“Although these are less than ideal circumstances, we have all pulled together as a team. That extra bit of support and acknowledgement we get from leaders makes a difference. Simple things can go a long way.”

Employee well-being started receiving heightened awareness before COVID, but once the virus came crashing into our lives, leaders at all levels recognized the imperative to attend to the physical and emotional needs of staff.

Research provides incredibly valuable insights about dealing with workplace anxiety, stress and burnout. But what specifically do senior care employees say about their experiences?

Align offered a free pandemic pulse survey to customers at several muti-facility organizations so they could learn more about the experiences of employees navigating the COVID storm. Here, I share  some of the patterns we observed among responses from staff at 125 skilled nursing and assisted living facilities.

What they are thinking

Employees from all disciplines in skilled nursing and assisted living communities were asked about workplace practices that are particularly important during a crisis, including communication, support, job clarity, care and resources. Here is a summary of what we’ve learned, so far, from the cumulative data. 

  • The responses overall have been highly favorable. You might assume that employee feedback in the middle of a crisis situation would be negative, but our survey results disprove this assumption. We see employees expressing deep appreciation and complimenting the actions leaders have taken in the face of the pandemic challenges. Here’s an example:

“My facility has excellent management. They are very supportive and understanding about the burdens the COVID-19 pandemic has put upon residents and staff.”

  • However, both quantitative data and narrative comments show a distinct difference between direct care employees (CNAs, LPNs and RNs) and other staff. In general, direct care staff responses indicate greater dissatisfaction and more concerns. Perhaps this is no surprise. After all, direct care staff are in roles that put them at the forefront of risk exposure.
  • When the narrative comments were analyzed, definite themes emerged. In order of highest-to-lowest volume of comments by theme, the remarks related to:
  • Management support 
  • Staffing 
  • Supplies and equipment 
  • Pay/benefits/hours 

Management support

When employees were asked an open-ended question about what they think is most important right now, the number one most frequent theme (by far!) related to the degree to which employees felt supported by managers. These comments, both positive and negative, reveal the important, make-or-break role managers play in creating a safe and caring environment for team members. 

While respondents conveyed many appreciative remarks, they also expressed concerns about not getting what they feel they need from organizational leaders, facility managers or their immediate supervisor. Here are some examples: 

“I love my job and the people I work with, but I don’t know if anyone really cares about the extra efforts we put in to make sure our residents stay safe. My job would be better if I felt more support and a bigger presence from leaders.”

Managers aren’t visible — they hide in their offices. They don’t keep us informed or updated on changes, and they don’t listen to our concerns.”

“I wish my supervisor didn’t let my co-worker (her friend) get by with poor performance. Our residents deserve better. And nothing demoralizes good employees faster than watching a supervisor tolerate a bad one.”

So what?

What does management support look like through the eyes of employees?

  • Visibility and encouragement from leaders
  • Consistent communication to stay informed
  • Opportunities to be heard and acknowledged
  • Accountability and fair treatment

You may recognize that these needs are no different from what employees need from leaders in any situation. It just happens that in a crisis, these needs are felt more deeply.

It’s been a long haul through this pandemic, and, of course, it’s not over yet. How are your employees experiencing the pandemic? Are they getting what they need from your leaders?

Nancy Anderson, R.N., M.A., is senior vice president of engagement solutions for Align. She provides strategic leadership and supports development of solutions to help providers successfully build and sustain a culture of engagement.