Brightview Senior Living is incredibly honored to have topped Fortune’s Best Workplace for Aging Services list again in 2021 as well as to represent senior living in Fortune’s list of Top 100 Best Companies to Work For in the United States.
We’re in great company with so many wonderful organizations in our industry. Together, we’re doing amazing work, even as we faced unique and nearly unimaginable challenges over the past 18 months or so.
At Brightview, it was our focus on people that allowed us to weather the storm. Since the founding of our organization, we have crafted and operated our company with the premise that to be a great place for our residents to live, we must first be a great place for our associates to work.
At its core, that premise requires that we treat associates as people. As individuals. As humans with real lives and needs and challenges and demands that extend far beyond the limited hours in the day that they spend in our employ. We take a holistic approach to people, understanding that they are far more than their jobs.
Their realities over the past 18 months or so have been sobering and unprecedented. Regardless of age, health, geography, family status, wealth or any other factor that makes each of us unique, literally no one has reached this point in the global pandemic unscathed. And it has taken its toll, in some way, on the mental and physical health of everyone, including our team of dedicated associates who have been on the front lines working with our nation’s most vulnerable population.
Brightview has taken a variety of steps to support our associates — food pantries where associates could get free groceries for their families, extraordinary investments in personal protective equipment so they would feel safe, “hero pay” to recognize their commitment to our residents, extra staffing to relieve the burden of working in a quarantine environment, free Uber rides to work when public transportation was unavailable or felt unsafe, onsite ice cream trucks for a little pick-me-up during challenging days, and more. Still, we realized that people were struggling and that they were hurting. It was when we began to see telltale signs of fatigue, stress and burnout that we created a mental health initiative that we called “Roadmap to Mental Well-Being.”
With an overarching theme of “It’s OK not to be OK,” there were four components:
- acknowledge the impact of the pandemic;
- talk to friends, family or a mental health professional through our employee assistance program;
- build your self-care toolkit; and
- prioritize tasks to manage the increased demands on our lives caused by COVID-19.
We deployed a very broad and multipronged approach, including a communication drip campaign; branding and visuals; mailers to associates’ homes; onsite counselors to meet with associates in small peer groups (absent management); opportunities for one-on-one meetings with counselors onsite during the workday; paid time off relief teams for directors in need of a break; director-level peer group discussions (also absent management) to talk about shared concerns, frustrations and fears; heavy promotion of our employee assistance program; and public acknowledgement from senior leaders of the very real mental health impact that we know the pandemic has taken on us all, coupled with our commitment to the wellbeing of our teams. Once again, our focus was on people as people, not as employees.
The Roadmap to Mental Well-Being was created and led by our wellness manager, a master’s-prepared public health practitioner. Her full-time role was created in 2011 to work exclusively with our associates to encourage and support their physical and mental health and wellness goals.
Each year, she leads two to three company-wide wellness campaigns around topics that are important to our associates and their families: healthy eating, better sleep, more movement, the importance of preventive healthcare, stress management and more. There was no question that the best possible theme for a late 2020 campaign would be mental well-being. Participation in every element of the campaign was off the charts and incredibly well-received from front-line associates through senior leaders.
Although the intensity and demands of operating in pandemic mode have begun to normalize, new stressors have taken their place: uncertainty for parents around their kids in school, breakthrough COVID cases in the daily news, the most challenging labor market most of us have ever experienced, and more. So, although the Roadmap campaign may come to an end, our focus on and commitment to the mental well-being of our associates is deeply woven into the fabric of our company.
Through the Roadmap, our goal was to balance a message of hope, positivity and support with a genuine acknowledgement of a very difficult period of chronic stress and uncertainty. Based on the extraordinary feedback we have received, it seems that we found that balance and gave our teams powerful tools to protect their mental well-being during the most difficult period that most of us have ever, and we can only hope will ever, experience in our careers.
Andrea Griesmar is senior vice president of operations for Brightview Senior Living.
The opinions expressed in each McKnight’s Senior Living guest column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Senior Living.