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208: Mark Woodka

Mark Woodka, CEO of OnShift discusses the results from a recent Employee Perspectives survey sharing the insight into the personal and professional needs, wants and challenges of senior living employees.

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Lucas 

Welcome to Bridge the Gap Podcast, the senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas. An exciting topic on today and a great guest. We want to welcome Mark Woodka, he’s the CEO of OnShift. Welcome to the show.

Mark 

Thanks Lucas. Very glad to be here. Thanks for inviting me. 

Lucas

Yes. Really excited to talk to you about a really,  everybody in the senior living industry is waking up today with one thing on their mind workforce. And so we’re gonna be talking about workforce trends and issues from attracting and hiring and engaging and retaining staff in the senior living industry. And I know that you’ve got some stats and some different things. Josh, you know, before we jump right into this topic, this is something that continues to come up on our program. It’s workforce, it’s just a big, big, hairy topic right now.

Josh

It is a big topic. I’m excited to be able to have this conversation as a fan of OnShift for years as an operator, as a user. This isn’t necessarily a for them, but I can do a commercial, but I’m actually really interested in this conversation, because it’s something as an operator, you wake up every day. I would imagine right now across the country, if you ask operators what’s keeping them up at night, whatever the answer, it all points back to labor in some way. And I’m very excited. We got just a teaser on a pre-call on a pre-show call with Mark and team, and I’m excited to hear some of these survey results. They have spent a lot of time talking and studying what is important to the labor force. And that’s what we have to know to be a able to develop strategies. And it was actually some of it might be a little bit surprising. I haven’t heard all of it. So Mark, thanks for joining us today. We look forward to talking with you.

Mark 

Great, glad to be here.

Lucas

So let’s jump right into that. Talk to us about these trends that you’ve been seeing over many years that you’ve been seeing kind of the ebbs and flows of workforce and retention. What have you guys been seeing lately?

Mark 

So it’s interesting Lucas. I think what we’ve seen is just a rapid acceleration of trends that were here before, right? Very high turnover in the industry, published stats are around 50%. But the reality for frontline staff is somewhere between 50 and 200%, right? Most providers that report turnover include corporate staff, supervisory staff, et cetera. But when you really peel back the onion and look at my frontline staff, my caregivers, my dietary people, my housekeepers, it’s rare for someone to be a under a hundred percent. We have some clients that are in the forties and fifties and that’s world class in this industry, right? And also hiring people was a challenge before the pandemic. It’s funny, we do an annual survey of providers called our workforce 360 Survey. And in 2019, the number one issue was hiring. I couldn’t hire people fast enough or get an enough people. In 2020, it flipped to retention. But they’re both neck, almost neck and neck, right? So we’ve just seen really an acceleration of trends that were already here that were accelerated coming out of COVID.

Josh 03:52

Well, you know, mark, one of the things that I’ve often noticed, I think painfully sometimes it’s been brought to my attention as an operator, as even a small regional operator. And I can’t imagine even in your larger operations, sometimes there’s some gaps in communication that happened between the community level team members, those frontline workers, the caregivers, the housekeepers, the dining workers. And as you go up the ladder, oftentimes depending on the decision making processes, you’ve got a lot of leadership making decisions. And sometimes there’s this big disconnect and where our intentions as leaders I think are most often pure. They’re good. And we’re trying to hit the mark, but sometimes we miss that mark on valuing and understanding what’s of value to our team members. And I think maybe this information that you’ve had in your study might help educate and inform some of our listeners that are in those leadership positions on what some of those finding were and what those value propositions are to team members. Could you share a little bit of that with us? 

Mark 05:06

Yea sure. So let me, let me share a story that leads into that. Josh. We articulated a strategy of trying to improve the employee experience a couple years ago, right? And we recognized this turnover in hiring problems is not gonna get any easier. And this is pre COVID, right? And the projections, if you look at our genome, they’re gonna tell you we need two and a half million more workers by 2030 to meet demand. So we started thinking about,  how can we engage with frontline staff? And I was at actually at a conference it was a CEO conference. There was probably 40 people in the room. I was presenting some data on turnover and retention and benefits and perks. And somebody raised their hand and said, you know, we rolled out a 401k and it kind of felt like a lead balloon.

Mark 

And I said, that’s interesting because you know what we see is people are worried about paying their rent, right? If I’m a CNA or a caregiver, I’m probably more worried about making my car payment or my rent payment, putting food on my table, I’m not thinking about retirement. So I said, “hey, show of hands guys, how many of you engage with frontline staff when you’re making decisions about benefits and perks?” And not a single hand went up. And you could argue, it’s not the CEO’s job. That’s probably more of an HR job, but it was kind of surprising to me. Given the fact that there is such significant turnover and workforce is such a critical component of what I have to offer as a provider. I would think there’d be better engagement. That led us to, “okay, we’re gonna survey staff, you know, directly.” And so we did a staff.

