Building a culture of healthcare excellence where employees are engaged and driven to do their best work is easy to understand but hard to do. Healthcare employees – including nursing home workers – are one of the most underappreciated workforces, and it’s next to impossible for them to get into the mindset of excellence if the value of their hard work is never recognized.

Healthcare leaders at nursing facilities must fully invest in a culture of kindness, recognition, and mutual caring toward their staff, and let that culture naturally create a better experience for residents. This can be accomplished by following the six fundamentals of healthcare engagement:

  1. Leadership Buy-In
    Put simply, a culture of engagement and excellence cannot take hold at any other place besides the top. Senior leaders must believe in and communicate to the organization the standards everyone has agreed on for treating residents and each other, and there can be no ambiguity. Nursing home leadership must be out engaging employees and recognizing their accomplishments daily, and demonstrating the culture as an example. Embrace the idea that leaders work for the staff, not the other way around.
  2. Culture-Building
    Set the tone for your workplace culture. Is it a workplace safe from judgment where employees can bring up their concerns freely? Is it a place where people look out for each other and get rewarded for doing so? Where everyone pulls together to give residents extraordinary care because it’s the right thing to do? Hopefully it’s all that and then some. Look at your mission and values, and ask yourself if the organization practices what it preaches. Get specific and write out a description of your ideal outcomes, and the path to success will be much easier to communicate.
  3. Communicating Values
    Nursing home providers are often faced with high turnover rates, however, workers are likely to stay on the job if values are communicated during the hiring process. Selecting people from the get-to who already have the attitude you’re looking for helps mitigate future challenges. Let your high performers conduct peer interviews and ask what they think.
  4. Manager Training
    According to Gallup, managers are simultaneously the No. 1 driver of employee engagement and the number one reason people leave their jobs, and as such should be getting 40 to 60 hours of formal leadership training per year. Train them in much needed skills like communicating change, developing action plans, and emotional intelligence. Get them in the habit of living organizational values every day, and don’t settle for anything less.
  5. Recognition and Rewards
    Recognition is also a top driver of engagement, and it is the responsibility of every level of leadership to ensure it happens consistently and frequently. As anyone who has worked in long-term care can attest to, there is no shortage of recognition-worthy actions that take place within each day. Encourage managers to seek out recognition opportunities, give meaningful rewards, and give workers an easy way to nominate and recognize each other through a peer-to-peer recognition system.
  6. Accountability
    Your efforts will be all for naught if there isn’t a serious push for accountability behind them. You’ll want to encourage employees, but at the same time you want to make clear what your reaction is to those who show up with the wrong attitude. To be fair, nursing home employees work in an extremely stressful environment and it’s not uncommon for tempers to flare. Thus, this is not a call to be more punitive, only to firmly stand behind the convictions of what you wish your culture to be. There should be a progressive discipline process with real consequences, and a willingness to let the people go who are simply not compatible with the desired culture.

Employee engagement is much more than simply making sure workers and residents are satisfied. It’s about focusing your people to work more cohesively and efficiently as a team and increasing the quality of care. Lead by example and deliver that experience by taking excellent care of your staff. The six fundamentals outlined are core competencies that should be in place before any meaningful change can occur. As the world changes, we need new skills, and engaging employees is a skill no organization of today can afford to live without.

Cord Himelstein is the vice president of marketing and communications for employee recognition company Michael C. Fina