Strategies to Boost Staff and Resident Morale in Senior Care Settings

Bob Bourg 2022 headshot

Bob Bourg, sr. vice president of human resources at St. Ann’s Community in Rochester, New York

Staff morale can impact staff performance, retention, and the quality of care that a senior care organization can deliver to residents. By taking an active stance in identifying and implementing staff morale-boosting strategies, your senior care organization can create an environment that is more positive and enjoyable for both your staff and residents.

Strategies for Boosting Resident Morale

When boosting resident morale, Megan Elba, administrator at North Westchester Restorative & Nursing Center in Mohegan Lake, New York, turns to the residents. Residents respond to satisfaction surveys asking questions ranging from how they feel about food to if they are happy with the rehabilitation and more. “We also regularly have concierge and social work staff check in on residents to see how their stay is going,” says Elba. “If they bring up complaints, we address them. And if they say, for instance, they love going to Bingo, we ensure Recreation is aware to encourage them to come each time Bingo is held.”

Elba describes a wide array of efforts designed to boost resident morale, including parades for Halloween, ugly sweater contests, and more. “We also hold meetings for the residents where they can voice how they are feeling and what would make their stay better. I review the feedback with the team to come up with a plan to keep their morale high,” says Elba.

Constructing some larger supports and programs can take time, but even smaller, more affordable efforts can have a major impact on resident morale.

Sam Radov, operations manager at What Cheer Flower Farm in Providence, Rhode Island, explains that the nonprofit was founded in 2017. Today, the farm grows, rescues, and gives away 100,000 flowers per year.

“We identify folks in the most stressful situations in Rhode Island,” Radov explains. “That includes folks in senior care, memory care, and other situations like hospice care or addiction recovery, domestic violence shelters, and homeless shelters. We look for people who could really use some cheering up, and maybe who would traditionally purchase flowers but who can’t afford them.”

What Cheer Flower Farm works directly with nonprofits, either reaching out to them directly or after a nonprofit has applied for the program through the farm’s website. Then, the farm creates a distribution schedule. Radov notes that the farm, which only has a two-person full-time staff, only partners with other nonprofits. “We don’t have the capacity to deliver every single bouquet,” explains Radov. “We partner with nonprofits with a client base in a central location, or with staff who are doing home visits. We bring flowers toa centralized location for the nonprofit to distribute.”

Response to the program has been “overwhelmingly positive,” says Radov. “People are so truly moved and incredibly grateful, and I think they feel very cared for. That’s especially true for folks in memory care, folks who are going through intense recoveries from surgeries, or those going through intense life experiences of losing a partner or family members.”

Identifying the Best Staff Morale-Boosting Efforts for Your Organization

Nate Hamme

Nate Hamme, president of Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Ceca Foundation

When it comes to identifying the types of support that staff need, it can be helpful to go directly to the staff. Bob Bourg, sr. vice president of human resources at St. Ann’s Community in Rochester, New York, explains that St. Ann’s Community gathers information from team members year-round. “We do town hall meetings several times a year, which several hundred people attend,” he says. Additionally, simply walking around and having one-on-one conversations with team members is an effective way to gather input. “Often the best ideas are the ones that come from team members,” says Bourg.

Nate Hamme, president of Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Ceca Foundation, bases morale-supporting strategies on decades of research. “We all want to feel like we are good at what we do, part of a team that moves in the same direction and makes a difference in people’s lives,” Hamme explains. “Harvard Business Review found that healthcare workers, along with those in “helper” professions such as education and social work, have a strong desire for and reaction to symbolic recognition. They are more motivated by impact than money—although they also deserve to be compensated for their efforts. But connecting a person to their work as a calling is the goal of every organization across industries.”

Hamme notes that it’s also essential to make every effort to engage staff in problem-solving. “You have to actively listen to the ideas they generate,” he says. “If staff can feel ownership of helping to make their work life easier or more enjoyable, then you will have them thinking creatively about how the organization can improve and how our programs can improve.”

Elba speaks with staff to monitor their morale. Doing so also allows her to understand what staff most want and need, and what efforts will make the most difference. “I meet with the different departments and ask them what food they life, what gifts and so on, so when we do morale boosters, their input is factored in,” she explains.

Megan Elba

Megan Elba, administrator at North Westchester Restorative & Nursing Center in Mohegan Lake, New York

Recognition and acknowledgement of quality work play a key role in staff morale. “We’re focused on helping organizations develop more opportunities and better ways to highlight exceptional acts of care from their team members,” explains Hamme. “Many employees working in the healthcare field, and senior care in particular, develop fulfillment and resiliency from the feeling that they are improving people’s lives. But that has its limits. Recognition can be a top driver of culture, contribute to better relationships among managers and team members and give people a sense of accomplishment. In turn, it builds feelings of esteem, belonging and purpose—not to mention loyalty to their organizations when they believe their values align. It feels good to be thanked or acknowledged and it boosts morale for the larger team.”

Bourg explains that St. Ann’s Community has taken an innovative and creative approach to supporting staff. “A work-life balance that we can put into place is essential,” he says. “In our industry, we don’t have some of the inherent advantages that other industries have. People want to work remotely, but you can’t do that with direct care.”

So, the community finds other ways to support staff, and many of its unique and impactful programs were created in response to staff requests or difficulties that staff encountered. One such program is the PTO buyback program. When staff didn’t want to take all of their time off, the community agreed to buy back PTO and pay staff for that time. Bourg notes that the program has been “hugely popular.”

The community also developed a diaper purchase program. Seeing that many staff members were young families and parents or grandparents, the community established the program about four years ago, subsidizing 95% of the cost of diapers.

While the community has an in-house dining program, many staff, particularly those working evenings, rely on Door Dash to bring food to the workplace. The community is considering offering a Dash Pass benefit to help cover those delivery costs. Additionally, the community brings in food trucks once or twice a month, treating staff to free meals.

Seeing that many staff rely on the bus, Uber, or Lyft to get to work, Bourg notes that a subsidized transportation program is also in the works. “We have hourly workers paying $100 to $150 per week to get to work,” he says. “We are working to create programs that can help out with those transportation costs.”

Elba also finds that ideas inspired by staff are well-received and effective. When staff members approached her to request an international day, where staff could bring in dishes of their cultures, Elba went to work to make the day happen. “We ordered some decorations and made sure to include all staff in the building, and at the end of the day it was a wonderful bonding moment,” she says. “I always want everyone to have a voice and to feel appreciated, and to know I see their hard work,” she explains.

Elba highlights the importance of listening to your staff. “Let them say what gifts they want,” she recommends. “If you’re going to order food for them as a thank-you, give them a choice of different options. Don’t just order pizza. All in all, understand that this has been a difficult couple of years, but as managers and organizations, we should do everything in our power to bring enjoyment back to the facilities.”

Bourg explains that, given the significant impact of working in senior care, it’s essential to focus on staff morale. “There are much easier ways for many team members to make a living,” he says. “The fact that they continue to come back, work hard, and have high standards – you need to let them know how much you appreciate what they’re doing.” Sometimes, that appreciation can be as simple as personal interaction with staff. “Be out there and be visible,” recommends Bourg. Small actions matter, too. “Even simple things like a hand written note. People remember those things.”

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