Mark 

We wanted to do it in 2020, obviously that didn’t happen with COVID. So we did it in, I believe the springtime of this year and we surveyed about 3000 frontline staff. And we asked some, a variety of questions, right? We also then compared that to our workforce 360 survey, which we do every fall. So what’s interesting is when we asked the providers, they thought burnout was the number one issue for staff, like 80% cited it as the number one issue. The staff, it was 49%. So it was still huge, but it wasn’t really you know, as big as providers thought. The biggest disconnect was one of the second questions where the providers thought working multiple jobs was an issue. And the frontline staff said, “my health is an issue. I wanna be healthier.” Right, that was second behind burnout, which was really fascinating to me.

Mark

That’s not something we expected to see. And if you think about that, if you’re provider, if you have that information about your frontline staff, there’s lots of things you can do relatively inexpensively, right? That could go to that. I mean, we all have kitchens, we all have dining facilities and we saw a lot of people provide food to their staff through COVID, you know, maybe there’s something you can do to offer food or other healthy options, use your wellness facilities. So there’s a lot we can do as an industry to really understand what those frontline people are really looking for and what they care about. 

Josh 

Well, it’s really interesting. And I could echo something similar to that. I love the fact of how big your sample was, how big your survey was. I think you said 3000? [YEP] That’s significant, but even at a small level, I think I can attest to that. One of the things that as a small operator over 15 communities a couple years ago, I was shocked when we did just a very small in-house survey. And we asked our team members, what is the most important benefits to you? We also asked, “Hey, what is preventing you from showing up for your shift?” Because we had so many people that were just calling off and were like, “man, that’s killing us, you know, in overtime and, and just care, quality,” and things like that. And I was shocked that one of the number one answers for the reason why people weren’t coming and I shouldn’t have been shocked in the hindsight, but it was because of childcare.

Josh 

The majority of our workforce was, and is moms and single moms at many of them, and quality childcare. And obviously they’re putting their priority, we can’t fault them, that’s their priority over our community. But just that enabled us with that information to understand why we’ve got to retool to try to help them with that. So that then in turn, they can actually show up to work. So I think this is really valuable information. Is there anything else that has stood out to you that you have learned as a, as a big growing organization committed to solving this problem for our industry that you think is worthy that our listeners should know about? 

Mark 09:26

Let me touch on the topic you just raised first, Josh, if you want,  because we did ask. We said, “what describes your gender or your marital status, are you parent?” Eighty-nine percent of the workforce is women, 79% have children, and 42% of those are single moms. [Wow.] So think about that, right? 

That a big factor of the working population, are single moms. And again, what can we do as providers and administrators to help support them? I’ll tell you, the other thing that we always hear in departures is how far do I have to travel to work and how do I get there? Right. So proximity to home is an important consideration and consider that when you’re hiring, especially if you know you’re hiring a single mom who may have childcare issues or may need to go do something with their child during the day. That’s going to be an important consideration.

Josh

Well, so we could, as I often say, chase a rabbit here, Lucas, but I’ll tell you, even for our developers out there that are listening, one of the big things I am starting to see, and I think it echoes and affirms what you just said, Mark, is I’m seeing some of the biggest challenges for staffing in communities that I’m asked to go in and help are in some of the probably highest demand areas for the services, and it’s in your, your communities that are more of, I would say your upper of the market basket communities. And what’s happening is the demographic that is needed to support that community being filled from a resident occupancy standpoint, the neighborhoods that they’re in are the working people that need to be working in that community can’t even afford to live in that area.

Josh

And so as developers, I think we’re having to get really smart and think about, “okay, if I’m going to build in this and here’s my residence, you know persona, what is my worker persona or personas needed for this? And do I have a plan in place that if they don’t live here in this market? How am I gonna get them here?” Because in most cases, and in many cases they can’t even afford to get to the community. 

I think that’s a huge thing that not only for our operators, but this information could also be really useful for those developers that are looking to put product communities and services into these markets. Right?

Mark

Yeah. I think that makes a lot of sense and you’re absolutely right. It’s hard to get people there, but again, what can we do to solve that problem? Right. I don’t have an answer. I don’t have all the answers certainly, but it’s really, we’re at a point in time where we’ve got to  get much more creative. Right? I think COVID hit us over the head like a 2X4, exposed a lot of flaws in how we operate, how we work with our work force, et cetera. And we just need to get creative and  start doing out of the box solutions. You know, one of the questions you asked earlier, Josh was, you know, what do you see as major themes, you know, from the survey. And one of the things we asked was, you know, what would make your job more satisfying?

Mark 

The number one answer, communication, better communication. That’s free. That doesn’t cost a nickel to communicate more with your staff. Number two is better pay, which is no great surprise there, right? And the fundamental reality is we’re gonna have to increase pay because we just have wage pressure all over the place. And number three was more appreciation recognition. And again, so two of those are free, right? Communicating with your staff, involving them in decisions and problems solving and recognizing reward of them don’t cost. Don’t have to cost you a thing. Now, if you wanna put a formal rewards and recognition program in place, you can. And here’s what I hear from people, I love this. “I can’t afford to do that.” Right. “I have to pay higher wages. I can’t afford to put a rewards program in place for my line staff.” And I say, okay, what’s your turnover rate?

