Mind your p's and q's

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Barbara Dice
Barbara Dice

Of all the considerations in running a successful senior care community, generational differences between our team members and older residents rarely get the attention they deserve. We spend hours tracking changes in Medicare and Medicaid funding, planning programs for our residents, documenting care and hiring new staff. Making sure the employees act in a way that makes residents feel welcome and comfortable sometimes seems abstract by comparison. Yet it's no less important in running a great community.

People working in assisted living and skilled nursing communities do what they do in part because they enjoy working with their elders. Our residents generally enjoy the company of multiple generations. Still, there's a difference between each age group. The older generation was raised to respect their elders and wants that same kind of respect now that they're in their golden years. Even when we are polite and caring, we can sometimes unintentionally have a casual tone and carefree attitude that residents don't understand.

At Castle Country Assisted Living, where I serve as chief executive officer, I wanted to look at our staff and identify possible gaps between behavior and perception as a result of these generational differences. I admit my bias. I think everyone could use a refresher in charm and people skills. We are in the business of taking care of people and have a genuine love of helping others. I believe a little charm goes a long way.

Being proactive about courtesy and etiquette can teach and motivate our team members in a fun and non-threatening environment. Our goal should be to build on the staff's positive characteristics.

Good etiquette is about making other people feel good, and treating the people around you well. Our team members do important, noble work, helping our residents stay healthy and live comfortably. But how we interact with our residents is always important. A good grasp of etiquette is especially key for healthcare employees. Some things older people consider common courtesy aren't always second nature to staff members.

I found a positive and innovative way to address the issue. We hired a local etiquette coach, Anthonette Klinkerman, to visit our communities and give the staff a brush-up on politeness and civility. Our coach marched into the session wearing pink boots and pink military fatigues, and helped change our employees' attitudes. She praised them for their important roles in helping our residents lead healthy lives, but also stressed the importance of making them feel comfortable by treating them well.  It's important to remember the lessons our parents and grandparents taught us—the importance of treating each other with kindness—whether we call it courtesy, politeness, civility or good manners.   

After the class, I noticed that team members made small but effective behavior adjustments that have made them even more professional, and our residents are pleased. Our good employees have become outstanding intergenerational ambassadors, and we've received recognition for it, too. In May, the program was recognized by the Assisted Living Federation of America with a “Best of the Best” award, our second in two years.

We continue to provide “etiquette refreshers” for our staff. Through small, meaningful behavior adjustments, our team members are more confident and their professionalism shines through.  This benefits residents and families.  Etiquette and courtesy do matter.  In the healthcare industry they can mean the difference between a good staff and an outstanding one.  

A class in etiquette is an inexpensive and enjoyable investment. Few of the challenges we face in senior care are easy to solve, but this was a satisfying way to improve communication and respect between the generations.

Barbara Dice, CSA, is chief executive officer of Castle Country Assisted Living Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, serving seniors in Castle Rock, CO, and Parker, CO, since 1989. Castle Country Assisted Living operates three assisted living communities, Cantril House, Valley House and Victorian House. The first organization of its kind in Douglas County, CO, Castle Country Assisted Living is committed to providing compassionate care and supportive assisted living communities for seniors, including those with limited incomes.

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