Join hosts Josh and Lucas as they welcome Cara Silletto of Magnet Culture back to the podcast. The trio discusses how genuine leadership and employee investment are needed to ignite change in the senior living industry. Cara shares ways to combat COVID-caused anxiety.
Welcome to Contributor Wednesday on Bridge the Gap Network. In this series, you’ll hear from thought leaders on a variety of topics dedicated to inform, educate, and influence the senior living industry.
Welcome to Bridge the Gap Podcast, this senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas. We have a very good friend on today. We want to welcome Cara Silletto of Magnet Culture back to the program. Welcome Hey guys, it’s great to see you again.
Good to see you on Zoom today, but we actually got to see you in person very recently at the VIP Ignite Experience in Nashville, Tennessee. It was so good to see you. And so many other of our friends. It was a 24-hour event, we brought the industry’s influencers together to build trust and ignite change. Cara, were you able to meet people and have discussions? What were some of the big standouts for you?
Yeah, you guys know that I go to all the conferences all around the country all the time, and this was really, really cool because every single person that I talked to, and I would just walk up to folks during the networking time and introduce myself and say, “hey,” because I knew we were like-minded. I knew we were all senior living innovators there. And so I was blown away when I would find somebody and hear their story, and what they’ve been working on. One in particular was Jim Valderman down in Florida. He was telling me, as I asked him questions about his workforce and how’s that going – you know – those types of things that I focus on. And he said that he has completely revamped their dining services, incorporated a ton of automation and robotics into their processes and systems and all of that. And now he’s able to offer his dining staff a much higher wage because he needs a lot fewer dining staff members. And so it was really cool, and I’m following up with him more to learn the details of that. But even just talking to folks like that, that are doing really cool things in all different states across the country, I was just really blown away that you all brought together all the heavy hitters. It was awesome.
It was a ton of fun just to see people again, face-to-face, there’s so many of our friends, like you Cara, that we hadn’t gotten to see except virtually for a couple years. So it was so nice. And you’re right; it’s amazing when you actually have these conversations with a lot of very influential people, but you don’t really know what’s going on. Like what they’re working on, what just rolled out, what’s about to roll out, and it’s that whole iron sharpens iron kind of principle. And I think we really need that in our industry, and I think that’s something that you miss out a lot on when you don’t have those in-person conversations. Something about in person seems to get it more across. But I was also struck by so many cool new and innovative ideas. I’d love to hear more of your takeaways as we’re talking about in your world you’re talking about the labor challenges, and there are so many right now. Were there any other innovative things that you’re seeing people doing right now that either you heard about at the event, or you’re just seeing as you’re talking and working with so many teams across the country?
Yeah, you know, unfortunately today the senior living leaders are dealing with the most difficult situation that we have ever had from a staffing situation. Of course last year was horrific just managing COVID and keeping our residents and our staff safe, healthy, and alive and things like that. And then now we have this new wave of COVID hitting the buildings again – and all the new – there’s some new regulations coming out, new requirements, and we’re now running into a true staffing shortage. For many reasons, right? We had a lot of women, three million women left the workforce last year. We had two million baby boomers retire earlier than expected. Lots of people reprioritize their whole lives. And so it really is just a tremendous challenge, and I want to take a minute and just send my love and my thoughts to everybody that is dealing with this right now.
Because we couldn’t have even imagined what we’re dealing with. And if Chick-fil-A can’t staff their dining rooms right now, and they’re doing drive-throughs only because of a workforce shortage, then we in senior living are struggling just as much, if not more just to get applicants and get workers to come in. So, I am seeing that there’s a big, giant reset happening with our workforce of what they deem tolerable, and what they deem a good culture, and [what] good leadership looks like. I think right now we’re having some massive trust issues on everyone’s part. It’s almost like we’ve cried wolf. But, but not because we did it on purpose or we’re trying to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes. But if you think about somebody that said, “well, I swear if you pick up tonight’s shift, I won’t make you work this weekend.
I swear. I promise.” And then what happens three days later, right? “I know I promised, but I’m so sorry so-and-so called in. And so-and-so, didn’t show up and,” and things like that. And so I think we’ve gotten ourselves in a situation now where we have to rebuild trust and just not make any more promises that we can’t keep. We have to be really, really careful about that. And so there’s little things that we can do. Checking in genuinely with the new hires, and with your season staff who may be burning out, right? Just taking two minutes to check in very authentically with people. Appreciating everyone who shows up, you’ve all seen those signs now, it’s going around like memes that say “the whole world is short-staffed, so be kind to the people who showed up.” Right? That kind of signage everywhere, whether it’s a restaurant or a senior living building.
I think showing extreme gratitude right now because we have so many folks not showing up. Another issue that I just learned about is because of the child tax credit, staff who have children are getting a deposit, a direct deposit in their bank accounts on the 15th of each month. And so my clients are telling me that on the 16th, 17th, and 18th, they have more call offs than ever before, or than any other days of the month, because our lower wage workforce is getting that cash in the bank and saying, “I have cash in the bank. I don’t have to work tomorrow. I can call in!” And of course the organizations are not in a situation right now where they can fire that person. They can’t terminate them because they need them to at least come back next week, even if they didn’t come back today or tomorrow. They call off three times in a row, which is normally three strikes you’re out, but they’re already trained.
