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A bold idea and new strategies may solve labor shortages in senior living

VANCOUVER, BC – January 17, 2022 – Bold ideas are needed to ensure that each senior living community is home to an engaged, skilled team of workers. As colleagues at the International Council on Active Aging® (ICAA) Forum 2021 think tank came together to address the staffing crisis in senior living, they moved beyond the traditional to the innovative by arriving at the boldest idea: Apply the person-centered philosophy to each worker, building an employee-first culture where people want to work.

The return on investment in an employee-first workplace has been realized in other industries and documented by research, as detailed in a new report from ICAA titled "The future is an employee-first workplace." By focusing first on staff persons’ needs, professional growth and positive work environment, each team member is more likely to provide the best possible service to residents and customers.

"The labor challenges in senior living are not new, and the pandemic made the situation even worse. We are moving toward person-centered solutions for our customer, our residents, so it makes sense to focus more on person-centered solutions for our staff," says Colin Milner, CEO, International Council on Active Aging. "Shifting the attitudes and assumptions about the senior living workforce is the new direction that is needed today."

In an employee-first workplace, staff members are equal partners with the employer in realizing the organization’s mission. Parallel to the concept of person-centered care, the needs, abilities and goals of each worker are discovered and respected, and the workplace makes adjustments to accommodate them. The dimensions of wellness frame the employees’ experience to aid their physical, mental and emotional health.

Employee-first philosophy and action items

While developing the concepts of a person-centered, employee-first workplace, ICAA Forum colleagues identified 28 tactics that are organized under nine strategic areas.

1. Make employee wellness a fundamental value. It is well-documented that workers are experiencing high levels of stress, burnout and frustration. In an employee-first workplace, the mental health and physical health of each staff member is prioritized, because a mentally and physically healthy employee can best support the mental and physical health of each resident.

2. Empower local leaders and staff members. An organization’s brand may define multiple locations, but that brand is implemented at individual locations, which differ because of geography and resources. Everyone in a building, from executive directors to housekeepers, is influenced by local conditions, so enabling them to make decisions and act with initiative provides the best service to residents and their families.

3. Build a culture of trust with authentic communication and actions. Trust means every executive, manager and staff member is honest and reliable and does what they say they will do. If the organization’s leadership says staff members are valued, then everyday interactions, job descriptions and reward systems incorporate those values. Trust in the organization means input from workers is heard and acted upon.

4. Shift the human resources function from transactional to transformational. Redirect human resources team members to concentrate on positive employer-worker relationships that align with business objectives. Staff members are the link between the organization and residents, making them vital to the success of the organization. Transformed human resources teams are key to defining a person-centered workplace.

5. Update the recruitment philosophy and tactics. Attract new people to the field by adopting marketing approaches that describe how senior living provides meaningful work, growth opportunities and joyful, positive interactions among residents, families and team members. Adjustments to job descriptions and scheduling are proven tactics.

6. Prioritize training, career paths and professional development. Professional development and career paths are among the opportunities most desired by younger people who could be recruited and a key to retaining current staff members. Updated technical and interpersonal skills are required to best meet the needs of those who have a home in senior living, or potentially a home.

7. Prioritize professional development of executives and managers. Executives and managers shift to a coaching style based in emotional intelligence and the soft skills that create a trusted leader. Managers likewise benefit from upskilling in contemporary management styles, while executive are rewarded for their own professional development and staff retention.

8. Utilize technology to support staff. Technology is valuable to assist staff members and residents, but it does not replace the people in the workforce. A strong effort to educate staff members on why and how a technology will benefit them, and ongoing training and support return the investment in technologies.

9. Update the revenue model. Board members, executives and financiers who pivot from the current business models of senior living can take advantage of the opportunity to develop a new model that recognizes how critical the senior living workforce is to the future sustainability of the business. Staff members are the source of indirect and direct revenue, and often the reason why people choose senior living.

"Some of the leaders in senior living may be comfortable reacting to the changes caused by the pandemic instead of being proactive about change," says Colin Milner at ICAA. "But this is the chance to seize opportunities to build a future with new ways of doing things. The first step is seeing how important employees are to senior living, and giving them the environment where they can be successful."

The ICAA Forum December 2021 report, "The future is an employee-first workplace," details the strategies and tactics that organizations can use to focus on staff members so they can focus on residents and customers. The report is sponsored by Humana, PepsiCo, SportsArt, iN2L, Matrix, Keiser, NuStep and LivBrite Today.

"The future is an employee-first workplace" report is available on the ICAA website: https://www.icaa.cc//listing.php?type=white_papers

About the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA) ICAA is a professional association that leads, connects and defines the active-aging industry and supports professionals who aspire to develop wellness cultures for adults over 50. This support includes creating wellness environments, programs and services. The association is focused on active aging—an approach to aging that helps older adults live life as fully as possible within all dimensions of wellness—and provides its members with education, information, resources and tools. As an active-aging educator and advocate, ICAA has advised numerous organizations and governmental bodies.

For more information or questions: Contact: Colin Milner, CEO, ICAA
Toll-free: 1-866-335-9777 (North America)
Telephone: 604-734-4466; cell: 604-763-4595
colinmilner@icaa.cc

 

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