This is what your employees want

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James M. Berklan
James M. Berklan

What persists and cannot fade, despite the best erasure efforts of days on a cross-country train, weeks of total detachment from the Internet and phone signals, AND 65 miles of arduous backpacking in mountains far from home? Good advice about fellow workers, that's what.

That is an undeniable truth that you are about to discover, too. (Even if you haven't spent two weeks at altitudes ranging above 11,000 feet, camping outdoors with no electricity, subject to the whims of weather conditions ranging from inches of hail to 95-degree furnace-like conditions, and more.)

The three critical desires of your employees are:

1)   Being heard

2)   Being valued

3)   Being respected

I wish I could say I thought of these all by myself. Or even offer that some yogi sitting cross-legged atop one of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains had passed along the wisdom.

Instead, these were just three pearls handed down by wiseman Ben Thompson at a recent McKnight's webinar titled “Star search: Staffing strategies to boost performance.” (It was one of our best ever and can still be viewed for free in archive here.)

So what do the Big 3 above mean in real life? First, they're traits of engaged employees, something any manager or employer craves. Thompson, the vice president of special projects for Senior Living Communities, enjoys an engaged workforce, and you can too.

Start with these manager/employer behaviors:

* Extend common courtesies and treatment to your employees. Make them feel respected.

* Department heads should communicate with nursing aides at the same level they give anyone else on the property. No employee (manager or not) should ever talk down to an employee, Thompson counsels. This goes for professional and personal matters.

Remember: It takes only one person with a bad attitude to quickly put a negative influence in your workplace.

“A lot of these communities operate and bill themselves as great quality of care, and they're nice as they can be. But it's still not ‘home,'” Thompson said with remarkable candor. “We try to make sure this environment is the best it can be, and a disengaged staff is not going to help that.”

OK, so everybody knows a staff that is more engaged — more “into it” — is better than otherwise. But how can you tell if things are going well? How can you measure engagement?

Ask yourself these questions about your employees:

• Do they laugh at work?

• Do they volunteer or fill-in when needed?

• Do they go above and beyond?

• Do they know their residents' likes and dislikes?

• Do they refer friends to apply for work?

• Do they call off work with unusual frequency?

“A lot of (call-offs) are warranted, but in general, we find a lot of them are people who wake up and don't want to show up for work,” Thompson explained. “By tracking that number and seeing it decrease, we are able to take action throughout the year, rather than being reactive.”

Here are another couple of tips from Thompson to get your staff engaged for the long haul:

• Make sure you have a good employee orientation process. Often, new employees show up and get tossed into the fire of non-stop caregiving without ever becoming aware of the supplies and possibilities around them. They don't like that.

• Do everything you can to choose someone who will have a good attitude from the start.

“If you recruit somebody with a bad attitude, it's starting off on the wrong foot and kind of hard to recover from that,” webinar listeners heard.

And always remember this truism, which has been long-quoted by various workplace experts: Employees join organizations but leave managers.

Don't be one of those managers.

James M. Berklan is McKnight's Editor. Follow him @JimBerklan.


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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.