They know my residents, they know my systems and they already have a name badge. It’s just such a difficult situation. So we have to go down to those micro things that can work as far as genuinely checking in with people, appreciating a job well done. Communicating your expectations super super clear, those types of things. And checking in on burnout, really giving people a little bit of breathing space. I know it’s impossible because we are short staffed, but if we push people past the brink, we’ll never get them back. So, even yourselves as leaders, don’t forget to take a breath.
It was really, that was a lot of great information you just packed in there. And in a very short amount of time that gosh, we could probably spend an hour or two unpacking a lot of that because it’s such good information. You made a statement about the great reset. It’s been interesting because, I think due to a lot of – let’s just call it forces of nature – things beyond our control that are happening all around us. Not only just here in our communities, but in America, in the world, things that we didn’t plan for. Things that are being imposed on us now. In addition, we were talking even way before the pandemic about how much change was already happening in our industry, just because of generational things that are happening. And how our industry over the coming years was going to be forced to sort of reinvent themselves as far as how we staff, how we recruit, how we develop programs and services for a different generation of seniors.
In my mind, I kind of see that naturally moving along. And then the pandemic, and economic things, and so many other things hit and are all colliding. And it makes me think of this visual of almost like a pressure cooker, or think of even a more positive thing. You think about how a diamond is formed through the pressure and things like that. And there’s still, I think oftentimes I’ll find myself getting really negative, right? Not only at myself, but on the surroundings. I still want to believe because I get to see it. I know as you do, Cara, and I know as you Lucas, I still believe in humanity. I still believe in the American spirit and the hard work of people. And the innovation and just like you were talking about that example of ignite experience, that one conversation and how they’re reinventing themselves and really learning how to problem solve. I have to believe in the heroes in our industry are going to come together. They’re going to rise to the occasion and they’re going to solve a lot of things during this great reset that might have taken ten or twenty years to change, but they’re going to change it over the next couple of years because the pressure cooker has forced the change on us, and that’s extremely uncomfortable. Yeah.
I believe that the pandemic expedited a lot of the change that we were going to see even just with Zoom, right? I mean, I was using Zoom for years before the pandemic. And then all of a sudden, everybody, even healthcare providers, they were getting webcams and headsets and things for virtual meetings, for some of the people who were either working from home, if they were office staff, or even for our training. We were running our workforce boot camps throughout the pandemic with some organizations and they got their nurses and their managers, they got the headsets, the zoom accounts, and laptops and things like that. So, the pandemic kind of gifted us some of the technology, overcoming some of those technology barriers. For example, getting the equipment, getting the knowledge of how to do that, getting the systems in place. The same thing is happening with a lot of the workforce changes that were coming, that were predicted, and the generational handoff from one way of doing things to the next way of doing things.
I think a lot of that was expedited. Absolutely. Another thing that I’m seeing more people do now is, so often, buildings in senior living have made their department heads hiring managers. And so we really want to rethink that because the hiring manager part of the job has become so overwhelming with as many positions we have open, and as many interviews and onboarding tactics we have to put in place and whatnot. So I’m seeing a lot more senior living organizations put in place, either a retention specialist, which is one thing that we teach folks, or at least a hiring leader that can help with the interviewing and the selecting and take some of that off of the managers. We’re even teaching now about job pruning, where you take some of the responsibilities off of your department heads, because we know their plates are overloaded and that bringing on a hiring manager, or a retention specialist, a recruiting and retention specialist, whatever you want to call that person, having that particular role really helps alleviate some of the potential burnout and the actual burnout that we’re seeing on a lot of those department heads right now.
So that just came to mind as you were talking more about the reset and what has been expedited. I saw more buildings doing that slowly and now all of a sudden they’re going, “we need somebody to manage all these applications and open positions,” and that’s happening faster now.
I think you nailed a very important topic and I would put it – whether you’d call it management, whether you call it managers and leadership – but I know over the last few years with the emergence of technology, and then again, I saw a ton of it last year, as you all probably did as well, where a lot of the middle managers in our industry oftentimes will call those, “regionals” because they’re somewhere at various department levels between the communities and the corporate offices, so to speak. And generally those individuals were oftentimes the ones that are burning up the roads. And I think they thought, because a lot of organizations thought “well, because they’re no longer having to visit the communities, maybe we can just allow the corporate office to take that.” They saw that as a way to eliminate some positions.
And I think one of the challenges is, who do we need the most when big challenges and problems come? Yes, we need the daily, we can never do without the heroes on the front line, but we also need leadership. And we need people that have time and the ability, the acumen, and the minds to help problem solve and be preparing resources and tools to support those that are on the front line. And when you eliminate and just stack on to someone else that’s already overloaded another burden, nothing is going to get done. And I’m so grateful that you pointed that out because I think that’s been something that, again, I think people are now starting to feel that problem. And hopefully rather than thinking, “oh my gosh, how do we cut back more?” Now we’ll actually say, “now is actually the time to be investing.” Now is the time to be investing in your people and be investing in new people. Because when you have massive problems and challenges to solve, that’s not the time to cut back. That’s the time to double down, and right now we’re in the people business. So we got to double down on our people. I love that.
