say they strive to strike an honest balance, to talk about some of those physical constraints while also highlighting the bigger goals and intentions of senior living.
“It’s about how we relate to residents. Maybe they don’t understand that as a server, you need to be patient, you want to be slower, you want to help them come to the realization of what they want to eat that day. If you don’t know that person’s preferences you need to take the time to work through that. That’s not something a typical server would need to know,” said Natalie Suits, director of organizational development at Hearth Management.
She’s describing a unique industry mindset, one that strives to serve the whole person, while recognizing inherent limitations. This approach pertains equally to caregivers, dining servers, maintenance workers, programming staff, and every other job function.
There are practical considerations that newcomers might not immediately or intuitively grasp. “We are in an environment where there are lot of wheelchairs and walkers, and they scuff the paint. Our maintenance people need to understand that you might have just painted it this afternoon, but it’s going to be scuffed before the day is out. You don’t get frustrated. You pick up the brush and paint it again,” said Barbara Lee, vice president of people at The LaSalle Group.
Learning to deal with scuffed paint and appreciating leisurely diners—that’s just the surface of the job. New hires need to understand these cultural quirks, but there’s more to senior living. There’s a core philosophy of service that pervades the industry and that has to be shared early on.
“We want people to understand foundationally what we are doing. We aren’t just providing physical care. Food service isn’t just making a meal,” said Aaron Catoe, regional property manager at 12 Oaks Senior Living. “Food service and resident care are just the tools. What we are doing is much deeper. It’s about freedom from physical limitation, relief from loneliness. That’s what we are trying to do.”
Others echo this theme: Feeding and grooming are merely tasks. The heart of senior living lies in the spirit of the endeavor. “At the end of the day we are just trying to get the resident to enjoy life for as long as they have it,” Comer said. “We don’t want to overcomplicate things. Find a reason to say ‘yes’ and make this person happy.”
But what about the big picture for new hires, such as career-related information that goes beyond the immediate job? Employees stick around when they feel like they are on the path to somewhere bigger or better. Show them the path.
“We can help people understand the business of senior living and how that works, to get them involved at the business level,” said Mark Woodka, CEO of OnShift, a workforce technology provider. “This is a big business and it’s growing all the time, and we want people to feel that they have a future here. To keep their interest, to hook them into a career, you want to give them an understanding on the business side.”
Digging deeper, there’s critical information about the nature of the industry that needs to be shared. For example, anyone wanting to work in senior living ought to be told from the start that this is an all-hands effort: No passive players here.
“You need to take initiative, to be a problem solver,” said Lisa Welshhons, a senior vice president at human resources consultancy Aureon. “You may encounter situations that have nothing to do with your immediate job, but it’s up to you to own that problem and get it addressed. The housekeeper or the dining server needs to know how to own a problem and get a resolution. You can’t say: ‘That’s not my problem.’ Everyone is responsible for taking care of the resident.”
That’s a veritable avalanche of information. Does knowing all of this really impact employee satisfaction and, ultimately, retention?
Anecdotal evidence suggests it does. We looked at Glassdoor, a website where workers review their employers, and found that the most satisfied senior living workers were those who felt engaged in the overall culture of the industry.
Wrote one happy worker: “By truly investing in their employees and delegating responsibilities into manageable and clearly defined roles, the business is set up for success and the individual is allowed a great amount of job/role satisfaction.”
And another: “There are people who started as dining servers who then went into housekeeping, then to caring for residents, then to director-level positions. If you are service-oriented and really want to make a difference in people’s lives, you can make your career here.”
Buy-in really does matter, and yet there is so much a new hire needs to know: Subtle points about the culture of senior living, the nature of the work, the expectation of service and even about the bigger industry picture. How to communicate all that efficiently and effectively so that new workers will hit the ground running and stay in the race for the long term?
Here’s how it is done.
Cultural indoctrination starts before you ever advertise a job opening. Want people to understand and appreciate your unique work environment? Use social media to paint a picture.
“That’s where people go to look for jobs. When people go there, they need to hear you telling your story,” said Woodka. “A lot of people think of this industry as being all about sick old people. So, you want to put other kinds of images on social media: People dancing, playing cards. That’s how you shape people’s understanding of the industry.”
At Hearth Management, Suits leverages social media as a strategic asset in recruiting…READ MORE.
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