James M. Berklan

Will Rodgers was perhaps the biggest ambassador of clean living in his day. He would tweak politicians, and himself, and was once the most popular philosopher, newspaper columnist and motion entertainer of his time.

One of the early 20th century humorist’s most notable quotes observed that it takes a person a lifetime to build a good reputation but just a minute to lose it. Like many of Rogers’ quips, it is wise far beyond its surface.

Taking the high road can’t be just a slogan or marketing motto for long-term care providers. It won’t work. Surveyors will see to that, as will residents and family members.

And another group: Staff.

Study results released Thursday illustrate just how important “walking the walk” — and not just talking the talk — is in the workplace. 

Advertising and public relations firm SCG found that employees consider a company’s reputation more important than a few extra bucks in the paycheck. That’s right: Money, again, is not No. 1. No real surprise, but an interesting pattern emerged from the responses of the 1,500 adults (from a variety of industries) taking part in the online poll. 

More than 80% said they’d rather work for a company with a stellar reputation than take extra pay for a company that didn’t have one.

Reputation — true actions after the words — are what matter, at least in this non-scientific survey. Taken a step further, I’d say the findings show that culture is No. 1. How the company positions itself and then acts on its words, in policy and execution. What it says and what it stands for are the true guiding lights here. 

Throw a few more bucks in the hopper every now and then? That dough is going to run out sooner than later. But show top character and maintain it? That’s the stuff employees hang around for.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. A record 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs in August. That’s equivalent to 2.9% of the U.S. workforce. Some providers might feel like it all happened in long-term care.

SCG also says that employers should align with workers’ attitudes and opinions. That includes on important topics, such as vaccinations.

If not careful, however, that stance could lead to the tail wagging the dog. It works wonderfully in the case of something like United Airlines, which said it enjoyed a huge number of job applicants after announcing its workforce needed to be fully vaccinated.

But what if the collective workforce isn’t in favor of mandated vaccinations? That has been the case in some nursing homes where staff vaccination rates have lingered below 50%. Should a facility then abandon higher-minded principles because the rank-and-file want it that way? 

No, it means that the employer must decide what it stands for and then lead. Frontliners must be heard, and often, heeded. But it’s also up to employers to intensify their communication and education efforts as much as possible to get their message across. 

Then it is up to employees to join the company they believe in. If those circumstances don’t exist in a certain place, well, there’s always another paycheck down the road.

Build a proud, respected workplace, with ideals that will align with outstanding patient care and the rest will follow. Make no apologies for taking the high road. The fact is, there can be no other road in your profession.

SCG’s findings indicate that paying employees more without collective integrity and principles to stand behind it is not a winning strategy.

Take a short-sighted approach and your workforce could ruin your facility’s reputation in a minute, or much less.

James M. Berklan is McKnight’s Long-Term Care News Executive Editor.

Opinions expressed in McKnight’s columns are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.