What’s more important than pay and benefits to employees? Having the leadership, processes and tools that enable them to do their best work.

That’s according to Craig Deao, author of the new book “The E-Factor: How Engaged Patients, Clinicians, Leaders, and Employees Will Transform Healthcare.”

Deao’s insights may be music to the ears of senior living leaders at a time when the industry is challenged to fill the need for entry-level workers and is competing with the likes of Walmart to do so.

“People don’t leave a job because of pay and benefits, or not as often as we’d like to believe,” he says, advising employers: “Yes, be competitive with those, but beyond that, it’s about how engaged people are.”

Deao defines engagement not as satisfaction but as feeling that work is meaningful and understanding one’s role in an organization. Engaged employees, he says, perform well even when nobody is watching, whereas employees who aren’t engaged will leave — or perhaps even worse, they’ll stay for the pay and benefits but will just “phone in” their work.

For the employee, engagement helps prevent burnout, Deao says. Employers, on the other hand, can save on hiring and training costs associated with turnover while improving resident safety and the provision of care and services to residents by working to engage employees, he added. And that translates into improved clinical outcomes and fewer preventable hospital readmissions, Deao says.

It also may translate to fewer lawsuits and, in senior living, a reputation that leads to more move-ins.

The employee-supervisor relationship is critical to engagement, Deao says. And the single most important thing a supervisor can do to firm up engagement, he adds, is to ask direct reports six kinds of questions once a month, in an intentional, scheduled way. It’s what he calls “rounding for outcomes.”

The goals of those questions:

  1. Establish a personal connection. Ask something like “How is your family?” or “Where do you see yourself in three to five years?”
  2. Build gratitude and resiliency. Ask “What’s working well?”
  3. Build bridges, not just between the supervisor and a direct report, but also between direct reports and their peers. An example of a question toward that end: “Is there anyone who has been helpful to you that I can recognize on your behalf?”
  4. Ensure that employees are satisfied, competent and open to engagement. A question such as, “Do you have the tools and equipment to do your job?” will do the trick, Deao says. Employees won’t feel competent if they lack the basic tools, systems or processes to support the outcomes they’ve being asked to produce, he adds.
  5. Remove any barriers, if they exist. For example, ask, “What systems or processes could be working better?”
  6. Ensure that key behavior standards in the organization are “hardwired” into the employee.

Equally important to asking the questions, however, Deao says, is following up.

“If you’re going to ask employees for input but not close the loop on what they tell you, you shouldn’t be rounding at all,” he says. “In fact, the best way to damage a relationship is probably to ask somebody for feedback, hear it and do nothing with it.”

For more on employee engagement, see the articles under “Related Articles,” below.

Lois A. Bowers is senior editor of McKnight’s Senior Living. Follow her on Twitter at @Lois_Bowers.