How to motivate staff to optimize the LTC dining experience

 According to a recent editorial at (an online forum focusing on self-improvement), “What separates the highly successful is the ability to keep moving forward.” The obstacle is the all-too-human quagmire of negative thoughts, doubts and anxiety. Pervasive low staff retention rates in the senior care marketplace belie the epidemic of low motivation in this field. I believe it is the role of senior care administrators to generate motivation in their employees. This goal can be accomplished with a clear mission that is supported and reinforced on an ongoing basis, particularly through hands-on actions. 

Leaders in senior care can motivate staff with reinforcement of company mission. To be sustainable, this reinforcement must go beyond an occasional training in-service or team-building activity. The company mission must be woven into the fabric of day-to-day hands-on tasks, routinely focusing staff on the deeper meaning behind their actions.

Julie is an inspiring administrator who leads by example, elevating everyone’s experience in her senior care community. Every Friday she is in the dining room of the community she oversees, serving dinner. How did she end up here? Concerned with recent staff turnover and disappointing customer satisfaction ratings, Julie decided to take a new approach. She invested in customer service training for her frontline food servers. She was reluctant to attend herself, saying, “I may have to admit I could improve my own service skills and if I am sitting there, will staff speak up and have honest discussions?” Because Julie cared about her residents’ well being, as well as the bottom line of her business, she put her concerns to the side and jumped in.

The Pick The Brain article, titled “How To Motivate Yourself—Self Motivation,” notes three “motivation killers” for individuals or organizations: lack of focus (If you don’t know what you want, do you really want anything?); lack of direction (If you don’t know what to do, how can you be motivated to do it?); and lack of confidence (If you don’t believe you can succeed, what’s the point in trying?). These “lacks” are the hurdles that the successful administrator must overcome in his/herself and in staff. The article offers insight into our habitual tendency to focus in unproductive directions: “How often do you focus on what you don’t want, rather than on a concrete goal? We normally think in terms of fear. The problem with this type of thinking is that fear alone isn’t actionable. Instead of doing something about our fear, it feeds on itself and drains our motivation.”

Julie attended the training session and was glad she did. She heard from employees, found out where the lines of communication were broken, and discovered a few things about serving food and customer service that she didn’t know. Afterward, Julie was ready to make changes. “There are things we can do right away,” she said. “We’re going to have a meeting next Tuesday to talk about what steps to take next.” Through this training, Julie created a forum for communication with staff. As a leader, she listened and was able to identify concrete areas for sustainable improvement in her organization.

Julie knew she wanted to improve customer service ratings and increase staff retention. Those goals gave her a way to focus and direct her own leadership choices. The training Julie chose allowed her and her staff to identify where needs lay for staff and residents, and to translate those needs into actionable steps toward a more fulfilling environment. Moreover, focusing on the dining room allowed everyone to feel comfortable, included…and confident. In general, the mealtime ritual is a common experience to people from all walks of life. It is a hands-on area where people from diverse backgrounds can experience success and reinforce company mission on an everyday basis.

By participating in the dinner service every Friday, Julie consistently supports her own sense of focus, direction and confidence in meeting the needs of residents and staff. Each time she serves a meal, she is taking a concrete step toward her goals. Daily staff routines also reinforce the company’s mission of resident satisfaction. First thing in the morning in Julie’s community, the chef calls the administrator and director of nursing to relay interesting details about the featured items on the lunch and dinner menus. Julie and the DON in turn share these details with staff, residents and guests throughout the day. What’s for dinner becomes a hot topic, so everyone knows what is on today’s menu and talks positively about it. Through this daily ritual, the staff members are reminded of the value the company places on mealtimes (a well-researched key to resident satisfaction). Staff members are also reminded of their own value in providing this service.

The motivation article offers, “By focusing your mind on a positive goal instead of an ambiguous fear, you put your brain to work. It instantly begins devising a plan for success. Instead of worrying about the future you start to do something about it. This is the first step in motivating yourself to take action. When you know what you want, you become motivated to take action.” Julie identified areas for improvement in her community, invested in a training that would help her plan next steps, and then implemented ongoing, hands-on routines to create sustainable change. One motivated administrator was able to change the direction of her whole community, one meal at a time.

Topics: Executive Leadership , Facility management , Nutrition