Mark 

Meh, it’s  around a hundred percent. So if you’ve got a thousand employees, you’re hiring a thousand employees a year, right? Yep. What does it cost you when you lose an employee? Do you guys internally, and I ask this of almost all our customers. Do you have a calculator that says when a CNA or a caregiver leaves, what does it cost me to replace them? The answer in 99.9% of the cases is “no.” Right? So I’ll say does $3000 seem about right? Advertising, interviewing time, onboarding time, paying overtime or agency wages while that, that slots filled, whatever, right. Most people agree that that’s true. In many cases it’s much higher, but I don’t go way out there because I’m not trying to prove how bad the problems. I’m trying to get a recognition that there’s a problem. Well, if you do the math there there’s $300,000.

Mark

That’s your budget for raising wages and doing employee recognition programs is to be able to try to stem the cost of turnover. And turnover begets more turnover, because your good staff gets burned out and tired. And so we’ve really got to think about how we can attack this problem and make some investments in attacking it. The money’s there. Now you want you’re gonna wanna prove it to yourself, right. And implement some programs to see if it moves a needle. But again, two of the three things your line staff are looking for, don’t cost you a nickel. It’s a supervisory training issue more than anything.

Josh

Well, you touched on so much there that I think we could unpack for hours. And we’ve only got a few minutes of your busy time that we can take. But I think one of the interesting things is this communication and the creativity in rewards. I think so often we just lack creativity in how we reward and how we communicate. And it’s been interesting. And I think you even experienced this in some of your studies and your findings that sometimes in your most difficult times as a leader, as a community, as a team surprisingly that’s when things actually improve a little bit in this area. And I think, we in many communities, in spite of the terrible things that were happening around us, and to us that we didn’t have, we felt like we had no control over, some of our team morale, some of our call offs and many of these problems that have been there even before COVID, they actually like spiked and got a little better. And there was some promise. And I think it was because we were forced out of our comfort zones and we were forced, like you had to get creative or die, as an organization and as a team, did you see some of that across the communities that you serve as well?

Mark 15:50

Yeah, we did. And it was really, I think Josh, so we have, one of our platforms is called OnShift Engage. It’s a rewards and recognition and pulse survey tool. Right? And so there’s a staff satisfaction pulse survey that goes out on a regular basis. And we actually saw staff satisfaction increase in some of our client communities in April of 2020, right? This is one month into the pandemic and satisfaction’s improving. And so as we looked at the comments that were coming in with some of those surveys, it was around, I feel engaged in solving these problems. I’m being asked my opinion. I’m being there, they’re asked, do I have enough PPE? Do I have childcare? Do I have food at home? Right. There were all sorts of things that, you know, people to your point were four to address and interact with their team members in unique ways.

Mark

I mean, think about it. Policies changed every day for a while, right? As new guidance came out from the CDC and CMS. And so it forced us to communicate. And I think a lot of the better operators went, wow, that was a benefit. And, and if you think about the line staff that stuck it out, I mean, these people are committed. They’re here because they want to be here and, and we owe it to them to communicate with them and recognize them. I’ll tell you one other interesting data point when we were doing the research on our engaged platform, you know, we talk to supervisors, we talk to line staff and over and over, we heard from the line staff. “I come in every day, I do a good job. I care for my residents. Nobody ever notices. My supervisor’s time goes to the people that punch in late, call off don’t chart, right? Are hanging around at the nurses station, not doing their job. So I feel like, you know, I’m happy to do my job, but it’d be really great if once in a while somebody said, good job.”

Josh

Well, I’ll tell you, it takes me back to early in my career and I need to read this book again, just to refresh myself. I think it was an old book then, but it was the Greatest Management Principle GMP.  And the number one theme is “what gets rewarded is what gets done.” And it talked about, that’s not always a monetary reward. Sometimes it’s just acknowledging, and recognizing, and communicating with someone that is doing a very valuable service to your organization. So you touched on that point there, Lucas, this is such, such a valuable conversation to our listeners who is a growing and very diverse audience in the senior living industry that we love. And I so appreciate what mark and his team have been doing committed to this industry for years, and continue to grow and do services,

Lucas

Great practical insights. I know that these are principles that I’m gonna take to my team today. Being a construction company, I think that they need to hear more often that they’re doing a great job and they need to be communicated more. This is something I think that transcends even the senior living industry, but obviously for the people that are on the front lines, doing this heavy lifting and caring for our older adults every single day, it’s paramount. And so Mark,  this is great information. I know that our listeners are going to want to engage more in this conversation and a great way to do that, we will put all the links in the show notes to get in touch with Mark and his team and OnShift, you can go to BTGvoice.com. You can download the transcript. You watch the video and you can connect with us on social media to continue the conversation we want to hear from you. Thanks to all of our Bridge the Gap listeners for joining in today. Mark, thanks for being on the program as well.

Mark

You bet. Thanks for having me guys. I enjoyed it.

Lucas

Thanks for listening to another great episode of Bridge the Gap.

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208: Mark Woodka