PHILADELPHIA—When a long-term company needs to change the way its quality and financial fortunes are trending, improving worker recruiting and retention is at the core of the solution, attendees at the LeadingAge national conference learned Tuesday.

Culture change “starts with employees,” explained Thomas Maloney, Chief Operations and Financial Officer for Ohio Masonic Home. The three-community operator serves about 800 residents and has 600 employees. “Happy employee one makes happy employee number two, makes happy employee number three, makes happy resident number one …

“If you can create multiple ‘hooks’ with employees, the odds of increasing retention goes through the roof,” added Maloney during an afternoon educational session.

Several of his employees have embraced tuition reimbursement of up to $5,000, not just the former $2,500. Not every employee will take advantage, but the program can go a long way toward defraying the $5,000 to $10,000 cost incurred whenever an employee leaves the company.

Other steps Maloney endorsed:

  • Add a floating holiday. Who care if it’s informally known as the “birthday holiday”? 
  • Use flexible work shifts. That doesn’t just mean six-hour shifts instead of the standard eight-hours. “Have you seen 16-hour shifts? They’re coming. If I can get someone who wants to work two 16-hour shifts a week, I’ll take them.”
  • Interview job candidates by asking about behavior-based actions, such as asking how the person ever showed leadership, and what the outcome was.
  • Masonic has instituted the HOPE program, which offers financial grants to needy employees. The management team reviews applications blindly on their merit.
  • Talent map. Identify future leaders among existing workers and then nurture them with training, mentoring and special treatment such as trips to educational conferences.
  • Masonic also created its own app for employees, which includes current events, company news, and games and prizes to keep workers engaged. It’s an extra tool that feeds into the theory that an employee needs to hear or see a message seven times to absorb it, Maloney said.

Workplaces also improve and create better retention rates when communications are sharpened. At Masonic, he explained, this included everything from refining the organization’s mission statement to designing a new company logo to make it clearer that services are open to the public, not just members of Masonic orders.

  • At the same session, rising Director of Nursing Noel Donato detailed how “cleaning house” was initially painful but ultimately wound up the right option at Wesley Des Moines, a continuing care retirement community in Des Moines, WA. He started with 35 nurses on staff two years ago and was soon down to five after removing poor workers and negative influences, he said. That included a former DON.

He temporarily filled with agency nurses but now has handpicked staff members who take the initiative to expand their respective skill sets and abilities. There’s no more arriving to work mid-shift without consequences or operating two-person Hoyer lifts by one person with a bag of chips in one hand, he noted. “I said [to superiors] let’s be patient and wait to find the right person for the job.”

As part of the process, instead of predictable, staid job interview questions, Donato began asking personal questions such as, “What do you do at home?” he explained. “They come out of their shell.” Along with that, he then asks other nursing leaders and staffers what they think of candidates, including whether they think they would work well with them.

McKnight’s blogger Julie Thorson receiving LeadingAge’s national award for mentoring.
  • Award presentations took part during LeadingAge’s business meeting Tuesday morning. One highlight was McKnight’s “Living Leadership” blogger Julie Thorson receiving the Herbert Shore Outstanding Mentor Award. The CEO of Friendship Haven in Fort Dodge, IA, Thorson does everything from speak to high school students and inspire her employees to have passion outside the workplace, to helping restructure the LeadingAge Iowa Emerge Leadership Academy.

Information on all of LeadingAge’s national award winners can be found here. The annual meeting and exhibition ends Wednesday.