Let’s be honest. The fundamental reason for a job or occupation is to provide financial income for ourselves and our families. This may answer the question, “Why do I have a job?” However, it does not answer the question, “Why do I have this job?”
Reasons for choosing a particular occupation may range from availability to a sense of calling. It is important to understand these reasons are in the employee’s sphere of choice. These choices, however, do not necessarily create satisfaction within a job.
That leads us to a much more important question: What creates satisfaction within a particular job or occupation?
Some employers act as if employees who love what they do will be satisfied. Others think, “If I pay them well, then they will be happy.” Or viewed from the reverse perspective, “If they are unhappy, I will pay them more or give them a bonus.” It is widely known and accepted that money does NOT create happiness. There are millions of people whose compensation is more than adequate that are not satisfied with their job.
Being compensated well makes a job tolerable. It does not make it satisfying. If an employer wants happy and satisfied employees, it is the employer’s responsibility to create a conducive environment. This can be especially challenging with jobs that are as physically and emotionally taxing as a certified nursing assistant in long-term care.
Purpose. While purpose may be an individual pursuit, employers can encourage and nurture a collective purpose too. Healthcare is quite possibly the occupation in which this is most apparent. CNAs are directly aiding in the improvement of someone else’s life. However, arduous work oftentimes directs one’s focus on simply completing a task instead of the purpose of that task. It is imperative to communicate just how important employees’ efforts are to the wellbeing of another person. When purpose of effort is achieved, even the most difficult tasks can be rewarding and satisfying.
Congruency. Corporate and onsite leadership must demonstrate the characteristics desired of their team. When leaders are not happy, punctual, hardworking and do not have purpose and passion, it is doubtful those characteristics will be found in CNAs. If the company’s mission is to provide the best care possible but most employee communication is task- or financially oriented, there is no congruency. Rarely, if ever, does this lead to a satisfying environment.
Magnanimity. Have a big heart. Recognition of accomplishments and verbal appreciation are empowering. Giving credit where credit is due not only demonstrates a “big heart” in leadership, it is also contagious. A lack of recognition embeds the seeds of apathy and dissatisfaction.
Spontaneous reward. Many companies have a bonus system that corresponds with milestones. This can most certainly improve employee morale. However, in many cases this systematic approach transforms into expectation. When you receive an unexpected reward, it sparks joy, and maybe more importantly, shows appreciation. When CNAs perform well, appreciation should not only be verbalized but demonstrated. Reward simply requires value. It can be a box of donuts, a free massage or even an extra day off work. You are only limited by your imagination. The key here is to be periodic but spontaneous.
Encourage input. Frequently, those developing policies and procedures are not responsible for their execution. CNAs may find themselves in the difficult situation of attempting to perform inefficient procedures. They need to feel comfortable and confident that they can approach the leadership team with concerns and suggestions. Satisfaction persists when a CNA understands his or her experience is valued.
Accountability and fairness. There is no denying the impact accountability and fairness have on team morale. A thoughtfully planned standard of practice with accountability measures allows all parties to know if job expectations are being met. A hardworking and purposeful CNA can be deflated when there is no recognizable difference between their treatment and that of a lethargic, tardy or apathetic peer. Partiality also divides a team, negatively influencing leadership decisions. Elevate satisfaction by avoiding the “What’s the use?” attitude.
Opportunities to develop. Most people are dissatisfied with a job they consider a “dead end.” Opportunities to advance, improve and learn give CNAs autonomy. The sense of control over one’s own outcomes can be empowering and motivating. It is the responsibility of the employer to be creative in providing these opportunities internally or externally. Developing a team leader position with additional responsibilities and compensation is an example of internal development. An employer-contribution education program is external development. A word of caution: these opportunities must be authentic, not theoretical. If a company has an education incentive, CNAs may need flexibility at work to take a class.
Demonstrate concern. Employers invest vast amounts of time, money, and effort in developing and implementing training programs. But how much time, money and effort are invested in CNAs as people? Offering personal development classes propagates connection and gratification. After seeking input on personal needs, consider bringing in experts in physical wellness, stress management, financial planning or work/life balance.
Compensation. Money is not the key, but it matters. No one wants to be the lowest paid for what they do. It is crucial for employers to monitor the CNA market and make adjustments if salaries are not in the top quartile for the region. Being fluid communicates to CNAs the desire to retain high-quality employees and creates feelings of value and satiety.
Communication. Communication is key to a healthy relationship. It is no less critical in the work environment. The above points are impossible to implement without proper communication, including nonverbal aspects. Two old truisms apply here: “Talk the talk, and walk the walk” and “Actions speak louder than words.” Effective leaders who demonstrate the actions desired of CNAs will communicate a message better than words can. Repetitive messaging on purpose, gratitude, accountability and overall concern — coupled with open, bidirectional communication — will improve morale, productivity and satisfaction.
A CNA in the long-term care setting has one of the most physically and emotionally demanding roles in healthcare. That stress is not confined to a single shift but permeates an entire life. It can lead to regret, frustration and dissatisfaction. Providers must build an environment of support and encouragement. A CNA can get a job in almost any location, but they will be fulfilled in this job when the employer constructs an ecosystem of value, gratitude and purpose.
Heidi Hendrix, RN, is Centers Health Care’s Chief Nursing Officer. Hendrix is a post-acute clinical director with more than 25 years of experience in long-term care nursing, including six years as vice president of clinical operations at Genesis HealthCare Corp.