Award winning advice on keeping employees engaged

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Emily Mongan
Emily Mongan

As a teenager I spent a few weeks one summer working at a very popular food stand at the Wisconsin State Fair. “Very popular” is an understatement — the stand serves thousands of people each day, with some customers I spoke with driving from out of state just to eat there.

With legend status like that, what local kid wouldn't be excited to say they spend time working there? That's what I thought at least, when I rolled up to my first shift ready to jump on the register. (I'm being purposefully vague about where exactly I worked as to not shatter any Wisconsinites' views of their favorite fair time treat — they rhyme with dream scruff.)

The manager greeted me by asking, sarcastically, if I was excited for my first day of work. Of course, I responded. I loved visiting the stand as a customer, why wouldn't I enjoy it as an employee?

“Don't lie,” he shot back. “Nobody is excited to work here.”

Was this a joke? Maybe, but as a high schooler who had been up until that moment pretty darn excited to work there, his response took a bit of the wind out of my sails. If this manager wasn't joking, he certainly could've benefitted from attending Kay Kendall's session at the American College of Health Care Administrators annual convocation last Tuesday.

Kendall, part of the team at BaldridgeCoach, helps workplaces in harnessing the Baldrige Criteria, a framework to guide organizations to improve their leadership, people and operations.

Kendall's presentation, “How Award-Winning Leaders Engage Employees to Achieve Exceptional Results,” focused on how long-term care providers can tackle the ever-present issue of turnover in their facilities, along with other people-related issues such as disengaged workers.

She shared best practices from workplaces that had previously won a Baldridge Quality Award, including Kindred Nursing and Rehabilitation Center – Mountain Valley, a skilled nursing facility in Kellogg, ID — and the first ever long-term care facility to pick up the prestigious award.

Employees often drive farther to work at Kindred, past facilities or hospitals where they could receive higher pay, Kendall explained. So what keeps them coming back?

First and foremost, Kendall shared, the senior leaders at Kindred Mountain Valley view themselves as role models for everybody else in the facility. They also use an “action map” to show front-line staff exactly how their work contributes to the facility's overall goals and objectives.

“If I'm a housekeeper, I want to know how I help reduce infections, I want to know how I help resident satisfaction,” Kendall said. “If I see a score but I don't understand how I contribute to it, why do I play?”

Kindred Mountain Valley leaders also use visual management methods to make data and information accessible to all staff, make daily rounds to speak with staff and residents, and invest in workforce development — as well as fun rewards to recognize employees' good work.

Kendall encouraged providers to see their operations from an employee's point of view by logging onto their own websites, pretending they're an applicant, and asking whether or not they'd want to work to there.

Another best practice is to view the facility's values and goals not as “laminated” and hung up somewhere out of sight, Kendall stressed, but rather “set in stone” and used every day. One workplace took that advice literally, engraving their values on the sidewalk employees used to enter the building each morning.

“What do you have in your organizations that tells you whether or not people think the values are real?” Kendall asked the audience. “If you, as senior leaders, haven't taken that into your heart, made it real for you … how can you expect your workers to make it real for them?”

Wise words for my high school boss, and any manager looking to keep their workers engaged — and employed — for as long as possible.

Follow Emily @emmongan


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.