Service Creep: What Senior Living Communities Need to Know

Elder woman waiting for attention

If you’ve been in the corporate world for any length of time, regardless of industry, you’ve probably heard peers or colleagues discussing “scope creep.” It’s the term that’s used whenever a project begins to push the boundaries set around it, whether that’s pricing, deliverables, deadlines, or any of a number of other factors. It happens when the demands around a project or campaign change without warning, and it can have serious negative impacts on those providing the work.

But how does it translate to the senior living industry?

In service industries, which include senior living communities, independent living, and assisted living communities, you’ll hear the term “service creep” more frequently. Below, we’ll discuss exactly what service creep is, how it impacts your staff members, and how you can prevent or eliminate it in your own senior living community.

Understanding Scope Creep and Service Creep

Scope creep and service creep are very similar to one another, though scope creep is more likely to refer to specific projects — issues with project scope, project management, change requests, and project schedules. Service creep is more specific to service providers and may refer to the broader challenges of meeting stakeholder expectations. To get ahead of service creep, it’s important to first understand what it is, and what causes it.

Definition: What is Service Creep?

Service creep is what happens when the demand for services outweighs what can be reasonably and realistically provided. The services you provide can be considered your project scope. But when there are change requests, whether they come from management or residents, it can lead to a misunderstanding of expectations. It’s a normal and even common issue for most service providers, but when it goes unchecked, it can result in negative consequences. In the case of senior living communities, these consequences ripple from staff members to residents to families (what those in project management would call your stakeholders) and can lead to major fallout for the business as a whole.

Senior Living Service Creep Example

Let’s say you’ve identified a demand for an arts and crafts class within your community. You ask your activities director to come up with a solution, but there is no additional budget or timeline for the class. Feeling pressured, the activities director asks a staff member to lead the class. The staff member adds the class to her already-packed schedule. She feels overextended and burnt out. She submits receipts for the supplies she’s purchased for the class, placing an additional burden on accounting. After a time, she begins missing classes because she cannot complete her primary job duties, leaving residents frustrated. 

This is service creep, or scope creep, and it can be extremely detrimental to senior living communities. Fortunately, it can also be avoided if you know why it starts and how to stop it in its tracks.

Causes of Scope Creep and Service Creep

There is no single cause of service creep, just as there is no one reason behind scope creep, but there are causes that are very common to senior living communities. The top causes of service creep in senior housing communities include:

  • Lack of communication and poor project management: Failure to communicate with honesty and transparency is the top cause of service creep across all industries.
  • Staff shortages: This is more specific to senior living communities with skilled nursing staff.
  • Failure to set expectations for project scope: When expectations are not clarified to all parties involved, service creep is very likely to occur.
  • Budget constraints: Staff members may feel the effect of service creep more pointedly if they feel their responsibilities are increasing while pay remains the same.
  • Unrealistic goals regarding change requests: Expecting to deliver more to residents without adjusting internal operations (budget, time, staffing, etc.) will only lead to disappointment.
  • Unclear details: When a change is implemented, it can only be successful if all stakeholders are informed and on-board from the very beginning.

Identifying Service Creep

Now that you know what causes service creep, it’s time to learn how to spot it in action so you can be better prepared to stop it. So, what are the biggest signs service creep has infiltrated your senior living community?

  • There’s a general feeling of confusion and lack of project management. No one knows who’s in charge of certain projects or initiatives. Residents and staff members have questions that don’t have an obvious answer, and there’s a sense of “too many cooks in the kitchen.”
  • No one is taking responsibility. If something goes wrong or residents are complaining, no one is stepping up to own the issue and resolve it. This doesn’t always mean someone is shifting blame — it may simply be that no one knows who is supposed to be the point person.
  • There is no project scope and deadlines are being missed. If you’ve set a project plan in place for new initiatives or procedures, but those timelines are flying by without any sign of deliverables, you’re probably dealing with some service creep.
  • Team members are acting differently. They might be missing work or showing up late, or they might be exhibiting other signs of burnout. This is likely because they are overburdened, or there’s an issue with resource allocation.
  • Your bottom line is taking a hit and you fail to come in on budget. When you don’t address change requests that impact your budget, you might find expenses are piling up in order to meet evolving demands.
  • Regular tasks are being neglected. If everyone is focusing on new or changing demands, you may notice that daily tasks and routines have fallen by the wayside. In the context of senior or assisted living, this could be detrimental to staff and resident well-being.

The Impact of Service Creep

Service creep can be massively harmful to your community. Here’s how:

  • Lack of operational efficiency
  • Team member burnout and quiet quitting/resignation
  • Dissatisfied residents, families, and other stakeholders
  • Maxed out budget
  • Damage to workplace culture
  • Negative impacts to resident health and well-being

The last issue can be the most devastating and may occur if service creep and scope changes go unchecked. Team members who are overwhelmed and overworked are more likely to make mistakes, which can result in dangerous consequences. It can help to have a centralized EHR system to manage records, medications, and overall wellness, but there are other benefits to making sure you have an end-to-end software solution for your senior living community.

How Eldermark NEXT Can Help With Scope Creep and Service Creep

Fortunately, there’s Eldermark NEXT, an end-to-end, modern, end-to-end software platform designed specifically for the senior living industry. Here are the ways our platform can help:

Streamline Operations and Define Project Scope

Ensure not a single ball is dropped when everyone has visibility into operations management. Schedule and communicate easily and effectively from a single platform where every function is fully integrated, ensuring optimum accuracy.

Enhance Efficiency and Project Management

Save hours and boost revenue each month with Eldermark NEXT. You’ll reduce administrative hours and ensure each staff member is able to focus on priority tasks. Reduce service creep simply and seamlessly by keeping all functions on one platform.

Support Staff and Stakeholders

Leverage your employees more effectively and staff your community based on acuity to ensure the right coverage without overwhelming individual employees. Plus, the intuitive user interface and seamless onboarding means less training time and greater ease of adoption, so they’ll be confident and empowered right from the start.

Leverage Real-Time Data and Milestones

Take advantage of powerful analytics with ElderSmarts. Set up custom dashboards for at-a-glance insights, and use in-depth reporting to build actionable, data-driven plans. Use predictive and prescriptive tools to set achievable goals and pave the way to meet them.

Adapt to Regulatory Changes

Never let compliance creep up on you. With real-time updates, you’ll always have the exact information you need to generate reports and stay on top of industry rules and regulations. No surprises.

Getting Started With Eldermark NEXT to Tackle Service Creep

The best part of Eldermark NEXT is that it doesn’t take an overwhelming effort to get it implemented — no service creep here! We make it a smooth and easy transition for your whole team, so you get onboarded and back to business without missing a beat. Of course, we don’t expect you to take our word for it. See how Eldermark NEXT can eliminate scope creep and make your senior living community more efficient and more effective — schedule your demo today!


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