Ep. 6 Get to Know Chief People Officer Melissa Labor

Dec 4, 2023 | Podcast

Join Melissa Labor, Chief People Officer at 12 Oaks Senior Living, and President Greg Puklitz, as they discuss how they are approaching labor, fueling their team, and creating an environment where both team members and residents alike can thrive.

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Welcome again to The Roots Podcast, brought to you by 12 Oaks Senior Living. And today, welcome to our very special guest, our newest member of the C-Suite here at 12 Oak Senior Living. Melissa Labor, our new Chief People Officer. It’s great to have you here.

Melissa 00:31

It is so exciting to be here.

Greg 00:33

Well, good. Awesome. We’re so excited to have you here. And of course, on the theme at 12 Oak Senior Living, it was such an important role for us to fill, this is a people business, right? I know a lot of people say that, but it doesn’t get more people than senior living, right? Because we’re taking care of people, we’re taking care of people’s families, and we have many people involved in that whole process doing that. It’s our mission to help seniors thrive in the community and we can only do that through the people at these communities. So having you here to be the champion of our culture and to help advocate for the needs of our people, I think is really important. And I’m just super excited to have you on the 12 Oaks team.

Melissa 1:23

Thank you. And that means a lot to me that that was the focus for the organization to really recognize that having someone in this role helps with that focus.

Greg 1:32

So you’ve been with us all for a couple of months now.

Melissa 1:35

A couple of months, yes.

Greg 1:36

Tell us, what are your first impressions? What have you noticed about 12 Oaks?

Melissa 1:41

I had an impression before I started has actually shown up in both the corporate office as well as the communities. So I’ve been fortunate to be able to travel to many of the communities, and even in the way people show an ownership mentality with the way that they treat the facilities and certainly our residents, it’s really nice to see that our values are showing up in the behaviors and the way that people are actually interacting and creating experiences for residents, and then our leaders creating that experience as well for our employees. So, I am very pleased from a people perspective that there’s already such a great foundation, that we are in a place where we get to enhance and put in some different programs and different ideas that are innovative and help us be differentiators in senior living.

Greg 2:35

What fuels the people at 12 Oaks? What is the people fuel here?

Melissa 2:40

This is such a meaningful place that we are having a significant impact on the way people live. What our residents experience daily is a direct impact on how our caregivers and every level of the community, how they’re interacting with them, even the type of food that they are having, which I’ve heard lots of comments as I’ve been out to the communities too and they’re very free to tell you whether or not they like the food or not, that’s for sure. But I think that is what brings meaning to all of us, whether we are in the corporate office or we are in those communities, we know and we feel the ownership and the importance of creating that environment where people feel like they’re safe and they feel like they’re in a place where people care about them. And you can see it in the way people react and interact and connect with each other.

Greg 3:39

So Melissa, what do you see as the biggest challenges as our new CPO for 12 Oak Senior Living?

Melissa 3:49

So there are definitely some labor shortages and burnouts that are still within the senior living community, although I have seen myself that this seems to be improving, which is great, but we need to learn from that and make sure that we’re being innovative in the way that we think about that. So where do we find qualified people who share the same values and the same concern and passion for our seniors? And so looking at things differently and looking at environments that are maybe not the traditional places that we have found staffing and being really open to those innovative ways. Even talking to RVPs, we had a session recently with them where they brainstormed some ideas on how to attract and find people in different places than they have. So I think that’s part of it. The other side is creating an experience where people feel like they’re thriving and they don’t feel like they are just getting by. And you’ll see if you’re out in our communities, that there are some that are working two different jobs, and how do we make sure that we are fueling that if they need to work two different jobs. So they’re walking away from there, obviously tired because that’s part of work. But then on the other side, they’re energized because what they’re doing means so much to others and that giving back to people actually does make you feel better about what you’re doing.

Greg 5:18

Right. It really does. Yeah. And for the frontline employees, the people who work on the care teams and throughout the communities I mean, it’s a very taxing, tiring task.

Melissa 5:33

It is.

Greg 5:34

And you can only get through that if you have passion for what you do.

Melissa 5:38

You really can. And where we have found people before is maybe a little bit different, so maybe some hospitality areas. They’re used to serving others, which is definitely part of our values. And looking at that from a different perspective of, I’m used to serving guests and these are people that they’re living in these communities, and what can I do that I’ve learned from that to really instill that and that caring piece that it shows up. And so there’s some different ways and avenues I think we can find people to help shore up some of those labor shortages.

Greg 6:18

You haven’t been here that long yet, but I’m really impressed with some of the insights and impressions that you’ve been able to bring back to the C-suite. You’re here to help us address these issues head-on. Tell us what plans you see for us in the future and how you intend to address these challenges.

Melissa 6:42

I appreciate the openness to new ideas. That has definitely been great for me to be able to think out of the box and, and bring those to the C-Suite so that we’re open to it. The first lesson I have been utilizing in my two months here is listening. And that’s what we need to keep doing. And in that, I have learned both from our employees and our senior leaders that we need to meet people where they are. Some things that I think we should look at are those basic needs that people need in order to make ends meet. And so in some degree that’s wages, but that’s not everything. There are things that people need in terms of benefits. There are things that they need in terms of recognition and reward, and sometimes that’s just from your peers. So creating some programs and practices that people can use in the communities as well as recognizing them from other places.

