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As a recruiter, I frequently receive frantic phone calls from senior care and housing operators immediately in need of an interim leader for a critical position, due to continual turnover in their community. My mission is to customize a people strategy in order to find a leader that we can place into a position of great responsibility, stress, emotion, and tension while simultaneously cultivating a culture of positivity and productivity for the organization. This goal can be difficult to achieve as each leader’s skills and personality must align with the position’s objectives, the size and location of the community, the service lines offered, and the overall organizational culture. Additionally, the pandemic has resulted in increased ambiguity, decreased resources, and increased numbers of employees unwilling to risk leaving their job for a new opportunity. These factors increase the potential for disaster when the wrong leader is selected.
Right Person, Right Seat Challenges
Empathy, understanding, flexibility, and the ability to listen, motivate, and inspire are all characteristics of a good leader, but many people may find it difficult to exemplify those qualities during tough times. We are all born with unique traits that make us who we are and contribute to our personality. However, through outside influences, such as training, life experiences, and education, we learn other traits that adapt us to be more successful or better suited for particular positions.
In the volatile senior care business, it is critical to adopt the “right person, right seat” mentality by investing not only in sound recruitment efforts but also in the resources to make leaders successful and supported. Good leadership is often identified as lacking from workplaces, especially in long-term care, and it’s important to understand the why behind that perception. This lack of good leadership is revealed through low employee satisfaction scores, low quality of care star ratings, poor community reputation, low census, and high employee turnover rates. Although other market factors contribute to these outcomes, leadership is usually the first area in need of improvement with a struggling community.
Being a leader comes with immense value and responsibility, and if done right, a leader can build culture and inspire enthusiasm, innovation, and productivity. But, given the nature of the business and the current state of the economy, the long-term care industry is wreaking havoc on its leaders, front-line staff, residents, and families. We look to front-line staff to provide high-quality care to the sick, elderly, and frail during the midst of a killer pandemic when the highest mortality rates are in the care communities themselves. What a challenge!
Positive Results-Oriented Solutions
As operators, managers, and business owners, consider what better results could be achieved if we decided to help our colleagues and offer resources to people we see are struggling. If you have a toxic leader, are they aware this is how they are perceived by their team, and have they been given the correct resources and tools to improve? Think about the complexity of directing day-to-day life in a nursing home: caring for sick residents; comforting disgruntled family members who can’t come in and visit their loved ones; and managing employees who are balancing work life with kids who are at home, financial strains, and job uncertainty. We thought staffing was hard prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and these new realities have created an additional layer of concern in the workplace.
Society by nature looks for something or someone to blame when issues arise, and we have experienced that during the pandemic in response to the decisions to shut down businesses, limit contact with others, and enforce wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Continually blaming and replacing employees does not achieve the desired results. Instead, offering education and support and treating everyone like a customer can effect change and build a culture of encouragement and appreciation that will resonate throughout care communities.
When results aren’t as expected or complaints are overwhelming, operators often fall prey to emotional decision making and see a change in leadership as the most expedient solution. However, Dr. W. Edwards Deming, the father of modern quality improvement, taught that only about 15 percent of the time is a leadership change necessary. More frequent and needless churn of leadership results in organizational suffering and prolonged recovery time.
Senior care and housing is an extremely difficult environment in which to survive. If your organization is experiencing persistent turnover in leadership positions, it may be necessary to consider other systems, training, and recruitment methods, as well as to contemplate whether unrealistic expectations are being set. Listen to your staff, instill a culture of open-mindedness, and be willing to adapt where and when necessary.
HDG has the resources to help your communities recruit for leadership stabilization; find the right person for the right seat; and look at market forces that drive occupancy. We can also assist with operational performance and provide management oversight. As consultants and operators in post-acute, long-term care, and senior living, HDG understands the staffing challenges that many health care organizations are facing every day. If you’d like to learn more about HDG’s interim and permanent leadership workforce solutions, please contact us at 763.537.5700 or firstname.lastname@example.org and visit our website.
Sarah Friede, MBA,
Senior Director of Recruitment and Placement Services