Doctor and senior woman wearing facemasks during coronavirus and flu outbreak. Virus protection. COVID-2019..

Finding warm-ish, semi-qualified bodies is just part of the long-term care workforce challenge. Without being psychic or subjecting each applicant to a full, military-grade psychological evaluation, how can you possibly ensure they’ll be a good fit and choose to stay? 

The staffing solution is clear, and it involves your pod-based coffee machine. 

I stumbled on this revelation quite by accident in my own senior care workplace, a sprawling hive of cluttered cubicles and bustling staff. Like most offices, we’re offered a free, communal source of mediocre coffee, but some of us in my department feel we deserve better. So we’ve chosen to improve our coffee experience by purchasing two pod-based options—a Keurig and a Nespresso, which sit side by side in a central location. 

With this addition, all I was expecting to experience was better coffee, not daily revelations of character. But when it comes time to fill the chambers with water, I’m continually shocked to see my coworkers place widely varying levels of importance on taking personal responsibility for the collective good. It’s a little unsettling, but deeply clarifying. With our individual approaches to the task, we’ve probably learned more about each other at that coffee station than in all our conversations combined. 

It fills me with great sadness and disappointment to recall the first day I stepped up and placed my mug in coffee delivery position, only to find the water chamber already emptied by the previous user. I became instantly suspicious of a colleague standing nearby, and gently accused him. “I don’t drink coffee,” he responded. “It’s not my problem.” I’ll resist identifying him, but he has the same first name as a creepy character on Lost, and clearly won’t be much help in a crisis not of his making. 

I never did identify the actual person responsible, though that situation has recurred many, many times in the months since. Obviously, there is at least one individual on my team who is quite willing to enjoy a steaming mug of pod coffee without doing his or her part to replenish the water supply — or at least whenever they can get away with it. One of my top suspects had a song named after her by the 1970s country rock band Pure Prairie League, who asked her the question, “What you wanna do?” At least in this case, her answer seems to be, “Not refill the Keurig, that’s for sure,” and karma almost certainly awaits.

In another particularly horrifying example, I had just replenished the Nespresso after my own use, like any compassionate and civic-minded human would do, when a certain coworker approached, mug first and at high speed. Finding the Keurig dry, she emitted an exasperated wail, and then (Warning: selfish and incomprehensible behavior ahead) removed the Nespresso chamber I had just filled and poured it all into the other device. I asked why she couldn’t have just walked 40 steps down the corridor and refilled it at the filtered water dispenser. “I’m too busy,” she responded snippily. I won’t use her name either, but it’s something many people say at the start of a meal, and she doesn’t work here anymore.

After more than a year of such behavior, I thought I had seen it all until today, when I spied a coworker, whose name is frequently associated with a disobedient wife and the Garden of Eden, twisting the tops off two sealed bottles of water, pouring them in, and tossing the empties in the trash, not the recycling bin. Yes, he took responsibility to fill that thirsty Nespresso — I’ll give him credit for that. But these troubling acts of ecological thoughtlessness, all to simply again avoid that grueling 40-step walk, seems a far greater evil. I may need to ask an angel with a flaming sword to guard that coffee station from here forward.

Having now personally proven its amazing revelatory powers, I strongly suggest you incorporate my simple “Pod-Based Character Assessment” as part of your candidate selection process. I know you have one of those devices somewhere in your facility — it’s probably on a credenza in your staffing director or bookkeeper’s office. Ask nicely to borrow it, then set it up in the interview room, with only enough water in it for a single cup. When the applicant arrives, invite him or her to enjoy some delicious, complimentary coffee, excuse yourself for a moment, hide behind some fake plants and observe what happens next. 

If he or she fixes a cup, then looks around for where to refill the water, you should hire that person on the spot, knowing this kind and selfless candidate is perfect for the job. If, however, the interviewee ignores that flashing “empty” light and sits down without taking action on behalf of those who come next, you should end the interview abruptly. This loser is far too lazy, clueless or self-absorbed to be trusted to care for seniors. 

Over the years at McKnight’s, I know I’ve shared many ground-breaking ideas that have revolutionized the recruitment and retention process at grateful facilities nationwide. These have included watching how candidates park or merge, pretending to fire them to see how they react, or utilizing my Waddling Goose Technique

But trust me: None can cut straight to the heart of a prospective employee’s character and motivations quite like this one. Just hand them a cup, and let the pod do the rest. 

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a two-time national Silver Medalist and three-time regional Gold and Silver Medal winner in the Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program, as well as an Award of Excellence honoree in the APEX Awards. He’s been amusing, inspiring, informing and sometimes befuddling long-term care readers worldwide since the end of a previous century. He is a writer and video producer for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.