Overcoming Employee Communication Challenges in Senior Care and Senior Living

Katherine Wells

Katherine Wells, CEO of Serenity Engage

The ability to provide residents with quality care hinges on effective employee communication. But communication challenges are common in senior care and senior living organizations. Fortunately, there are many ways that organizations can improve their communication for smoother operations and improved care. 

The Challenges of Communication in Senior Care

The senior care industry depends on clear communication with staff, but the industry also has some inherent communication challenges. Katherine Wells, CEO of Serenity Engage, explains that in a senior living setting, it’s critical that all employees are in sync. “Employees are running from one room to another, are pulled in 25 different directions, and have to often try to remember things that they’re told by a resident or that they need to take care of in a particular room when they’re pulled out of that room to go care for someone else,” she explains. 

The global caregiver shortage makes effective communication even more critical. Wells cites employee turnover and potential language barriers as just a few of the reasons why clear communication is so important in keeping employees connected and updated about what is happening at any given time. 

Senior care organizations that rely on older communication methods face additional challenges. “Email, sticky notes, voicemail, walkie talkies, and texting are not HIPAA compliant and non-transparent,” explains Wells. “This is a common challenge, but there are tools designed to be transparent in senior care communication.” 

Overcoming Communication Challenges

Nancy Michieli, Leadership Communication Coach at Nancy Michieli Consulting, explains that communication can be hindered by management structure. “One of the best ways to overcome communication issues is to allow communication to flow directly between two people, without the boundaries of a management structure,” she says. A facility can also create a culture around valuing communication and care, paying attention to staff stress levels. 

“Amy Edmonson’s research on working in hospitals shows that when organizations employ a culture of psychological safety, it reduces incidents and increases employee happiness,” adds Michieli. “Senior acre facilities can benefit from creating a culture based on implementing information sharing, streamlined reporting, trust, work balance, empowerment, curiosity, and creative conflict.” 

When it comes to developing effective communication, Michieli advocates for the use of the Process Communication Model®️ by Dr. Taibi Kahler. “This focuses on how we say something is as important, if not more important, than what we say, and that each person has the ability to adapt their communication style to another person,” she explains. “The model was designed with the support of NASA to ensure good communication and stress management between the astronauts while in space and in Houston. Implementing PCM in a senior care facility can significantly reduce if not eliminate miscommunication, regardless of the form of communication.” 

Wells encourages senior care organizations to look at the tools that exist to facilitate communication in these specialized environments. “We created one. These tools are HIPAA compliant, transparent communication methods that allow for staff to communicate with each other in a group format that’s private and a closed network,” she explains. “The community can also choose to have separate channels of communication with family members for more personalized information about their loved ones. There can also be communication with preferred providers.”

Perhaps the largest advantage to using a communication tool is that staff have insight and oversight. “You have insight into when someone might need hospice, and oversight into what your staff is doing,” says Wells. “You can be more proactive and get out of the reactive mode a little bit.” 

Best Practices to Improve Senior Care Communication

Wells recommends that a senior care organization put someone in charge of communication. That doesn’t have to be the staff member’s full-time job, but they should own what communications in the organization look like. “Map out what the communication strategy is today, look at all of the places where you can streamline it, and give each staff member with an appropriate role a job to do in communication,” recommends Wells. An executive director will communicate certain information, while the director of nursing will communicate other types of information. “Make it clear to people and give them the easiest, simplest ways to execute on that communication plan,” says Wells. 

With so many potential communication methods available, Wells recommends picking out a few of those methods and deciding which serves the best purpose for different communication needs. For example, while email is great for blasting out information, it lacks in terms of conversation tracking. Texting is also problematic. “Almost every community we work with has tried to eliminate texting,” says Wells. “Some communication methods shouldn’t be used. Phone calls should be for urgent and sensitive topics. Secure tools should be used for the rest.” 

Wells notes that it’s important to remember why we communicate: To build trust. “People are trusting you to take care of someone they love,” she says. “When you communicate well and proactively, you build high trust.” That trust is essential in senior care, and will help to avoid many issues down the road. 

Topics: Administration , Communication , Facility management , Featured Articles , Operations , Regulatory Compliance , Staffing , Training