Marilynn Duker

Editor’s Note: Brightview Senior Living holds the No. 1 spot on Fortune’s list of Best Workplaces for Aging Services for 2019.

Marilynn Duker

“A great place to work is a great place to live.” When we built the first Brightview Senior Living community in Bel Air, MD, in 1999, we knew that a culture of engaged, caring associates would be the key to creating a warm and inviting home for seniors.

Twenty years and 38 communities later, we truly are honored to be named one of Fortune’s Best Workplaces for Aging Services. 

In fact, we have engineered our entire company around our objective of being a great workplace. Directors at Brightview attend a multi-day new director orientation at the home office. It is a wonderful time of getting to know one another and learning about all things Brightview, but it is especially important for new leaders to understand and embrace our culture from the start.

Directors take that same messaging back when they conduct orientation for their own teams in their communities. Near the end of the orientation, a “town hall” meeting invites these new directors to ask our senior leaders anything that is on their minds.

This kind of access and transparency sets us apart and is a cornerstone of our culture. Directors always ask what I call “the question,” which is: “How will we maintain this special culture as the company grows?”

Our answer is always the same: By being laser-focused on associate engagement, and by empowering our managers to do the right thing, we are confident that our culture will remain strong well into our future.

It starts with the processes we use to hire the right people. In today’s tight job market, it always is tempting to fill a job vacancy quickly. Through experience, we know that maintaining the discipline and patience to find people with “soft skills,” such as empathy, always will be more valuable than hiring based solely on job experience. Moreover, by using predictive tools to match a candidate’s behavioral traits to the right job, we know that people will be more engaged and more satisfied and will stay at the company longer.

Once people are hired, we place a big priority on proper onboarding. To feel truly engaged and productive, people need to feel confident in their jobs. Our position-specific onboarding guides, robust training and support from regional support teams helps get new associates off to a great start.

Next, we give people the tools they need to be productive on the job. We continuously evaluate our processes and technology to remove the frustrations that associates may experience while completing their daily tasks. Many Brightview associates are attracted to our company because they want to make a difference in the lives of seniors. Struggling with an inefficient process or technology is a distraction for caregivers. We regularly survey associates to understand where we can improve, then implement changes to address concerns.

Speaking of surveys, we strongly believe that an open feedback loop results in improved associate satisfaction. We conduct a detailed associate survey every year and benchmark the results to our own performance in prior years, as well as to industry results. Every community and the home office develops detailed action plans with a goal of achieving year-over-year improvement in associate satisfaction and engagement.

With a high-performing team such as ours, it is important to give people opportunities for career growth. We have a formalized individual development plan, or IDP, that allows managers and associates to work together to acquire the skills necessary for associates to take on roles with increasing responsibility. 

I am proud to share that last year, we filled 41% of our director-level positions from within our company. Not only does the IDP contribute to associate retention, but filling so many positions with Brightview team members also ensures continuity of our culture.

Our culture is rooted in genuine concern for others, both residents and associates. One way we demonstrate that is through our wellness program, which allows associates and their families to access a diverse suite of free resources to support their wellbeing. 

Not only has this commitment proven helpful in controlling healthcare costs, which we have shared with our associates in the form of lower premiums, but it also has produced some life-changing results. We have received many letters from associates who have controlled their diabetes, lost weight, eliminated the need for chronic medications, stopped smoking and even survived cancer due to early detection as a result of our focus on associate wellness.

To remain a great place to work, we put associate engagement at the top of every yearly business plan. Achieving this culture requires a deliberate combination of efforts and initiatives.

We think of ourselves as a great place to work and a great place to live. That order is intentional. Only by creating a culture where our associates feel valued will they, in turn, create a great place for our residents to call home.

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