« Back to Blog

How to Plan Ahead for Labor Shortages in Senior Living


By Yvonne Rickert, VP/Sr. Director of Human Resources for LCS

1.2 million people
That’s the number of new employees the senior living industry needs to attract by 2020, according to multiple industry and labor reports. It’s enough people to fill the average NFL football stadium 17 times! Or think of it this way: If the new caregivers needed in the coming years stood in a line side by side, the line would stretch 340 miles long. As LeadingAge recently polled, shown in this infographic, senior living workforce challenges is a top concern among providers. Some reports and labor statistics even project new senior living staffing needs as high as 1.5 million by 2025.

According to Katie Smith, LeadingAge president and CEO, “Attracting and retaining a quality workforce is everything in our field. This is as true for frontline caregivers as it is for middle managers, senior executives and board members. With low unemployment, demographic changes, wage pressures juxtaposed with inadequate reimbursement and uncertainty about immigration policies, the challenges for aging services organizations are more pronounced than ever.”

The compelling statistics below illustrate current challenges and need for advanced talent management. To avoid a caregiver workforce crisis, senior living operators and sponsors need to proactively plan and focus on key drivers to create an engaging and satisfying culture at your community.


The average annual turnover rate at senior living communities, according to the most recent LeadingAge Staffing Report.

26 to 43 days

The average time it takes to fill a senior living position. In all, each position can cost the equivalent of 6 to 9 months wages in recruiting, orientation, training and service disruptions.

$1.1 millioncost

This is how much turnover can cost your bottom line. Here’s an example of how quickly it can add up. If the average turnover rate at a community is 35% and average number of staff at a community is 200, that means 70 employees turn over in a year.

While front-line workers make up the majority of potential labor shortages in senior living, the looming departure of CEOs and senior executives pose
some of the deepest challenges to senior living organizations. If you’re expecting leadership departures on the horizon, read about CEO succession planning and key factors for a smooth transition from my colleague Earl Wade.

Workforce shortages will be widespread, but we’re seeing it amplified in certain areas like Wisconsin, Minnesota, Connecticut and the Chicago area. See this recent article featured in LeadingAge Magazine about the workforce crisis and factors contributing to heightened shortages in particular areas.

What Senior Living Operators Can Do to Minimize Disruption

Incorporate the following to lower turnover and increase retention, or partner with a senior living management company to help create an engaging culture that drives high employee and resident satisfaction.

Analyze ALL Competition

When it comes to wages and benefits, don’t limit your competitive research and market analysis to the senior living industry alone. Instead, look at fast food restaurants, hotels, casinos, and others in the hospitality sector that are drawing individuals from the available pool of workers in your market. When employees leave, make sure you understand why. Is it the employee benefits in senior care, wages, job roles, hours, or something else?

Measure Employee Engagement and Satisfaction in Multiple Ways

Formally measure employee engagement and satisfaction at least every 2 years.

Informally measure it routinely. Incorporate “Stay Interviews” with 30-, 60-, 90-day interviews and/or biannual reviews. Have honest, transparent conversations about performance, expectations and role clarity. Continually talk about development and helping individuals grow into the roles they aspire to.

Of the 130+ communities managed by Life Care Services, An LCS Company, Hale Ola Kino, a 5-star skilled nursing community in Honolulu ranked #1 for the highest employee engagement score of 91% on its most recent formal measurement. Employee engagement and satisfaction directly affected its resident satisfaction score of 97%.

“We’ve built a culture that serves residents first, we make associates feel they’re part of the bigger picture and process, and we provide them with the tools and resources to do their jobs,” says Administrator Jolene Kageyama. “Another key to success is to create a culture where each associate has a friend, someone you look forward to seeing every day when you come to work.”

Recognition is Powerful

As the saying goes, people may forget what you say or do, but they’ll never forget how you make them feel. Make work feel like a calling. Connect tasks to the impact of what associates do. Acknowledge good performance. “People love to read about themselves or hear compliments,” says Kageyama. At her community, the Cause for Applause Award recognizes associates for nice acts in weekly meetings and their name also goes up on a board that’s highly visible. “It almost becomes a competition to do good,” Kageyama says.

Relate to Staff on a Personal Level and Build Trust

Share personal stories about meaningful events. Offer informal stand-up meetings and commit to holding them regularly. Budget for events where associates gather and talk about everything but business. These are a couple examples from Steven Sill, Executive Director at Marquette, a Life Plan Community in Indiana with employee satisfaction well exceeding the Holleran national benchmark of 78.2% for senior living communities. When staff experience significant events in their lives, whether good, bad or important, send flowers or a card. Meaningful touches go a long way in building long-term relationships.

And in Honolulu, Kageyama has lunch with her team daily. “You have to embrace staff and get to know them on a personal level,” she says. “Get out from behind your desk, be a people person and interact with your team. It builds a mutual respect, and they want to stay.”

Tap Your Top Performers

Talk with your brightest talent. Ask why they stay and what motivates them. At the end of the conversation, ask how they might find 3 people like them to join your team. A monetary/referral bonus doesn’t have to be a factor. Sometimes all it takes is identifying your rising stars and simply asking.

Referral Rates

Aim for 20-30% of all new hires at communities to be employee referrals. If employee referrals are less than 10% of your new hires, you need to reassess your talent acquisition and development plan. Referrals are an important part of an engaging culture.

Going forward: Focus on What Matters Most and Why

Success boils down to attracting and developing the right talent. It requires a plan, a robust onboarding process and a pathway for growth. That’s what we develop at communities managed by Life Care Services. This plan will be different for every community. It’s a one-size-fits-one approach. Download this webinar to learn:

  • The 8 key steps to creating a plan
  • Ways to identify and develop internal talent for critical positions
  • How to measure success and maintain momentum

On the road ahead, focus on the workforce numbers that matter, but understand anecdotal information behind the numbers – the why. And remember, you can’t stop employees from leaving unless you have a plan to make them stay.

Contact us if you need help developing a plan where growth is conscious and contagious, both personally and professionally. A community where listening is active, where people are on your side. A place where experiences are remembered not because of what was said or done, but how it made someone feel.

About Yvonne Rickert:

Yvonne joined LCS in 2008, providing leadership and guidance in talent recruitment, development and team building across the company’s portfolio. In total, Yvonne has more than 25 years of human resources leadership experience in the health care industry. She earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration from Gibbs College and a master’s degree in human industrial relations from the University of New Haven.