Increasing Employee Retention in the Competitive Senior Living Industry

When employees feel valued, their satisfaction and the quality of services they deliver improves significantly. Karla Jackson of StudioSIX5 shares tips on how to make your team successful.
Karla Jackson

Working in senior health care is not always the most glamorous job, but it has the potential for tremendous personal fulfillment. When employees feel valued, their satisfaction and the quality of services they deliver improves significantly. Additionally, employees who feel respected are more likely to remain loyal and commit to a company versus trying to find the next best thing.

Give it to them, they’re worth it

How does a company make employees feel valued? How does it make them feel worth it? Money and words of affirmation may be the two most obvious suggestions, but money isn’t always available, and words of encouragement can only take people so far. Another alternative is to create an employee-focused work environment which benefits staff at every level. The trend right now is to incorporate employee-focused designs by creating comfortable and well-organized workspaces and breakrooms. Companies can also give team members access to beneficial amenities or offer useful services at a discounted cost. Anything a provider can do to make their employees’ jobs easier is something that sets them apart from other employers in the market.

If employees are happy because they feel like they matter, their moods will elevate, and they will provide better care to the residents they serve. For example, studies have shown that with the new design of open kitchens where chefs can see the residents, the quality of the food goes up. Alternatively, if communities have dissatisfied employees and constant changes in staff, it negatively affects the residents’ satisfaction with the community.

What Team Members Are Looking For

Today, most people seek jobs that make them feel a sense of purpose and fulfillment. They also desire leadership that cares about more than just reaching quotas and making sure staff complies with industry standards. They want leaders who support and appreciate them. Additionally, they want to do their jobs in the most enjoyable, comfortable and efficient way possible.

For example, communities are aiming to make ergonomic nurses’ stations that feel more like a home office and less like the traditional station. To do this, designers are combining bar- and desk-height counters so team members can chart standing up or sitting down. Flexible environments ensure equipment is within reach and staff members have the appropriate amount and type of storage providing quick access to information.

The décor and location of the staff lounge can affect employee retention and satisfaction as well. Employees feel a higher sense of value when the break room or lounge is located in the heart of the community, not relegated to a basement. Traditionally, the break room was situated in the basement or back-of-house area. In addition, the design of the dining lounge communicates volumes to team members. Many communities invest in quality art packages and encourage designers to outfit the team lounges with pieces of vibrant and cheerful artwork. Progressive communities replace vending machines, walls of lockers and vinyl tile floors with nicer finishes, televisions and full-size kitchenettes stocked with complimentary healthy snack options that support overall well-being and help team members sustain energy—all things that say: “We care about your experience at work, and we want you to feel like you matter.”

Lounge seating is being added to the traditional table configuration. Having a variety helps staff regroup and relax in different ways to suit their needs. From bar tables to bean bag chairs to comfortable lounge seating, there is something for everyone.

Added Value

Offering the use of amenities at a discount is also a way to show employees that the community cares. This includes the wellness center, salon and spa, restaurants and sometimes even day care. Communities that offer day care primarily to staff sometimes open it to the public as well. Having on-site day care is rare but incredibly convenient for staff. The benefits are wonderful for seniors and children, as the community can coordinate engaging intergenerational activities. Beyond the design of the space, hosting staff parties, recognizing outstanding employees, coordinating employee-appreciation outings and rewarding those who go above and beyond are also excellent incentives that go a long way to help employees feel appreciated. To monitor continued satisfaction, some operators use “pulse surveys” done via a phone app at more frequent intervals to test real-time team member satisfaction.

To conclude, incorporating thoughtful design and offering benefits that make employees feel like they matter help tremendously with retaining qualified and empathetic staff. It takes a special person to work as a caregiver for seniors: someone with patience, compassion and knowledge who treats residents as family. Providers are competing to hire the very best people from a limited talent pool. By 2020, the industry will need approximately 1.2 million caregivers to care for the ever-increasing number of residents. Beyond just employee pay, offering incentives, being thoughtful and showing appreciation in other ways is becoming imperative.


Karla Jackson is StudioSIX5’s senior project design & management specialist. She has experience on both large-scale and medium-size senior living projects across the continuum of care, with specialized expertise in interior designs for dementia care.