Three Staffing Strategies, Plus One Revenue Strategy to Pay for Them

Rob’s Takeaways from the 2022 LeadingAge Conference in Denver

By Rob Love, President/CEO

Hats off to LeadingAge for another strong conference in 2022! The Mile High City was a great venue for this year’s event, and attendance seemed to rebound well from last year.

As with past years, I look for educational sessions that I think will be most relevant to our client and friend communities, then share insights from them with members of the field that may not have been able to make it to Denver (or at least not to those same sessions). This year I focused on several staffing-related sessions, along with a personal favorite: early advantage programs.

Here are my most important takeaways.

There May Be More Potential Workers to Draw from Than We Thought

The first session I went to was led by Gwen Fitzgerald and Jenna Kellerman of LeadingAge. They shared some interesting research findings about the depth of the workforce from which our communities could recruit, as well as messaging strategies to support our recruiting.

The research findings, which included focus groups and surveys of people that do not work in senior living, included:

  • There are 13.5 million potential workers we could draw from. This was calculated as follows:
    • There are about 150 million adults in the U.S. of working age 18 to 54.
    • 33% (about 50 million) are open to a new job and did not rule out working in the sector.
    • 75% of those who are open to a new job (about 37.5 million) are open to working in the aging services field.
    • 5% (13.5 million) of those people are strongly interested in the aging services field.
  • 58% of respondents have a positive view of aging services, while another 29% are neither positive nor negative. Only 13% had a negative view of aging services.
  • Among those who have not applied for a job in the sector, the top reasons are:
    • 27%: Pay not high enough
    • 27%: Too far from me
    • 25%: Didn’t need a new job
    • 17%: Benefits not good enough
    • 16%: Not flexible enough
  • Nearly two-thirds would take a job with lower pay provided that it offered good benefits, including strong and affordable healthcare benefits, childcare benefits, a travel or gas allowance and a good paid time off (PTO) program.

The question then becomes, “If there are so many people that would be interested in working in senior living, how do we reach them?” The LeadingAge team had several recruitment marketing recommendations based on research they had conducted:

  • Lead with the job, not the field.
  • Focus on the characteristics of the job that are most important to the potential worker.
  • Speak to both currently employed and unemployed workers, attracting them to your organization.
  • Communicate with authenticity, not slogans.
  • Pair the practical aspects of the job and benefits with your organizational values.

The presentation team then shared several examples of how to focus messaging to the unique attributes of various positions in senior living. To get a copy of the presentation and examples, please email Gwen or email Jenna. It was very insightful!

Partner With Other Providers to Increase Awareness of Senior Living Careers

While the first presentation emphasized focusing recruiting marketing on specific positions, Erin McDermott of LeadingAge Pennsylvania shared a campaign developed by her organization to enhance the recruiting efforts of its members. The goals of the campaign were to increase awareness of senior living as a career choice, to overcome attitude challenges potential employees may have about the field, to encourage organizations to stop competing with each other for employees and to work together to attract more people to our field.

In 2021, LeadingAge Pennsylvania invested $200,000 in developing and implementing the campaign, which featured the theme, “Find a Career that Loves You Back.” The campaign included a website, online advertising and a toolkit communities could use to augment the overall campaign. The online advertising took a unique approach, utilizing TikTok-style videos and influencer marketing, among other tactics, to reach potential workers. The TikTok-style videos proved to be particularly effective.

Implemented over a six-week burst in August and September of 2021, the campaign generated impressive results, including:

  • 4 million impressions
  • 40,000 website visits
  • 797 applications
  • 501 interest form submissions

LeadingAge Pennsylvania then restructured a few facets of the campaign for 2022, including updating the creative assets, and is currently nearing the end of a nearly two-month campaign. The in-process results are again impressive, including:

  • 10 million impressions
  • 30,000 website sessions
  • 1,000+ interest form submissions
  • 913 click offs to individual community career pages

I believe the results of this campaign show what we, as a field, could come together to help increase interest in working in senior living, and ultimately increase applicants and staff.

Compensation Is Critical

The ideas shared in the first two sessions certainly have strong potential to increase the effectiveness of senior living employment marketing efforts. Those efforts, though, will not be fruitful unless we meet prospects’ compensation and benefit expectations.

Matt Leach and Matt Stokes of Total Compensation Solutions shared their findings and recommendations for structuring competitive compensation programs for employees. Interestingly, they opened their session saying that their original intention when submitting the presentation idea nearly a year ago was to show how communities could creatively approach compensation without “breaking the bank.” However, they emphasized that today’s reality is that compensation packages do need to be significantly higher than in the past for an organization to compete effectively in the current—and future—labor market.

Before making any sweeping changes to compensation programs, Matt and Matt encouraged organizations to clearly identify the problem they want to solve, then focus on solving that problem. It’s not reasonable or feasible to be at the top of the market in wages, benefits and PTO, so focus on those things that will be most important in attracting the right type of worker to your community.

As an example, they shared that younger employees place a greater emphasis on take-home pay, while older employees place a greater emphasis on retirement and healthcare benefits. At the same time, Matt and Matt emphasized that pay equity is critical, and that many states are focusing more and more on ensuring companies offer equitable pay to everyone that is doing a similar job. A creative way to address both challenges is to offer consistent pay for a position, then offer a cafeteria plan of benefits where employees can pick what they want. By doing this, younger employees may select more streamlined benefits, thus increasing their take-home pay, whereas older employees may select stronger benefits packages.

Another important tip they shared was that senior living organizations need to compare their compensation structure to the market as a whole, not just to other senior living organizations. They noted that a community that sets its pay at the 75th percentile of senior living wages may only be at the 50th percentile of the overall market, hurting its ability to attract workers. Their bottom line was that, to address our staffing challenges, the senior living field must become much more competitive with the overall market on total compensation, including wages and benefits.

Early Advantage Programs: A Strong Source of Additional Revenue

The takeaways from the first three sessions were both encouraging and discouraging. There are people we can attract to senior living, and messages and tactics that work to build awareness and increase applications are available, but we must invest significantly in overall compensation. Where can we find revenue to fund those increased operating costs?

Ben Unkle, President and CEO of Westminster-Canterbury on Chesapeake Bay, and Perry Aycock of Longevity Markets presented an overview of early advantage programs and shared how successful they have been at significantly increasing revenue at communities with little risk and low start-up costs.

The basic concept of an early advantage program is straightforward: Members pay an entrance fee and monthly fee to have ongoing access to the community’s amenities while they continue to live at home, thus ensuring they will be able to get the healthcare they need should their health needs change. As Ben shared, early advantage members are paying you now for the assurance that they can buy additional services from you in the future.

Westminster-Canterbury on Chesapeake Bay offers a few different contract options for its early advantage program, including both lifecare and fee-for-service plans, with different refund options for each plan. Example fees for its lifecare plan are:

  • Entrance fee: $76,000 per person (not per household)
  • Monthly fee
    • First person: $567
    • Couple: $691

Since the program’s inception in 2017, the program has generated more than $15 million in entrance fees, including more than $6.5 million in FY2022 alone. The monthly fees are generating nearly $250,000 each year. A total of 233 individuals have joined the program, 79 of which have transitioned to become independent living residents.

Perry and Ben shared that early advantage programs are covered under continuing care at home regulations in most states, making them relatively easy to implement compared to other new revenue opportunities. One primary need is an actuarial study to ensure that your community’s healthcare capacity is sized sufficiently to meet the future needs of members. This may put a limit on the number of members any given community may have.

As always, I hope these ideas and takeaways are helpful to you and your organization!

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