Kate Risa Paychex Seniors HR

Outsourced HR Meets the Challenges of Senior Living Staffing

by Sarah Daniels

Due to the nature of their clientele, senior living operators continually need to market their services to attract prospective new residents. But it’s not just new residents that they need to attract: it’s new employees as well.

For the reality is that the senior living market faces some of the highest employee turnover rates in the service industry: upwards of 50 percent annually. Multiple factors are the culprit, including lower-than-average salaries, the difficulties of working with an aging and often high-acuity population, as well as few perceived opportunities for advancement, all of which contribute to a revolving employee base.

“Senior living communities do a great job marketing to prospective residents,” said Kate Risa, strategic accounts representative for Paychex, a provider of human resource, payroll and benefits outsourcing services to senior living and other industries. “But when it comes to attracting employees, they could do much better.”

Paychex has a 15-person dedicated team devoted to working only with senior living communities across the continental United States, taking over HR functions to allow operators to devote themselves to creating a welcoming and caring atmosphere for its seniors. To smooth a community’s HR operations, Paychex administers employee onboarding, industry compliance, salary analysis, brand building, employee motivation strategies and other functions.

The high employee turnover rate is a definite strain on the bottom line of a senior living community. Reducing employee turnover can help cover the cost of any salary increases.

To reduce senior living turnover, Paychex works with operators to address a number of important strategies. They include:

Streamlining and improving the hiring process. It’s essential that adequate time is spent evaluating a candidate for employment. Ensuring that rigorous screening processes are in place, that allow for a deep dive into an applicant’s employment history and background, will maximize the chances of finding the right, productive employee, minimizing turnover and creating an engaged, highly motivated workforce.

Paychex provides an applicant tracking tool that helps a client post jobs through a customized onboarding portal, connected directly to the client’s own website, with a professional look and feel. It includes an applicant tracking system with an employee portal for active hires.

The onboarding system is scalable, allowing operators who expand their communities to multiple locations to automatically keep track of differing compliance rules and employment laws across states, avoiding the need to track requirements on paper.

Offering Competitive Compensation. Paychex monitors senior living salary data and can advise clients of average salaries when operators enter new markets. Yet the industry as a whole faces compensation challenges. Paychex data indicates that average starting salaries for care workers is $14.98 per hour, compared to $13.92 in 2020. That’s still less than Costco, which offers a $17 per hour starting salary and attracts individuals of the same skill level.

To attract workers, Paychex advises its clients to offer additional paid benefits that increase the value of the overall compensation package. For example, working with one client that operates 30 communities, Paychex suggested giving employees an additional two paid time off (PTO) days per year. By not carrying over the days to the next calendar year, the operator was also able to reduce PTO liability while giving employees a tangible benefit.

Developing Talent from Within. One reason for high employee turnover in senior living is the perceived inability to advance in one’s career. With a dearth of available staff across the industry, it’s easy to jump ship to another community or service industry when one feels that they’re simply treading water in their current position.

“The industry is so focused on dealing with employee turnover that they don’t focus on helping people move up the career ladder,” Risa said.

It’s also in the best interests of the community to ensure that it is maximizing opportunities for employee advancement. Not only will this increase staff morale, but it will also provide a ready pool of talented and experienced personnel able to step in to new positions as they become available. In fact, a recent Harris poll revealed that 70 percent of U.S. employees would likely change employment if another employer invested more in professional development.

Paychex has developed programs partnering with universities to provide no-charge training to become a certified nursing assistant. After successful completion of the program, the trainee is guaranteed a job offer.

Sustaining Employee Motivation and Engagement. It’s essential to understand the diversity in your workforce, and what motivates and inspires each individual or group, and then craft initiatives that will address those dynamics. Doing so will create a positive, productive work environment.

Brittany Riese, Paychex headshot

Brittany Riese, Paychex

Of course, active employee communication is key. “You need more than one annual employee review in order to get staff feedback and increase motivation,” noted Britt Riese, Paychex senior living business partner. “That way you can review performance and come up with an action plan for improvement.”

Faced with a steep turnover rate, one community turned to Paychex to help raise employee morale and longevity. Paychex helped create a skills week to improve caregiver training. Each leader was placed at a particular station where employees learned new techniques for their position. To keep interest high, employees were encouraged to have a “dress up” day, while one leader served breakfast. Employee raffles offered prizes including TVs, Apple Watches and gift cards. And the community used social media to recognize the training success of various employees.

The result: employee turnover dropped from 96 percent five years ago to 40 percent today.

Maintaining an Ethical Culture and Brand Identity. As Risa notes, “raising wages can help, but won’t do much if the work environment remains toxic.” Most employees want to work in an ethical environment, one that reflects their values, treats them as respected individuals, communicates well and does not seek retribution when individuals disagree.

To help explain a community’s values, Paychex crafts employee handbooks for its clients, spelling out its values, expectations and opportunities.

Thanks to workplace review sites and social media in general, prospective employees are able to quickly learn about pay rates and employee satisfaction levels. A community’s reputation can quickly turn south with a few bad anonymous reviews from disgruntled staff.

To maximize a community’s reputation, Paychex works with a third-party branding company to ensure that all public-facing communications are compelling, well-written and cast the client in a positive light.

Successfully running a senior living residence that attracts residents and attends to the quality-of-life needs of an aging population is itself a highly complex task. It makes sense to assign HR functions to a third party such as Paychex. By doing so, the lessened burdens of hiring, motivating and training a staff that can successfully work within a highly challenging and stressful environment allow a senior living operator to concentrate on providing residents with the best possible environment in which they can thrive.

— By Eric Taub. This sponsored content was written in conjunction with Paychex, a content partner of Seniors Housing Business.

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