To some it could be like studying less for an important exam. Taking food away from a person in need of nutrition. Donating one’s modest paycheck to the millionaire’s club.

On the face of it, each move flies in the face of logic. None might seem to make much sense at a glance.

That’s why you have to give the folks at The Glebe and parent company LifeSpire of Virginia credit. When it comes to going counterintuitive, they’re all in.

Faced with staffing turnover problems — in other words, too much work and not enough nursing aides — the continuing care retirement community is urging its CNAs to … work less. And do it for more pay.

Nestled into the Roanoke Valley in southwest Virginia, The Glebe is going to start having aides works just 30 hours per week but still pay them for 40 hours of work. The bold experiment was announced March 23  and will officially kick off May 4.

The outpouring of interest has been robust, from both job applicants and peers, Glebe Executive Director Ellen D’Ardenne told me. The first two days brought 25 applicants for the 13 extra positions The Glebe will fill. They’ll join a workforce of 18 CNAs currently on the work roster. Fellow operators also have called to congratulate the unusual strategy.

To start, only CNAs in the CCRC’s skilled nursing unit will be eligible for the 30/40 incentive, D’Ardenne pointed out. To qualify for the 10 extra hours of pay each week, a CNA must report to every shift on time, not leave early and not call off any shifts. Any variances — including being even one minute late on a given day — will forfeit that week’s bonus (i.e. 10 hours of pay).

D’Ardenne said the idea came from LifeSpire President Jonathan Cook, who had inherited such a system when he was executive director at Marquette, a CCRC in Indianapolis, from 2005 to 2010. It worked wonderfully back then and still does, Cook said. The idea originated in 1994 with a professor at Baylor University, according to Cook and colleagues.

Cook figures within six months everyone will know just how successful the program is. Leaders expect it will cost the 32-bed skilled nursing unit at the CCRC about $130,000 annually, mostly from increased staffing costs. But savings in recruiting, retention and other soft costs will more than make up for it. He said the much larger Marquette spent about three times as much on the program when he was there and it was worth it.

“The key is you can’t put this program on top of a broken program,” Cook told me Wednesday. “You have to have good hiring and retention programs. If the foundation is not solid, it’s going to fall down.”

This type of program demands full discipline — from employees, of course, but even more so from managers. Even one minute late should not be tolerated, Cook stressed, lest the floodgates open for exceptions. “The minute you start compromising on those things, it will fail,” he observed.

The precedent set by Marquette actually produced waiting lists of CNA applicants. Another gratifying aspect is that the aides, many of whom are forced to work more than one job to make ends meet, made their work at the CCRC as their No. 1 priority. 

“It’s definitely an investment and belief in your people,” and it was returned by the employees, Cook says of the program. An additional element is a mentoring track for new hires. Each will be assigned a “staff liaison” who will “basically be their best friend for 90 days to assure they’re getting all the answers and tools they need to succeed”.

“Our hope is to get the best of the best,” D’Ardenne says.

It will be a program that will be closely watched in the Roanoke Valley, and far beyond.

Follow Editor James M. Berklan @JimBerklan.