By Steve Moran

I was recently talking to a senior living executive director who told me this depressing story.

The activity director wanted to take a group of residents to a recently opened ice cream parlor that had rave reviews. Except there was one problem. There was no money in the petty cash drawer to pay for the ice cream.

The bookkeeper, activity director, and executive director spent 20 minutes talking about how to pay for ice cream. Ultimately the executive director put up the money until the petty cash was refreshed.

These petty things are why people don’t love working in senior living. I get it, credit cards can be abused, as can petty cash. There are procedures that need to be followed. The goal is to be good stewards of the money because that money is residents’ money, to be used for their benefit, not squandered.

Part of the Problem

I fear that part of the problem is that management hears about the need for $25 and thinks, “That’s nothing, just pay for it out of your pocket, and we will reimburse you for it.” For pretty much any C-suite or even regional leader, they are 100% correct. $29 is nothing. Most of them wouldn’t even notice if someone swiped $25 from their pocketbook.

This is not true for activity directors and bookkeepers. These are people who, as they approach the end of the month, might end up scrounging for change for gas money to get to work or a school lunch. And sure, no big deal probably for the executive director, except that after a while, even the executive director gets tired of being the boss’s bank.

What Gets Missed

  • The message being sent to team members is that money is the most important thing.
  • The message being sent to team members is that management does not think they can be trusted.
  • That 20 minutes spent discussing “the problem” — that shouldn’t have been a problem at all — was wasted time. Actually worse than wasted time, it was a pity party time where they stewed over the reality that management didn’t care all that much about them or the residents.
  • Very likely, next time, the activities director will think … “It’s not worth the hassle to do an outing like this. I will just schedule another game of bingo.”

The Impact Is Profound

Employees don’t love coming to work every day. They do their job perfunctorily or worse. They don’t recommend their friends come to work there; they are always on a lookout for a better job. Residents feel neglected and like they are not living their best lives and don’t bother to invite their friends to move in.

Residents complain and become demanding.

It all becomes a downward spiral that results in high turnover and lower occupancy ….

Systems are important, but they should serve to make things better, not worse.