For years, working in senior care wasn’t on the list of attractive career opportunities. Most fall into it almost by accident as their professional lives took different turns. However, Millennials have woken up to the fact that a career in senior care might be promising because it is a sector of our economy that is consistently growing.
Before the COVID shutdown, I caught up with Mike Travis at a SHRM chapter meeting. We struck an animated conversation on the workforce challenges of the senior care industry. Mike works mainly with senior living clients. However, his experience and recommendations resonate beyond senior living and are applicable to the senior care industry at large.
Anne-Lise: In your experience Mike, is senior care experiencing a talent management crisis?
Mike: Many are surprised when I say that senior living is experiencing a lot of change. It’s a hotbed of innovation. The traditional senior living facilities are opening up new lines of business such as providing adult day care services. Adult day care can also be a feeder for the living facilities.
Talent management is a challenge for most industries. Senior care and senior living experience high turnover in staff. This leads to the burn-out of existing personnel. In this context, many managers end up focusing on day-to-day challenges. They don’t spend enough time working on long-term strategic initiatives such as talent management.
Senior living and adult day care facilities have developed a recruitment pipeline for direct care workers with some success. The facilities are offering high schoolers a chance to check the work by interacting with seniors. High schoolers are interested because they need community service hours. Workers interested in the culinary arts are attracted to senior care because facilities offer better hours than restaurant work and a more predictable income.
Anne-Lise: What do you perceive as the inherent benefits of working in senior care for leaders?
Mike: What has really struck me is the leaders’ sense of mission to serve seniors. In senior living, it’s all about serving the residents. This sense of mission is attractive to younger workers who want to make a difference in the world.
Once they are in, culture is very important to retain younger workers. Starting with the on-boarding process. Grooming future leaders starts on the first day. Leadership development must be part of the early training. Just as I said before, senior care is a place of innovation. Focusing on leading change is an important skill set.
In times of budget challenges, the very fabric of the culture gets tested. I love the work of Edgar Schein who says that “The only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture.” He suggests leaders are guardians of the culture. They proactively manage it, evolve it, and even destroy it to create it new. When was the last time you looked at how you purposefully evolved your culture? One organization recently modified their values and even created an additional four “leadership tenets” to describe what is expected of leaders to reinforce the culture of excellence in service to residents.
Retention is a challenge in senior care. Conduct Stay Interviews with all staff, whether they have been here for 6 months or 5 years. Stay interviews are a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of what everyone feels about their job and the organization.
Few organizations take the time to develop career paths. Millennials and GenY want to know what’s in store for them. It will incentivize them to stay if they think the next career move is attractive.
Anne-Lise: Your recommendations for the senior care industry if they want to improve their leadership “bench strength”?
Mike: Having good bench strength means having enough competent leaders to fill leadership roles. With budget and talent challenges, it’s wise to prioritize two key leverage points. Firstly, create a specific articulated talent strategy. Identifying how you will attract, develop, and retain talent, including clear metrics. This could also include a “leadership branding” to be attractive to new talent.
Secondly, focus on your high potentials or key players. They are the bedrock of your talent pool to meet performance goals and develop others. I like to use a nine-box exercise, plotting potential versus performance.
It’s okay to give high potentials differential attention and even resources. Some best practices to develop high potential employees include:
- Providing closer mentorship and coaching from senior managers
- Assigning them to lead important projects
- Using them as adjunct faculty in learning or coaching of others
- Providing them shadowing opportunities in other departments
In your Stay Interviews, define what will keep them, map out a longer-range career plan, and let them know how much they are valued. Continued exposure and recognition by the most senior leaders in an organization will go a long way. When constraints become less, use these best practices for all leaders.
Mike Travis partners with clients to build resilient leaders and cultures in the new normal. For more information on Mike’s consulting services, check www.cobalt.consulting