You Have An Awesome Responsibility

A conscious choice. Words of hope that were shared at the recent ALFA annual conference.

During the closing general session, a panel of CEOs shared their predications for the field. One of those insights? That one day in the future people will intentionally choose to work and live in senior housing.

A Place People Want to Go

Brenda Bacon, President and CEO of Brandywine Senior Living, described the future assisted living as, “a place where people want to go, and not just stumble upon.”

Imagine if the scenario that Kai Hsiao, President and CEO of Holiday Retirement, described actually occurred in ten years: That there is no wince when you tell your friend over the dinner table that your mother is living in senior housing. That more people are coming out of school saying that this field is where they want to work.

A conscious choice. Not a crisis, but life planning. Not a job that is unintentionally discovered, but one that is chosen.

How can we work towards this vision? I firmly believe it all starts with having strong leaders. That requires attracting talented people into this field, as well as developing the ones that we already have.

Beyond caregivers, senior housing offers the opportunity to work in finance, marketing, food service, daily operations and a host of other careers. But why would a person choose who is interested in any of these professions choose to work in our field?

The Why

Our field offers a tremendous opportunity to give back and make a difference in someone’s life. Few other areas of employment can match the altruistic side of our work. Whether it’s for profit or not for profit, every organization has the ability to carry out a mission that goes way beyond the margin.

The growth potential in senior housing is unmatched. We all have seen the numbers and know the tremendous need for a workforce to support the Baby Boomers. Competent and skilled professionals will have their choice of organizations to work in and career paths to decide upon.

There is a host of other “whys” and I’d love to hear what you think because it helps us determine the logical next step; what we can do about this opportunity.

How You Can Make A Difference: Be A Role Model

1.  Share your stories

Twenty plus years ago when I decided to go into the field, I heard way too often that I was making a mistake and that I should consider another type of work. This was from people working in aging services! Don’t be them. While I recognize that our field has many challenges, there are also many advantages. The few minutes you spent chatting with a resident, the help you gave an overwhelmed family member, or the helping hand you gave to an employee that was struggling, all make for a great positive story. Share them with students, interns, or people that approach you about working in our field.

2.  Reach out to students

Unfortunately senior housing is not even on the radar of most students in high school or at the university level. Even those that have chosen health-related studies don’t see our field as a viable option or an option at all! Health administration, nursing, gerontology, and a host of other majors offer an opportunity for you to share your knowledge and enthusiasm. I recently spoke to a group of students at Cornell’s MHA program about the myths of working in aging services. From its depressing work to low salaries, I hit the field’s perceived drawbacks head on and discussed the reality around each. The presentation title, based on input from the faculty and students was, “Putting the Sexy into Aging Services”. The students laughed, cried, and, lo and behold, some are now considering that career path!  Your passion for your work and our field can make a difference…but only if you share it!

3.  Encourage development of others

In addition to attracting talented people, we need to keep them! Smart, energetic, lifelong learners will not stay in a position that doesn’t offer them the opportunity to grow. This doesn’t always mean a promotion or more money. It’s the chance to develop stronger leadership skills or share their knowledge through an organizational committee or project. Ignoring the strong players, because you are spending too much time with the weak ones, will cause you to lose them. After working so hard to get good people into the field your organization, and the world of senior housing, cannot afford this! Talk to them about their future aspirations and get them on a path to reaching their goals. Unfortunately I have seen too many incredibly talented people, even in large companies, leave an organization because they did not feel there was an opportunity to grow.

The conscious choice is now yours. Make a deliberate resolution to address at least one of the three suggestions shared above. The future of senior housing is counting on you.  You have an awesome responsibility to model the way for others!