In it for the long term

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Emily Mongan
Emily Mongan

If you're a devoted reader of this "Daily Editor's Notes" blog, you'll remember that I started out my career not as a journalist, but as a khaki-clad cashier at a Culver's.

My first day there was terrifying. The touch screen cash register was like a foreign language, and my manager had accidentally ordered me men's size pants instead of women's, so I shuffled around the restaurant looking like a competitor in a potato sack race. There was one positive highlight that sticks out in my mind, however: meeting Betty.

When I started at Culver's, Betty had to be at least in her 80s. She was tiny and spunky, greeting us all with “Morning time!” as she arrived for work each day. Betty helped keep the dining area looking spotless, made sure customers' coffees were always full, and insisted on handing a treat out the window any time a car with a dog in it rolled through the drive-thru.

On my first lunch break, she came into the lounge area and asked if I knew why she chose to come into Culver's almost every day instead of retiring. Treading lightly, I said I didn't know.

“Because there's nothing good on TV during the day,” she said.

While I don't doubt that Betty was unsatisfied with the daytime television lineup, there have to be more reasons why she would choose to hang around a fastfood restaurant every day.

I'd wager that one of those reasons was the people. The Culver's staff were a fun group who, for the most part, bucked the stereotypes of whiny high school-age, fastfood workers. And the managers were amazing.

If you need more proof of the power an organization's people can have on keeping employees around (and happy), take the example of 90-year-old Sally Pleasants.

Pleasants retired last month from Woodmont Center, a Genesis HealthCare facility in Fredericksburg, VA, after 38 years on the job. Pleasants was originally asked by some nursing home administrator friends of what was then known as the Riverside Convalescent Center to help the facility move to a new location one weekend.

That was in 1978. For Pleasants, that weekend job turned into a career as the facility's admissions director and customer service representative. What kept Pleasants coming back to the facility, day after day from age 52 to 90?

“I just loved what I did,” she told the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star. “And the people at Woodmont were fantastic to me. Fantastic.”

And Pleasants seems to have been fantastic right back to other Woodmont staff, residents and their families. She forged friendships with her co-workers, one of whom is now a resident at Woodmont, and checked on each resident every morning. She gave prospective residents tours of the facility, and guided grown children faced with the task of moving their parents into a nursing home.

All of this work earned Pleasants retirement cards lauding her as an inspiration, an advocate and a “classy lady.”

“I tell people every day, if they'd stop complaining and count their blessings, they'd be 100 percent better off,” she told the Free Lance-Star.  “There are some people, if they were in the front seat of heaven, they'd want to be in the back seat. They're not happy anywhere.”

Employee turnover is a huge issue in the long-term care world, and the causes behind it aren't exactly a mystery. Nursing home work is hard, and the pay isn't always great. But making a positive, enjoyable work environment may help alleviate some of the symptoms that precede employees jumping ship.

Changes in the people part of your organization are attainable. Taking steps as small as recording daily accomplishments and showing employees the impact they have, as one McKnight's editor recently advised, are doable, and crucial in fighting employee turnover and apathy.

Nowadays, employees who stay with an organization to “earn the gold watch,” as they say, may be few and far between. And to my knowledge there aren't employee training videos on how to be an inspiration and stay devoted to one facility for nearly 40 years.

But making employees feel that they're valued, and that their work truly makes a difference even if their paychecks don't' always show it, is important for any facility looking to keep employees not only happy, but sticking around. And who knows, your efforts may help shape a new generation of Bettys and Sally Pleasants.

Emily Mongan is Staff Writer at McKnight's. Follow her @emmongan.

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.