Workforce Stability Identified as Top Challenge in Self-Op Dining Programs

People Management

Employee turnover and gaps in service increase anxiety among operators of self-op dining programs in senior living communities. Unidine’s strategies increase employee engagement and retention.

In a recent survey, we asked senior living executives in communities that do not outsource their dining program to identify their challenges. Workforce stability was the biggest headache by a wide margin – identified by 65% of respondents as a challenge. For comparison, the next closest – Cost Control – was identified by 37% as a challenge.

It is no secret that this is a frustrating topic for employers. The turnover rate in the economy’s hospitality segment rose to 72.1% in 2015, according to a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report. With unemployment falling and the economy strengthening, the workforce challenge will only increase in the years to come.

Unidine takes a two-part approach to minimizing the impact of the workforce challenge on our partners. First, we offer career paths that our senior living clients, on their own, cannot. A common misperception is that when a community outsources dining, the provider comes in and replaces everyone with their own staff. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. When Unidine is selected to operate your dining program, we work with you to understand your existing staffing strengths and weaknesses.

We take a close look at your dining program today and where you want to be in the future, and then identify the specific skill sets and experience required for success in each role. Next, we interview your existing staff and offer them opportunities commensurate with their skills, experience and their enthusiasm to be part of the new team.

Those who join our team receive training, support and the opportunity to pursue a career in foodservice, which includes professional and management opportunities that aren’t available in a senior living community. For example, where the top dietary role in a senior living community may be the dining service director or general manager, stand-out team members may aspire to be district managers, regional culinary directors or pursue new careers in supply chain, marketing, IT or human resources, while remaining in foodservice and dining management.

One such example is Dan Novak, who now serves as a District Manager for Unidine. He described his experience with the transition:

“I spent my career as a self-op dining services director. I was confident and self-sufficient, and was comfortable in my world. When I transitioned to Unidine, I was hesitant and concerned about it being a good fit for me. I never truly expected myself to benefit or grow in a management company, but needed to give it a try. I was amazed as a whole new world of resources, education, support and opportunities were opened to me. Equally amazing was the personal nature of this company. The immediate connections and associations that were made, and the very personal and interactive style of the owner and all the senior leadership team was incredible. I am grateful for the opportunities that Unidine has given me, and happy to be a part of such a dynamic company.” 

The second part of our approach to minimize the impact of the workforce challenge on our partners is that we leverage a human resources department with an advanced infrastructure and dedicated professionals that specialize in recruiting culinary and hospitality talent from across the country to maintain a pipeline of applicants in all markets. In addition to our robust presence on national, regional and local job posting sites, we are active on social media platforms. We participate in local job fairs and often produce our own events. We supplement this activity with local advertising and  promote opportunities internally, providing incentives for successful referrals.

Turnover and gaps in service can increase resident stress and decrease resident satisfaction, resulting in damage to your brand and reputation. Partnering with a dining management provider may not eliminate turnover in your dining program, but it can eliminate some of the stress related to it, while delivering a deeper well of resources to ensure that where turnover is inevitable, gaps in service don’t occur.

This insight is the first in a series of articles developed from a recent survey of senior living executives. They were asked to respond to questions relating to dining programs in senior living and the contract foodservice marketplace. A full survey report will be available later in October 2016.


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