Centennial, CO – Full employment—it’s the term economists use to describe a situation when virtually everyone willing and able to work is employed. With Colorado’s May unemployment rate at 2.8 percent, it’s also an accurate description for the metro-Denver job market. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only three states have an unemployment rates currently lower than that of Colorado. With local employment so high, it has become particularly difficult for companies and industries in hospitality and care-giving to find and retain qualified workers.
This doesn’t mean, though, that providing excellent care for the state’s large number of aging adults is any less of a pressing priority. One Colorado company is rising to meet this growing need through innovative steps to value and retain its staff. This spring the Denver-based not-for-profit Christian Living Communities (CLC), which owns, operates and manages a number of senior living communities and services in and out of Colorado, has been working on a series of initiatives to address this very issue.
“Providing excellent service to residents remains our number one goal, and a skilled, consistent and happy team is what makes that possible,” explained CLC Chief Executive Officer Terry Rogers. “We really value our staff and hope that these new additions will provide our team members with the support they need and an encouragement to stay long-term.”
Staff livelihood – Offering financial and life guidance
Over the past year, and this spring in particular, Christian Living Communities has implemented a series of financial measures to support its many team members. For annual cost of living increases CLC moved from 2.5 to 3% for all employees and lowered health insurance costs and deductibles for team members across the board, even offering a zero cost plan. In January, the company also budgeted $820,000 in additional pay raises for 66 percent of its 640 employees. This came after a review of each job, from CEO to CNA, in the Denver market-place and adjustments to keep CLC positions competitive.
But it doesn’t stop there. Last year, CLC also began offering both a Student Debt Reduction Benefit and a Critical Needs Fund to support employees requiring immediate assistance. The Student Debt Reduction fund aims to aid team members reduce student debt from college loans and thereby increase their monthly income. The Communities’ Critical Needs Fund provides funding to overcome work barriers such as needed car repairs or housing. Just in the last six months, 10 team members have accessed this fund, mostly for transportation needs. These programs are in additional to a long-standing employee scholarship program that awarded 16 team members nearly $23,000 to further their education this past year.
To help staff know how to access and use these and other resources. CLC also has begun offering all employees access to a “navigator.” This navigator can help team members locate and obtain resources to help with rent, car, legal or childcare services needs and more. The services are free and employee participants remain anonymous. More than 20 “customer” employees were served by CLC’s navigator in the first quarter of 2018 alone.
Numerous staff members have already shared how these financial changes have enabled them to continue serving in a place that, in the words of one thankful employee, is “my work home.” One team member was thinking about quitting and moving to a more affordable state. As a single mom with two daughters this team member shared that the “pay increase may not look like much to others but, for me and my family, it means life.” The raise is allowing her to move out of the motel where her family has been living and once again into a home of her own.
Ongoing education – Providing and supporting classes, scholarships and partnerships
One of the greatest staffing needs throughout the senior care industry is certified nursing assistants (CNAs). Taking the approach to “grow our own” rather than wait for applicants, CLC partnered with the Community College of Aurora to offer grant-funded tuition to enable entry level employees to obtain a CNA license. With strong mentoring and support, 7 individuals have already graduated from this nursing program and 5 are now employed by CLC. A fourth class is scheduled for October of this year.
Scheduling and time off - Increasing flexible hours and PTO donation program
Christian Living Communities has taken specific steps to provide no cost/high impact work practices. In response to feedback from staff surveys, the company recently began offering alternative schedule options to all team members – including flexible start and stop times, compressed work weeks, job sharing, and remote work options. To get more money in team member pockets, CLC increased the maximum number of earned PTO hours each team member can cash out and expanded the number of payroll advances a team member can have. Through the established Paid Time Off Donation program, staff members can also donate part of their paid time off to coworkers in need.
Environment – Fostering team spirit through Keepers Committees
Following a successful pilot program, special committees comprised of residents and team members were also created this year throughout CLC’s communities to maximize the incredible power of resident/team member relationships. These Keepers Committees are composed of both team members and residents who plan employee and department-specific events together. The goal of these groups is to cultivate positive team spirit, strengthen relationships and celebrate staff accomplishments like marriage or work milestones.
“What amazed me the most is the resident engagement surrounding retention,” shared one staff member about his experience on the pilot program Keepers Committee. “They are just as concerned as we are.” Others have shared that the committee offers “the freedom to express your ideas” and helps ensure “that team members feel welcomed and appreciated.”
Communication and technology – Keeping staff in connection via the CLC Loop
CLC is the first senior living provider in the country to offer its staff an innovative, internal communications app called “The Loop.” The Loop provides on-the-go information on organization happenings and access to surveys/chat groups. According to CLC concierge Jude Wherley, “It’s like a Twitter page for employees.” The app is desktop, Android and iPhone-friendly and allows staff to post and receive information of community-wide importance.
Over 60% of CLC employees do not have an office or a computer as they are cooking, cleaning and caring for residents or addressing community maintenance. CLC Loop allows all community employees to message each other, share photos, celebrate colleague birthdays and coordinate community and business events. CLC is working to have nearly 100 percent of employees not behind a desk using the app this year so everyone will be “in-the-loop”.
The results of these changes have been substantial. Christian Living Communities has already seen a 5% increase in employee retention, and company leadership hopes that ongoing work in these areas will continue to craft a company culture that values and supports the many special people on its team.
Since 1972, Christian Living Communities (CLC) has been providing quality senior care and services in the south Denver metropolitan area. CLC is a Denver-based not-for-profit that owns and manages senior living communities and services in the Denver metro area as well as state-wide and is expanding into Missouri and Illinois. CLC touches the lives of more than 2,000 seniors daily through their communities and services. For more information on CLC visit ChristianLivingCommunities.org or call 720.974.3555.