By Leigh Ann Hubbard

You might work in senior living if … you feel like you’ve tried everything to get and keep great staff members, and it’s just not working.

Workforce recruitment and retention was top of mind at the 2023 AHCA/NCAL conference. People shared creative ideas, and there was a spirit of “might as well try it!”

One fun idea came from Rick Ackerman, chief operating officer of the Peplinski Group, which has 11 skilled nursing communities in Michigan. When they onboard, they do a scavenger hunt. Each new hire gets paired with a staff member, and the duo goes on a community-wide search for goodies.

Here’s a video of Rick talking about it. (Scroll down for a transcript.)


The hunt orients new folks to the campus in an engaging way. Conceivably, it could also help with retention by creating early camaraderie. (They only started this a few weeks ago, so they’re in the process of gauging results.)

Here are some of the treasures the hunters find:

  • Handwritten welcome notes from staff or residents
  • A coupon for a shirt with the company logo
  • Tokens for fresh-food vending

A couple of weeks after onboarding, the community surveys the new hires to ask:

  • What did we do well?
  • What did we miss?
  • What would you like to see added for the next class?

In this way, “they become part of the solution going forward,” Rick said.

More Orientation Ideas

How about recording employee testimonials and play them at onboarding? That’s what Benjamin Leavell, executive director of Waterford Place at Sunset Senior Communities in Michigan, does. He also connects new employees with employee mentors.

Or how about …? What are your ideas? Is your community trying anything creative? Or have you seen something in particular work well?

Video Transcript 

What we’re doing is including a scavenger hunt in our classroom orientation day. We have some strategic locations that we place some strategic things. So we pair them up — not necessarily one nurse with one nurse but one nurse perhaps with a housekeeper. Anyway, we get them out, we get them interacting with staff and residents, and they find some nice things to celebrate their joining our company.

RICK: We have things such as welcome-to-the-team handwritten notes from either fellow staff or also from residents. Another thing that we do is give them a coupon — they find a coupon with a welcome note that would allow them to purchase at no cost a t-shirt or sweatshirt of our company. We give them tokens to our vending. We have fresh-food vending. So just things to celebrate their coming, to let them know that we’re welcoming them, we look forward to them joining.

RICK: We’re about three weeks in actually. And so what we’re doing is … we’re trying to work with our managers to make sure that it remains effective for the goal. So we’re in that initial period right now. We did get some great feedback from our first folks. And that is a key piece. So we do a Survey Monkey whereby we ask these orientees, a week or two after they hit the floor, what we missed, what we did well, and what they’d like to see for the next people. So they become part of the solution going forward. We’re actually asking that feedback from every single person so that we can analyze: Where did we hit the target, and what do we need to do differently?