Melissa 7:41

We are utilizing teams in a way right now. We’ve added so many new communities, but there is a new RVP that has put in a wonderful thread that every day those groups are commenting and encouraging each other and this is going to be a great day, and you can tell that they’ve got energy. So I think if we can take some of those things and use them across the organization, that helps fuel, then what else? There are things that people get motivated by that are personalized. So helping our RVPs, our executive directors, anyone who is supervising someone, really get to know their people and creating a little bit of structure in that and don’t want to create too much structure so that it comes off as not authentic, but how do they get to know what each individual person is motivated by, or what they’re looking for at that time in their career. And then providing avenues for us to be able to support that.

Greg 8:36

So you lead what’s a rather robust HR team and HR department here at our home office and we have our own PEO, we have our own captive benefit program. One of the things we installed was centralized recruiting to help address some of these labor shortages you mentioned earlier. Can you talk a little bit about that and what you see as the advantages to the community to leaders of the community and to the ownership groups by utilizing this centralized recruiting model?

Melissa 9:10

Absolutely. There were times that people were being pulled from the community doing what they do best and doing what they really needed to do in terms of serving the residents because they had to source candidates, they were interviewing, which of course you want them to be a part of interviewing, but that could be very time-consuming. So it’s very forward-thinking to have a centralized recruiting function and have that done by a team. And we have a nice-sized recruiting team that has experience also in senior living. Many of them came from some of the communities. So I think that adds a benefit. So they know what those roles look like and they’re able to spend their time and resources on sourcing candidates, even doing some upfront screening and seeing if they’ve got the experience. And so when that’s passed on, that candidate is passed on to someone in a community.

Melissa 10:06

They are not having to spend as much time looking through hundreds of applicants and they can actually know that this is a more qualified candidate that could be put into place pretty quickly. So that helps quite a bit. I also, really do want to emphasize that piece of having people on the recruiting team that have been in the senior living community. Not only do they know what the jobs look like, but they’ve spent some time and visited some of our communities. They know what the 12 Oaks difference is. So those values, they know to look for when they’re recruiting as well.

Greg 10:43

You mentioned burnout at some of the communities and some of the positions, you know, seems to be a bit of a hangover from the Covid days, right? Some really tough times for so many people on the front lines. What are some initiatives or things that you see that 12 Oaks is able to do going forward to help the onsite staff address their concerns and challenges?

Melissa 11:18

So having been out in the communities recently, I was able to hear that they’re utilizing flexible schedules. Again, listen to their employees about what works for you, and then ask someone else and have some shared schedules because they can do that flexibility. It was one that I saw actually in place. I was sitting next to our Executive Director and was doing some scheduling and it’s like, oh, she started a new job. She could do this and we can switch this. And that makes both of them happy. Those kind of things. If they get to know their employees, they’re able to do that and make those schedules fit their life because the caregivers have basic needs, just like our residents have basic needs and they’ve got to have those met in order to give that for our residents. And so that’s one thing.

Melissa 12:06

The other thing is there is a leadership summit that just happened with our VPs and they brainstormed some ideas and they are currently working on a CQI on how we can actually address this more in the community. So we’re not going to stop there. That’s one simple way to do it, but there are lots of other things that I think we can do, and the people that are in there and they see it, that’s where the ideas are gonna come from. Certainly having been in other industries, I can bring ideas, but it’s got to be able to work in our environment and maybe we can even just adjust based on what actually looks like in our communities.

Greg 12:45

So Melissa, what are your goals for 2024 for 12 Oaks?

Melissa 12:50

Lots of goals to try to break down so that we can make them reachable and attainable. Again, going back to listening to others, when I mentioned the RVPs doing the brainstorming, one of the top things that they mentioned they needed assistance with was both attracting and then retaining employees. So those will be two combinations because they really do impact each other on how we can help them both come up with programs like a buddy program so that when someone enters the organization and is in the community, they are paired up with someone who does the same job. It helps with their onboarding. And we’ve learned through research that the first 90 days of someone’s start is so impactful on how long they’ll stay with you. So if we can put in programs like that, then we should be able to impact the retention and we want to continue to build on that.

Melissa 13:44

We’ve got lots of examples throughout the communities where people have been here for such a long time, and if we put the effort into that upfront work, it really does pay off. And we’ve got such great people that can be champions and be those people that can help buddy up with them. That’ll be great for both. And then the other piece that is something to consider is an incentive for those who are doing the Buddy program, how can we make sure that that’s as much a reward, both from an ambassador, but money matters? And so is that an incentive in terms of money? Is that an incentive in terms of time off whatever is important to them? And be looking at that as well. So attracting and retaining will be on top for 2024, but then the other piece behind that is leadership development as well as skill development for people throughout the communities.

Greg 14:36

Well, I’m super excited to see what you’re going to bring to us in 2024 to help us recognize, have great discussions about some of these issues, and do what we need to do to support all the employees and residents at our communities.

Melissa 14:56

I’m excited as well, and it’s wonderful that there’s support at all levels to be able to do that. Thank you.

Greg 15:01

Thank you for joining us on The Roots Podcast by 12 Oak Senior Living. Enjoyed talking to you and looking forward to everything you’re going to bring to 12 Oaks in the future.

Greg 15:12

Thank you. My absolute pleasure.

Greg 15:14

Thank you.


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