By 2025, there will be over 8 billion people on our planet, and one in 10 will be over 65. That has huge implications for our country. It will also have a major impact on the senior living industry. As the population increases—and as baby boomers age—more people than ever will choose to move into senior living communities.
The senior care industry is facing a major workforce problem. The need for caretakers is growing, but we don’t have enough qualified people to do the jobs of caring for our elders as they age. And when we do find good people, it’s often difficult to retain them.
To address this problem, administrators must hire for the right traits, which means looking not just at a candidate’s skills but at his or her temperament as well. And to retain our best employees, we must help them maintain their own quality of life, while they are caring for others.
Caring for elders takes a special kind of person. Working with people near the end of their lives requires a combination of knowledge, passion and compassion. Caregivers help our elders through minor ailments, chronic diseases and serious illnesses. They help them cope with diminishing independence and all the psychological effects that can bring. And, most importantly, caregivers are called on to help seniors and their family members through the end of life.
When we hire people to care for seniors, we need to hire those with what I call a “hospitality heart.” That means that they have a natural desire to care for people. They feel happiest when they’re helping others, and they are motivated by the joy it brings them. These are the employees who will understand residents’ needs and will help senior care communities respond to those needs. I think they’re invaluable.
At Sodexo, we find these candidates using behavioral interviews. Instead of just interviewing candidates about their skills and experience, we pose questions about specific scenarios that could occur in the workplace, and ask how each candidate would respond. We find that this tells us what we need to know about how the individual interacts with others, what motivates them, and how they derive satisfaction from their work.
Once you hire someone that fits your needs, the challenge is to keep them. This is crucial. The way I look at it: If you keep your good people you don’t have to put even more effort into hiring. To me, that means you need to put at least as much effort into employee retention as you do to hiring.
Employee Quality of Life is critical if you want to retain talent. While this is important in any industry, it’s especially important in Senior Care, where employees face a high rate of burnout. The solution is to give employees the tools and resources they need to succeed both at work and in their personal lives. Some of the things that we find improve our own employees’ Quality of Life include job flexibility when they need to focus on issues outside of work, opportunities to improve job skills and grow in their careers, benefits that make it easy for them to stay healthy both physically and mentally, and a workplace culture that creates a positive environment for both employees and clients.
Using these strategies, the senior living industry can build a workforce to serve the growing population and steer the industry into the future.
Gerri Mason Hall is Senior Vice President & Chief Human Resources Officer for Sodexo North America. Sodexo’s 133,000 employees in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico provide more than 100 unique services that improve performance for 9,000 client partners and improve Quality of Life for 15 million consumers every day.