Each year, thousands of companies across the U.S. vie for a spot on the annual Best Workplaces in Aging Services list. For those that do, the immediate benefit is a new recruiting tool — and valuable feedback from their current workers.
The list, published in Fortune with data collected and analyzed by Activated Insights, ranks the top aging services workplaces among 25 large senior housing and care providers and 25 small- and medium-sized senior housing and care providers.
Brightview Senior Living has topped the list as the Best Workplace in Aging Services for large operators four years in a row. Part of that success is owed to the operator’s willingness to give employees what they want and need. For example,the Baltimore-based operator increased pay for frontline workers on four different occasions in 2022, according to Andrea Griesmar, senior vice president of operations.
But “it’s not just about money,” Griesmar told Senior Housing News. It’s also the company’s culture, and the fact that the operator has spent the better part of three years examining where it felt the most pain in staffing, and created new supports and positions to alleviate that pain.
For example, when the company’s executive directors noted staffing shortfalls early on in the pandemic, Brightview created a “jack of all trades” position solely to handle all of the new tasks that needed doing. And the company has created other positions in the meantime to meet similar needs.
“We put these new resources in place that didn’t involve changing anybody’s salary,” Griesmar said. “It involved creating a resource to solve a pain point.”
The need for more creativity in staffing was a sentiment shared by other operators that made the 2022 list, including WesleyLife, Trilogy Health Services and Buckner Retirement Services.
The bottom line is that building a great senior living workplace is more than throwing the occasional pizza party for top performers.
“I know that’s probably not the answer that people want, because there’s no one magic bullet to create a work experience,” said Wesleylife Chief Culture Officer Kristy VanDerWell. “It has to be in everything you do.”
Building a great workplace
The fact that Brightview has topped the Best Workplaces list four years in a row is “an enormous source of pride,” Griesmar said. But getting there took work and open lines of communication.
“We’re a very transparent company — we share information,” Griesmar said. “We don’t operate in secret.”
Key to the company’s success over the years has been that level of communication. Whenever there is a staffing gap in a community, it is typically the executive directors who pick up their shifts. But that gives them little time to spend on another job duty, recruiting.
So, after listening to feedback from its executive directors, the company created a new talent coordinator role at its home office. While the role doesn’t hire community workers, it does help vet them so the community leaders can spend less time doing so.
Brightview management would not have known this had it not been for the company’s culture of transparency and openness.
“The culture we’ve created [is] that it’s okay for me to tell you this drives me crazy, or I believe that if I share this with you, that it’ll get fixed,” Griesmar said.
The company’s approach can be measured in how new workers have responded to it. For example, two part-time employees approached her after a new associate orientation and asked how they could become full-time in order to access the benefits they just heard about.
“It’s not any one thing, it’s the combination of all of it that sends this really powerful message that you matter,” Griesmar said.
Communication is also a cornerstone of staffing at Chicago-based Vi, which was the runner-up in the 2022 Best Workplaces list after landing ninth on the list last year.
Prior to March 2020, Vi employees would attend stand-up meetings and orientation would be done face-to-face. Then came a pandemic that forced everyone to “to reinvent and rethink how we were communicating with employees,” said Judy Whitcomb, senior vice president of organizational effectiveness with Vi.
Vi began holding regular meetings with the company’s leadership where community leaders would get time to discuss anything they want, such as new grievances or possible strategies.
“Where some organizations may have struggled communicating with social distancing … we put extra focus into communications,” said Whitcomb.
Vi also rolled out a custom communications app called Beehive, which enables the company’s corporate and community leaders to communicate with their teams. The app also enables frontline workers 24-hour access to important information.
“They can stay informed, they can stay connected, they can stay engaged,” Whitcomb said. “They don’t have to hear something from one of their colleagues or look for a poster.”
Vi leveraged its own employee survey program to design its app, exemplifying its commitment to constant improvement.
“I think what our employees will tell you [is that] we’re constantly focused on improvement. It’s an easy thing to say, but we hold ourselves accountable,” Whitcomb said.
Improved communication is also a focus of Dallas-based Buckner Retirement Services, which came in ninth place on the list of the best small/medium aging services workplaces.
The 143-year-old faith-based nonprofit’s organizational mission — centered on Christian beliefs — earned it high marks from its employees, according to COO Brian Robbins. Like at Vi and Brightview, communication is important to Buckner.
“I think we can always do a better job at communicating throughout the organization,” Robbins told SHN. “It’s been one of those scores that we continue to work on.”
This is Buckner’s fourth time participating in the Best Workplaces in Aging Services survey, which requires being Great Place to Work certified. Each year, the nonprofit has reviewed the results in an effort to find something that will differentiate them in the labor market.
“But really, at the end of the day, we had to engage with [our workers] to create a higher happiness,” TK said.
Operators across the industry have responded to the industry’s ongoing labor crunch by raising pay for workers.But those were not the only techniques they used to boost recruitment and retention.
Vi in late 2021 launched a partnership with Lifespeak to give all of its employees access to the tech company’s digital mental health and wellbeing platform. The addition has been received well by employees, said Whitcomb.
“We introduced another mobile app — a little more convenient than a traditional [employee assistance program] where you might have to call in and talk to someone,” he said.
Data treasure trove
Being named one of the best places to work in senior living by Great Place to Work comes with advantages in both employee recruitment and in resident marketing, but for many operators that landed on the list, it was the employee survey responses that held the most value.
For one, the surveys are anonymous, meaning that workers might be more candid in their comments. They also can help operators get a clearer picture of areas of needed improvement.
“One of the things I like about the Great Place to Work survey is the fact that … we get really good data,” Whitcomb said. “We’re able to drill down by community, by department, by the leader … and we can dive into so many different aspects of the data in so many different ways.”
Wesleylife, which came in fifth on the best large workplaces list, considers participation in the Great Place to Work Survey as a “trust index,” Wesleylife Chief Culture Officer Kristy VanDerWeil said. “We participate in [Great Place to Work’s annual survey] because we want the feedback from our team members,” she told SHN.
Trilogy Health Services — this year’s fourth-best workplace in aging services — utilizes the survey and a few others to get constant feedback from its employees. And recently, that feedback has been centered around a common theme: flexibility.
“People really want more flexibility,” said Priscila Mattingly, chief human resources and inclusion officer.
During Covid-19, Mattingly believes that people — perhaps all over the world — gained a perspective on what matters to them. She has seen that in Trilogy’s frontline staff and in their responses to the survey.
“I think the employer-employee relationship needs to be a lot more inclusive and I sense that people want different work schedules … different work arrangements. They want to have the flexibility to dedicate more time to things that they put off for a long time in their lives before or even during the pandemic,” Mattingly told Senior Housing News.
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