Staffing was already hard for the senior living industry prior to Covid-19, and the pandemic has made it all the more difficult.
The current challenges have led some operators to consider creative new solutions for recruiting and retaining. For instance, when Covid hit, getting and keeping workers became harder than perhaps ever before for Bloomfield, New Jersey-based Juniper Communities. But that led to a new solution: workers in the company’s sales and accounting teams began recruiting new employees.
“We’ve learned that, really, recruitment is about sales,” said Juniper Founder and CEO Lynne Katzmann during a panel at the recent Senior Housing News Sales Summit. “And some of the best recruiters are salespeople.”
The Springs Living similarly saw a connection between sales and staffing. Faced with similar pressures as Juniper, leaders with the McMinville, Oregon-based company added a recruiter role that answered to the company’s sales and marketing director.
“We engaged our sales teams in the communities to join us, and they were excited to do that,” said The Springs Living COO Brenda Connelly.
While those are just two examples of how the senior living industry is confronting the ongoing labor challenge, they exemplify the ways some senior living operators have gotten creative in doing so.
‘Salespeople really could recruit’
Early on in the pandemic as residents and staff came down with cases of Covid-19, Juniper’s leaders realized that staffing was going to be a big issue. At the same time, restrictions regarding resident move-ins meant that the company’s sales teams suddenly had more time to take on new tasks.
So, Juniper started a work group for recruitment made up of non-front-line personnel from the company’s accounting and sales teams.
“What we learned was fascinating: that salespeople really could recruit,” Katzmann said during January’s panel.
In addition to understanding the company’s story and culture, Juniper’s salespeople also grasped the importance of being fast and following up with applicants, just as they would with prospects.
“What we learned is that the first [employer] to call someone back or respond via text or in some other fashion tended to get that person’s attention,” Katzmann said. “And, consistently following up and doing what you say you’re going to do made a huge difference.”
Connelly had a similar realization about the connection between sales and recruitment early on during the pandemic. Both sales and recruiting require empathy and building a relationship with applicants or prospects, with speed a priority.
“The similarities and parallels between those two workflows — prospects, bringing them in as new residents, attracting candidates and bringing them in as new employees — that journey is very similar,” Connelly said during the panel.
The Springs also realized that in recruiting, “data is king,” she added. Like a senior living company would do with occupancy or other sales metrics, The Springs Living used technology to track key indicators of recruiting performance including its total number of vacant positions and the size of its applicant pool.
With that information in hand, The Springs Living’s sales teams created new ads and digital campaigns to bring in more recruits at its 18 communities in Oregon and Montana. Doing so increased the company’s job site traffic by about 50%, according to Connelly.
“We’re really seeing the success of that with the decline in staff vacancy rates in our buildings,” she said.
Today, Juniper has assembled a recruiting team that acts like a “corporate support service” for the company’s 28 communities. That is far different from how the company recruited staff before the pandemic, when the operator would task community department heads or business office managers with recruiting functions.
“We post ads, and actually screen through some of the initial applicants very quickly, and then set up interviews on [the community’s] behalf and they take it from there,” Katzmann said.
More generally, Juniper is undergoing a “fairly significant” reorganization where the company is examining which tasks can be done on the community level, and which ones can be done at the corporate level.
Other staffing strategies
Leveraging sales staff to aid with recruiting is but one strategy both companies have undertaken amid the pandemic.
The Springs Living, for instance, is recruiting workers through the J-1 visa program, which allows workers to participate in work-and study-based exchange visitor programs. The company in February welcomed five new culinary workers from Colombia, and is providing them housing while they work with the operator full-time.
“We’re excited for our residents and our staff to get to experience those different cultures and what these new team members will bring,” Connelly said. “And we can give something back to them, too.”
Both operators worked with PointClickCare and used technology to aid with processes including data and analytics, recruiting, onboarding and scheduling. When working with a new tech vendor, operators should choose solutions that match the problem they are trying to solve, according to Murry Mercier, industry market leader with PointClickCare.
“Make sure that your technology partner understands your business, speaks your language and simplifies the adoption process,” Mercier said.
Juniper takes a slightly different approach to recruiting than The Springs Living. Although the company doesn’t use the J-1 visa program, it does look to recruit people who have retired early from the senior living industry amid the “Great Recession.”
“We’re taking a good look at what that looks like, and how to approach those people to give them what they want, which is not full time work,” Katzmann said. “Usually, it’s the ability to flexibly fit into purposeful work, and to be paid for that, and that’s what we’re working on doing.”
Senior living operators have always looked for ways to streamline the onboarding process, but doing so has gained new importance given the pressures of Covid-19.
Connelly said the key is to “roll out the red carpet” for employees in order to retain them during their first 120 to 180 days. The Springs Living uses a digital onboarding platform called SilkRoad to take employees through their first few months on the job, and keep the process on task.
Juniper also has an onboarding program, which is called the “first 40,” in reference to the fact that the majority of the onboarding at Juniper happens during an employee’s first week on the job.
“When you come to an organization — particularly one like ours, which isn’t hierarchical — you need to feel right from the start, that you have a relationship up and down the chain,” Katzmann said. “Regardless of whether you’re a utility worker in the kitchen or the director of wellness, we all … have to be able to openly communicate with one another.”