Absolutely. Yeah. In fact, what I’m finding right now is managers at every level, right? I use that as a more general term. But managers at every level, especially the regionals and even the department heads, they don’t have time to do what they’re supposed to be doing, which is to problem solve, to be innovative, to seek out opportunities, to seek out threats and, bat that away before it hits the floor and things like that. They don’t have time to do the things that they are paid big bucks to do because they’re on the floor. And so we’ve gotten ourselves in that situation. We got so light on our management structure, like you said, we got to cut, cut, cut, and do more with less, and let’s just put that on her plate too. You know, we don’t need that middleman.
We don’t need that frontline leader. We don’t need those roles. And now that’s really come back, coming back to haunt us. Because now there’s nobody to do the true management and super – not supervisory – but strategic roles in the buildings. So yeah, investors heads up. Your owners, investors, regionals, you know, senior leaders, board members heads up. It is time to invest heavily in more managers and leaders in your buildings. That’s what’s going to get us out of this. We’ve got to find more leaders that people can believe in, trust, and go to. And that are accessible to them. They’re not too busy to answer my questions and those types of things.
Well, we know that you’re taking a lot of different phone calls right now with people. Let’s talk to that manager, or that leader that’s on the floor, as you said to your point, just overwhelmed with all these problems. What would be one of your final points of encouragement? As all of these challenges, there’s also opportunities. What would be your encouragement to that manager, or that leader, just day to day right now?
This sounds silly, but protect your sleep. Protect your sleep. Because I know for me, if I don’t get proper sleep or good enough sleep, if I’m tossing and turning and things like that, that really makes everything harder in my life. And so right now to get through, right? To weather this storm right now, I would say, do what you can to protect your sleep. And even if that means, who cares if the kitchen is mopped? Who cares? If the laundry is still sitting on the couch? Who cares about basic things that maybe we cared about before? So I give you permission my friends to let it go. Let the little things go right now. And even within the workplace, let the little things go and really just focus on the absolute needs, not the wants, but the needs of today. And then protect your mental health and your stamina by making sure that you’re trying to get to bed.
You know, don’t say, “well, I just want to get a few more things done before bed.” It will be in your best interest long term. Go to bed. Go to bed and try to get some sleep. And I even had to talk with a doctor about – I’m not falling asleep – right? I know I need the sleep, but now my mind is going. And I have anxiety for the first time in my whole life. COVID caused me sustainable anxiety. And I said, “I don’t know how to deal with that.” I’ve never had that. I have family and friends who have that, and have dealt with it their whole lives, but I didn’t know how to deal with it. And so if you need to get support, get medicine, get whatever it is that you need and protect yourself. Protect your body and your sleep and drink a lot of water.
Josh, that’s such a great point.
I think I just heard 10,000 of our listeners say “amen.” When she said, “go to bed.” Literally 10,000 of them just said, “amen.” It is a very valid point. I actually have this little ring on my finger for our YouTubers that are watching, and it actually tracks my quality of sleeping. And I just got it in the last year, for many of the reasons you were just talking about, Cara. And sleep is a fundamental – no, one’s gonna argue with that – part of your wellness. And if you don’t take care of your number one, yourself, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, there is no way you’re going to be a hundred percent and be able to go be on the front lines, caring for someone else’s physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. And it does start with a great night’s sleep and making that a critical part of everything that you’re doing. Thank you for that practical advice. Lucas, way to bring that out, man.
Right. Right. Well, I love that. And I think there’s actually a lot of practical ways that people can go about that. Just exercising a little bit of discipline. Don’t go directly to pharmaceuticals. There’s a bunch of other, there’s a hundred other levels of things that you could try before you get to that point. Shut off your phone an hour or two before bed. Don’t try to go to sleep answering emails. Don’t try to go to sleep looking at your social media feed. That’s only going to rile you up. Turn off stuff, things that stimulate you. Melatonin, it’s also a good detoxifier. There’s a lot of different ways. Thanks for talking about that Cara. It’s so important because you can only go so long burning the candle at both ends before. Then you’re going to be the one that’s going to be needed to be cared for. Yeah, exactly.
Well, great advice. As we round out this wonderful conversation with a great friend of ours, Cara, who’s been on our network many times and an awesome Contributor Wednesday series. Make sure that you tune in to Cara’s series on our Contributor Wednesday series. You can go to BTG voice.com. Go up to the top, click the tab that says “Contributor Wednesday,” and go ahead and binge listen to all of Cara’s episodes because I promise you you’re going to be educated, informed, and influenced, which is what we’re all about. Thank you, Cara, for spending more time with us today. Thank you guys. It’s always a pleasure. See you soon. Awesome to see you, and thanks to all of our listeners for listening to another great episode of Bridge the Gap.