I am thinking this may be the most universally unpopular post in the senior living leadership community I have ever written, but here goes.

By Steve Moran

I am thinking this may be the most universally unpopular post in the senior living leadership community I have ever written, but here goes.

The Foundation

Two very specific things happened to inspire this article:

  1. Last week I published an article titled Brookdale Makes Executive Director’s Lives Easier and the amount of traffic it received was huge. After digging through a bunch of web traffic stats, the clear meaning of this traffic spike was that figuring out how to improve the lives of EDs was a huge hot button issue. (My first thought was that it was because it was about Brookdale, but the data dispelled that belief.)

  1. I was aware that back at the end of June, the Federal Department of Labor proposed revised regulations for the so called “white collar” overtime rules, something that had the potential to impact senior living. I had not paid that much attention until this past week when the comment period for this proposal was extended and I figured I better take a look.

White Collar Exemption

There are two tests when figuring out if an employee is exempt from overtime. The first is that, regardless of job duties, an employee has to be making more than a specified amount of money per year ($23,660)  and they have to be doing certain kinds of job tasks. (In the case of senior living that’s primarily supervising other employees.)  

The big impact on senior living is that the proposed rule change would increase the salary threshold to $50,400 per year. This would mean that in many/most parts of the country, formerly exempt employees (mostly department heads/line managers) would be reclassified as non-exempt employees and would be eligible for overtime pay if they worked more than 40 hours per week.

Industry Response

ALFA, LeadingAge, AHCA and ASHA have all taken a public position against the rule change, though I would note that LeadingAge does support a partial increase. There are two significant points they make:

  1. Because senior living is a 24/7 business caring for individuals in the last chapter of their lives, there needs to be more flexibility.

  2. In senior living and many other business sectors going from being an hourly employee to an exempt employee is rightfully seen as significant career advancement. The rules will, in effect, strip many exempt employees from this advanced status.

All of this got me to thinking about just what is a fair work week in senior living.

The Third Factor

I have a young friend who recently quit working for a large regional senior living provider in part because he found himself constantly having to work 50-60 hours per week in an attempt to get done everything he needed to do. Even though he increased his occupancy from 80% – 90% and was working long hours, it became clear to him that he was not meeting his employer’s expectations and that he had no quality of life, so he quit.  

I would note in fairness that he is a fairly new executive director and was in an extremely difficult community, meaning that it was not at all a good fit for him or the company.

But even so . . . I again found myself wondering . . .

What is a fair work week in senior living?

In Fairness

Because of the ebb and flow of senior living communities (unexpected events and special events) moving supervisors to a non-exempt status takes away a lot of flexibility, which means — to some degree — the government is attempting to kill an ant with a sledge hammer.

In addition there is a general acknowledgement that this change will cost senior living providers more money and that for those providers who receive substantial payment from the government, they will have no way of offsetting those increased costs with higher rates.

And Yet . . .

It seems to me that we as a business sector, have to come a place where a 40 hour work week is no longer the real expected norm for anyone in a managerial or supervisorial role. As a provider and employer you may argue that this is just the new reality, but I find myself wondering if this is also why we see such high rates of dissatisfaction and turn-over in our team members?

Caring for our nation’s elders is a noble wonderful thing. I would argue that working in the senior living sector is to best place to work in the whole world. It is also a very intense, high responsibility job; which means, there needs to be balance. I find myself wondering if we have somehow lost that balance.

What am I missing?