“Hey, you’re doing a good job,” said Keith, a hurried executive director over his shoulder to a nurse in a senior living community. The nurse welcomes the compliment in this fictitious scenario, but she’s left with questions. What exactly am I doing well?…Is he just saying that?…Does he even know my name?

“Mary, I wanted to tell you how much we appreciate you here,” said director of nursing Rob, stopping Mary in the hallway and looking her directly in the eyes. “Your warmth with residents and ability to see to their needs even before they ask is truly a gift. We are so fortunate to have you on our team, and you’re really helping us achieve our goals.”

As we well know at this point, almost a year to the day since the pandemic turned our lives upside down, those who care for others are some of the most dedicated, overworked people. They are the most deserving of truthful, positive, and specific recognition of their efforts – on a regular basis.

As leaders in the senior living space, we must be less like Keith, tossing out general platitudes while rushing on to the next thing, and more like Rob. At least Keith said something, right? Doesn’t that count? Yes, but now more than ever, we need to be intentional, genuine, and explicit in our praise of our treasured human resources. It’s interesting to note here that 67 percent of managers think they are above average in offering recognition, but only 23 percent of their employees agree, according to the authors of Leading with Gratitude.

Honing in on skills and gifts particular to each individual and recognizing the whole person in relation to work, home and family has tremendous impact on employee retention – more even than the almighty dollar. Indeed, a Gallup survey revealed that the top three things team members say they need to stay with a company are 1) appreciation; 2) help with personal problems; and 3) feeling “in” on things. Money was not among the top three.

But let’s not complicate things. While ceremonies and dinners and plaques in the lunchroom are nice, they’re impractical until herd immunity is achieved and can also feel a bit exclusive. Singular focus on one or two employees risks alienating others, especially the “silent heroes” among us.

Rather, it’s the micro-recognitions – the small, organic and consistent acknowledgments across the board – that pack the biggest punch in helping staff feel truly valued and appreciated. And while it’s certainly not rocket science, there are some practices leaders can employ that are especially effective.

Given that March is employee appreciation month, and senior living is an industry suffering staff turnover rates as high as 36 percent per year, now is an appropriate time to look at how we can inspire employees to stay.

Open Your Eyes
The bedrock of robust employee recognition is noticing the specific ways in which each individual team member is contributing to the health and mission of your organization. If telling your employees that you appreciate what they’re doing at the time they’re doing it isn’t possible or practical, keep a notebook of names and details that you can express to each person at a later time – but not too much later. How you express your gratitude, whether verbally, in a text, email, note, on social media (with permission), isn’t as important as what you say. Be specific, and praise often!

Open Your Ears
A huge part of feeling valued is feeling heard. Your employees are some of your best resources for ideas on how to improve programs and practices and implement new ones. Solicit and listen to their ideas, then really put them to use. Lip service will cause discouragement and motivation to find a more fulfilling work experience. And don’t forget to offer positive feedback on employees’ suggestions that are working well.

Be Inclusive
An “ivory tower” culture breeds contempt. Whether literal or figurative, separation between C-suite personnel and hands-on workers creates a barrier of exclusiveness that alienates and disheartens essential employees. Include all levels of staff in company-wide initiatives, changes, decisions, and solicit their ideas, feelings and feedback. Beware of optics too: posting photos of your fabulous vacations on social media or staying away from your community during COVID upticks or other threats sends the wrong message.

Brush Up on Soft Skills
Some leaders (even in an industry anchored in care) don’t naturally prioritize the “warm fuzzy” stuff that means so much to individual team members. Identifying those who need a little help with soft skills and offering them tools or training could go a long way toward keeping vital human resources for the long haul. The SAIL acronym might be useful for these folks: identify the Situation an employee was in; the Action they took; the Impact it had; then Link it back to the overall purpose of your organization.

Employ Technology
Modern technology offers several platforms to help managers offer consistent positive feedback to staff and regularly gauge employee satisfaction. These platforms do for staff retention what other software does for meeting deadlines and sales goals.

Offer Special Perks
Essential workers need time off more than ever before. Offering rotating half days, covering a portion of gas or transportation fees to work, sending monthly goodies to their homes, inquiring about their families and where help at home may be needed…these are all meaningful ways to say “we appreciate you” to your staff. Of course, even a small raise or holiday bonus sends a big message of thanks.

Focus on Success
It’s easy to dwell on dwindling census, ailing residents, demanding safety procedures, low resident and family morale, but there is still much good news in senior living – even during a pandemic. Sharing with staff the little victories, innovations, triumphs and successes they made happen not only mitigates employee burnout, it sends a message of hope, resilience and recovery. This too shall pass, and when it does, your team will be stronger, more confident, and better able to serve current and future residents to the best of their amazing ability.

We at IVY are proud of our clients’ efforts to recognize their valued employees. We are also here to help them achieve the staff longevity that is so important to prospective residents and their families. With 30 years of marketing and public relations experience in the senior living space, our team of experts can help you craft intentional employee communications programs, incentives and initiatives tailored to your unique community, culture and common causes.
And because past and current staff members sometimes turn to employee websites to air grievances in the workplace, it is important to monitor those sites to stay apprised and ahead of potential conflict. We can help you with that, too.

Employee appreciation doesn’t end with the close of this month. It should be a priority every day of the year. Contact IVY Marketing Group to help you keep it top of your list.