Let's see if this sounds familiar:
- Your residents love the life enrichment staff.
- Residents sometimes complain that there are too many things on the calendar; they can't attend everything they want to.
- Your life enrichment director routinely reports how lively and engaged the resident wellness committee is but you don't have real data to back this up.
These are "benchmarks" we've used for years to determine when activities are going well in the community. In 2018, those benchmarks are only status quo, and we are well into an era where leadership must begin looking carefully at how resources are being allocated for life enrichment (including the fitness program).
[Read More: How to give resident wellness programs a fresh look]
Activities Directors as Order Takers
Activity Directors (or Life Enrichment Directors, or Wellness Directors...you pick) are busy like all the other personnel in your community. They are at the heart of every community's bustling events calendar by performing a delicate balancing act every month taking “orders” (requests) from residents and the community all while juggling existing and long-standing calendar events (Do not mess with the card player’s schedule). The programming is delicately placed on the calendar and carefully scheduled with typically limited space inside the community, and tightly booked transportation to areas outside of the community.
Sometimes the influx of requests from residents alone can fill a whole month. And sometimes the calls from outside the four walls of the community require booking out months in advance because the programming is so tight. It is indeed wonderful to have so many things to do in one senior living arena.
But a busy calendar isn't the same thing as a calendar built on resident purpose. And there are limitations to your Activities Director serving as an order taker. While many community leaders lay an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" label over activities simply because the resident's aren't balking at their options, those organizations are leaving quite a bit on the table in terms of building truly purposeful living for their residents.
Residents Do Not Want to be Entertained
You see, residents in your community aren’t looking solely to be entertained. After all, your community is not The Love Boat with your Director filling the role of Julie. Instead, residents are looking for purposeful living in a setting where some of the barriers that used to get in the way, like home maintenance, have been removed. They’re looking for opportunities to contribute, to grow, and to connect in new and challenging ways.
The order taker model only meets the needs of the vocal minority. Those who sit on the committee or who speak up are more likely to have their interest pursued. However, over the years, I have observed that senior living activities seem to fall into the Pareto Principle where twenty percent of the population consumes eighty percent of the resources. I guarantee there are residents who don’t participate because you haven’t tapped their interest or desires yet.
If your Activities Director moved away from taking orders, could the calendar hold more intentional opportunities for residents to engage in the community lifestyle programming? Would more of your residents be involved in the offerings because of the thoughtful approach to a variety of interests represented by your diverse audience? This shift in how an Activity Director does business requires a change in focus; instead of using the meeting minutes from the monthly committee minute as a to do list, the activities team needs to start thinking strategically about how to engage a variety of stakeholders in the planning process for resident events and activities.
Change for the Sake of Doing Better
Most of us aren't big fans of change, but change for the sake of doing better provides meaning to the difficult decisions that lie ahead. Suggesting a fresh approach to how the calendar is organized, who is supporting events, how events are developed, and how success is measured will help the activities team start to see what "better" looks like. (Note, "better" doesn't mean turning all of the programming on its head. We do not need your residents in an uproar over substantial changes to beloved activities.)
That said, sometimes it’s hard to know where to start when you’re trying to change an approach or a process. Our Build Vitality webinar series (which covers branding, staff, program, and fitness center design) is a good resource. If you’d like a more hands on approach, consider bringing NIFS onsite for consulting to help you chart a course to build a multidimensional activities calendar that cultivates purpose for your residents.