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Pandemic Paradigm Shift part two

It strikes me that this report could have been titled "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." This post includes more of the details about ICAA's Forum 2021 report.


“Staff members are not a commodity, they are human beings, we are human beings doing this together. It starts at the top, recognizing that the bottom supports the top. Show some compassion and grace to employees.” Sandy Stoub, Director of Programming, Symbria

Frame the elements of an employee-first culture

  • How important are the values that guide your culture?

  • Are the values practiced daily, or are they spoken but not acted upon?

  • How much is invested in each staff member’s success?

  • Is the Employee Value Proposition for frontline workers different from the EVP for managers and executives? Why?

  • Is employee health and wellness a value? How successfully is it being implemented?

  • Are the benefits offered being taken advantage of?

  • How much attention is given to employee’s financial wellness?

  • How are managers held accountable for employee well-being?

Make employee wellness a fundamental value.

“One thing we learned is we cannot survive without frontline workers, they are critical. Without them we are nothing. They are strong, they are fearless, and we owe them the debt of gratitude they deserve.” Kelly Ording, Regional Director Resident Programming, Watermark Retirement Communities Seven days a week and 24 hours a day, staff members are the engine that keeps the real estate and services running, so it is no surprise that workers are experiencing high levels of stress, burnout and frustration. In an employee-first workplace, the mental health and physical health of each staff member is prioritized, because a mentally and physically healthy employee can best support the mental and physical health of each resident. Research from the Bersin Company finds that a culture of employee well-being, including a safe workplace, physical health, mental well-being and financial fitness, leads to a healthy organization with better employee engagement and retention, lower rates of absenteeism and a likelihood to “delight” customers. Those are impacts senior living could really benefit from. An individual’s sense of well-being is based in their home life, financial life and responsibilities outside of work as well as the experience while on the job. In a person-centered workplace, attention is paid to all areas of a person’s life. While a manager cannot control what happens outside of work, she or he can provide resources that help a person lead a well life.

Build a culture of trust with authentic communication and actions.

Build a spirit of trust so everyone knows they can come in and offer a suggestion and they won’t be judged. Not every idea will be viable, but allowing staff to implement some of their suggestions helps create the trust they can solve problems and not just bring them to the door and leave them there.” Anjuree Moore, Director of Human Resources, Presbyterian Villages of Michigan

Authenticity essentially means to believe what you say and do what you say. Regularly communicate an accurate “state of the organization.”Recognize that people who know the truth about the status of the organization are best prepared to meet current needs. ... ...Reinforce a culture of positive communication. Accept staff member input, negative as well as positive. The employee-first culture recognizes that trust and authenticity create a productive and engaged workforce....


“We have spent the last two years calling people heroes, but what has really changed? We should generate new models where people want to come to work knowing they will be paid well, grown well, and seen as vital parts of the world.” Sean Kelly, President and CEO, The Kendal Corporation

1. Turn philosophy into actions. At the ICAA Forum, there was a loud call to see staff members as people who deliver the mission instead of an expense item, an attitude echoing input made at earlier ICAA Forum meetings. A shift to an employee-first culture may be new to senior living, but it is within reach.

2. Shift the human resources function from transactional to transformational. A personality that enforces rules is not necessarily the same as one that creates positive interpersonal relations with staff. Consider there are two functions in human resources: one guides the culture and supports each staff member, and the other takes care of paperwork. Position human resources as a creative solution provider.

3. Prioritize training, career paths and professional development. Organizations that invest in employee development are two times as likely to retain their workers, according to Gallup. ...Is the training and development budget limited to compliance? Is a newly hired person placed in a small, poorly ventilated room in front of a computer module for hours, alone, so training can be checked off a list? This type of experience is likely to send the message that the new person cannot expect much training, support or interaction with the manager. ...Upskilling and reskilling associates is a top priority for talent and development professionals, who note that skills become obsolete quickly. Investing in people, including frontline workers, can reduce turnover, and position people for internal projectsand careers. All of these outcomes benefit the organization and the individual.

4. Provide mental health support.

5.Encourage participation in development programs. Schedule training and development sessions during company time. Provide training through mobile devices since not all workers have internet access and computers. Develop training that employees request. Base development programs on person-to-person interactions (e.g., in-person sessions, role play, scenarios). Add small, 5-minute learning items to daily or weekly staff meetings.

6. Refine the onboarding process.

7. Prioritize professional development of executives and managers. Are new managers promoted, but then left to figure out the job on their own? Is there an assumption that a person who is a skilled worker will magically become an excellent manager even though the duties are different and the relationship with coworkers fundamentally changes? As the pandemic progressed and the urgency to fill jobs increased, only 48% of new managers reported receiving training in leadership skills.17 How well is the organization served when managers struggle in their roles?

8. Utilize technology to support staff. Define a technology strategy

Budget for ongoing training and encouragement for using technologies. Convert employee communication to digital formats.

9. Update the revenue model. Identify ways that staff members generate revenue

Report the value of staff contributions.Educate investors on the role of staff members.

MOVE FROM PHILOSOPHY TO IMPLEMENTATION “Instead of focusing on the great resignation, focus on the people who have stayed. How can you incentivize people who are there so they feel valued?” Debbra Petersen, Recreation Wellbeing Consultant, Good Samaritan Society

1. Gather allies

2. Continue the transformation

3. Communicate the benefits and reasons, and keep communicating

4. Build big ideas into proven practices


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