The intense pressure to meet staffing needs, along with the fervent obligation to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements, can adversely impact our approach to leading people. Focusing on the physical demands we require from frontline staff sometimes overrides recognizing and honoring the emotional investment we count on from our employees.  

Every day we expect employees to act with compassion as they provide care and service to patients and residents. We need employees to devote emotional energy, extend kindness and convey empathy. Ensuring quality care and quality of life are a high priority. We know that to achieve a 5-star rating, facility leaders must create a person-centered care environment that is respectful, safe, and engaging for residents.

And the way to do this is to create a respectful, safe, and engaging environment for staff, otherwise known as a person-centered workplace.

But the reality is, it’s all too easy for leaders and managers to become “production-focused” when feeling the pressure of making sure that all of the operational, financial and clinical processes are running smoothly. The gravity of our responsibilities weigh heavily as we strive to make sure that patients and residents are getting the care they need in compliance with regulatory requirements. With a production mindset, it’s easy to forget the needs of the people doing the producing.

When the mental model of the workplace is primarily production-focused, a manager’s priorities become:

  • Am I meeting staffing requirements – do I have enough bodies to fill the slots on the schedule?
  • Are employees getting residents up, dressed, to the dining room on time and fed?
  • Are they documenting? Are they following the care plan?

The focus is more about ensuring compliance than generating commitment. With a production mindset, employees are viewed and treated as a human resource rather than a human being. They are seen as cogs in the operational wheel. The result? Managers spend more time fighting fires than lighting fires.

It’s true that compliance and production requirements must be met, but if a production mindset becomes so embedded that we lose sight of the people doing the producing, we are at risk of unintentionally creating a barrier to compassionate care and positive business outcomes.

Compassion works

There is now clear evidence that creating a caring workplace equals better performance and better results. In the Harvard Business Review article, “The Hard Data on Being a Nice Boss,” author Emma Seppala cites a body of research showing that a compassionate workplace fosters employee engagement. 

Engagement is driven, in large part, by knowing that the person you report to, i.e., your immediate supervisor, genuinely cares about you as a person, values your contributions, and supports your success. When employees are engaged with their jobs and their colleagues, they work harder, smarter, and with a “pay it forward” attitude.

The hard data confirms that in a compassionate workplace, we see lower stress, decreased illness, and therefore less absenteeism and reduced health care costs. We see greater focus and higher productivity. We see more loyalty and commitment, and therefore increased retention.

Engagement is all about the emotional connection an employee feels towards their organization and is built one interaction at a time. Although leaders tend to be macro thinkers, they need to be able to “feel” at a micro level. By recognizing the emotions, perceptions and motivations that influence how employees experience their workplace, you can use this understanding to tap into the intrinsic motivators that serve to drive high performance and retain great staff.

Creating a leadership model that promotes care and kindness to employees not only positively impacts business outcomes, it is, simply put, the right thing to do. When leaders create a caring work environment, employees in turn, are more willing and able to create a caring environment for patients and residents. It behooves us to create a person-centered workplace.

Nancy Anderson, RN, MA, is the SVP of Engagement Solutions for Align. In her role, she provides strategic leadership and supports development of solutions to help providers successfully build and sustain a culture of engagement.