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Every senior living community is unique, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have challenges in common. Here are five of the biggest challenges facing senior living staff today. 

The Challenge: Fighting Burnout Among Senior Living Staff 

Burnout among healthcare staff at all levels is a major issue, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. But senior living staff could be feeling the effects disproportionately. 

According to a 2021 survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Washington Post, 56% of respondents employed in assisted living and nursing home settings reported feeling burned out at work. The same survey even found that 29% of respondents had considered leaving healthcare entirely. 

Burnout directly affects patient care, and can increase errors. It can also damage your reputation, lead to turnover (and increased staffing shortages), and hurt your ability to fill beds. Job burnout can manifest in symptoms like fatigue, irritability, and even a depressed immune system—something particularly dangerous during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

How to Combat Burnout

  • Provide flexible benefits. Flexible benefits allow staff to prioritize their own mental health, as well as adjust their benefits to better suit their lives. 
  • Encourage full use of PTO. Breaks are important for mental health, and vacations help staff feel energized and ready to work again. 
  • Promote work-life balance. Healthcare is fast-paced, and employees may forget to care for themselves outside of their jobs. Make it clear from hiring that you understand they’re individuals, and that work is just one part of their lives. 
  • Invest in faster hiring. When you’re understaffed, your remaining employees face an increased burden. Hiring more quickly helps ease their load. 
  • Interested in learning more about how to stop burnout? Check out our resource on the subject. 

The Challenge: Limited Career Growth 

A 2017 survey by CareerBuilder and SilkRoad Technologies cited a lack of career development opportunities as the most common reason workers leave an employer (the first was poor management). When employees feel like they’re working towards career goals, they’ll be enticed to stick around. 

Working in healthcare isn’t easy. Concrete career goals can keep employees motivated and engaged, even during tough moments. Establishing career paths for your employees can also allow you to hire internally, cutting down on precious recruitment time. 

How to Establish Career Paths for Your Senior Living Staff

  • Meet with employees about their career goals, and get feedback on what training and mentorship they’re interested in. Really listening to staff can go a long way. 
  • Consider tuition reimbursement and assistance, so employees can learn new skills and apply them to their work. 
  • Consider offering in-house training so that workers can grow towards their chosen career paths on-site, and easily pick up new skills. 

The Challenge: Limited Sense of Community

The importance of community in senior and assisted living can’t be overstated. Because many residents have a long length of stay, senior living staff have the unique opportunity to be part of an ongoing community with longer term relationships. However, when staff are overworked and overburdened, it’s easy for community-building to fall by the wayside. 

A strong sense of community among staff also affects your quality of care. A recent study by the Queens School of Business and Gallup Organization found that when employees are disengaged, they have higher rates of absenteeism, as well as more accidents and errors.

How to Build Community for Staff

  • Tackle staffing shortages headfirst. It’s hard for employees to focus on building community when they’re overworked. Hiring quickly and efficiently will allow workers and residents to build deeper connections. 
  • Have a strong sense of company culture. Maintain clear values and mission statements, and make your employees aware of these priorities during hiring and onboarding. 
  • Encourage friendships. Did you know that 70% of employees consider work friendships the most important part of a happy work environment? Boundaries are important, but workplace camaraderie can help create a sense of community. 

The Challenge: Lack of Trust in HR 

Building trust in HR is easier said than done. According to a 2020 survey, more than 30% of workers avoid going to HR to address problems. 

When workers don’t trust HR, it can lead to a cascading series of issues. Communication can break down, and your HR team can be left feeling frustrated. Not to mention, employees could be stuck with concerns that would otherwise be easily addressed.  

Boosting your HR reputation can take time, but there are concrete steps you can take to build your profile among employees and the community. 

How to Build Your HR Reputation

  • Gather feedback. Feedback, either through meetings or surveys, is key to improving relationships between employees and HR. Employee surveys are a great way to let employees know that you’re listening, and the feedback you gather can help you take concrete steps towards improving your reputation. Consider sharing the results of your surveys to increase transparency. If you’re unsure what types of surveys are best for your senior living staff, check out our article on the subject
  • Communicate with care. It’s important to be respectful of identities, as well as your employee’s time, when you communicate. From newsletters to email copy, make sure your language is inclusive, friendly, and team-centric. 
  • Keep accurate records. Make sure employee records are accurate and confidential. Your employees are putting their trust in you to pay them accurately and on time, as well as keep your private documents safe. You can’t do any of this with unprotected or inaccurate documentation.

The Challenge: The Stress of the Pandemic 

The past few years have been a very tough time for senior living staff. As mentioned above, 29% of frontline healthcare workers have considered leaving healthcare altogether. Senior citizens constituted 75% of deaths from COVID-19, meaning that senior living communities have faced loss, grief, and an enormous burden of care. Added to the stress of the pandemic are rising costs from inflation, increased rent, and high gas prices. How can you support staff during this truly unprecedented time? 

How to Support Staff

  • Acknowledge the grief and stress of the pandemic, both during the last two years and right now. Give employees opportunities to talk about their experiences during team meetings, with HR, or through company-sponsored private therapy.
  • When it comes to compensation and benefits, give employees room to share feedback and concerns. When you build your HR reputation, employees will feel more comfortable sharing their needs, which you can then address. 
  • Provide resources for mental health. The enormous strain of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health can’t be overstated. Some employees, especially in facilities that have lost many residents and staff, may be facing PTSD or secondary traumatic stress. Prioritizing mental health benefits, and opening a dialogue about mental health, can help your employees navigate the ongoing crisis. 

Better Hiring With Apploi 

Speedy hiring can be the key to overcoming challenges for senior living staff. When you’re understaffed, it’s difficult to focus on what makes your community special. Interested in learning more about how you can recruit, hire, and onboard healthcare staff quickly? Contact us today for a free demo of our end-to-end talent management solution.


Melanie Boroosan

Over her six years in healthcare administration, Melanie has managed human resources, legal, compliance, payroll, and recruitment efforts at a corporate level. This oversight granted her a deep appreciation for the unique needs of healthcare managers, and for the direct ways that business operations affect the wellbeing of each employee. As Apploi’s Director of Healthcare Innovation, Melanie draws from her experience in healthcare HR and ancillary long-term care to pursue a vision of holistic healthcare staffing. Her work is rooted in the knowledge that great care begins with improving quality of life for all healthcare workers.