The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on our industry over the past year, and although our residents and their families most notably felt the true brunt of the virus, our employees faced previously unimaginable struggles, too. Those working in our senior living — from direct care workers to the front desk clerks to the custodial staff to administrators — were challenged like never before.

We all have felt the ripple effects of the pandemic as it has roared on. Yet despite unyielding stresses, never-ending regulation revisions and overall morass, one thing continues to ring true: Our team members are the lifeblood of our organizations’ success, in good times and in bad.

Although we’re now talking more about vaccines than personal protective equipment supply levels, we know our employees cannot yet let down their guards. And although still on high alert, leaders across senior living organizations must remember to acknowledge the sacrifices and dedication of our most valuable and precious resource … our people.

At Wesley Enhanced Living, we recognize the effect our employees have had on our success in providing quality care and services to the residents across our six communities in Southeast Pennsylvania. For the past three years, Wesley Enhanced Living has earned recognition on the Great Place to Work and Fortune’s Best Workplaces in Aging Services lists. These esteemed honors are based on the testimony of our own employees. Moreover, in 2020, we landed in the No. 3 spot nationally.

Although we are proud and humbled by this team-earned honor, it takes hard work and a purposeful commitment to fostering a working environment where employees feel connected to the mission, connected to each other and engaged in the community.

It goes without saying that creating a supportive workplace culture among your team will contribute to the overall success of your organization. With that in mind, consider the following key attributes of a healthy employee-employer relationship to drive retention and attract prospective employees.

Set the tone. Cultivate and maintain a culture of mutual respect. 

Know what makes your organization tick. Stay true to your mission, vision and values. Take the lead in cultivating and maintaining a workplace culture where team members value and respect each other.

For instance, our team at Wesley Enhanced Living holds close our values of grace, honor and integrity, because these three pillars have guided us in building our foundation. As a team, we remember our mission and these three core values and view them as our guiding light. Establishing a culture in which your employees feel heard and appreciated for their contributions will only encourage your team to drive toward common goals.

Be intentional as you build your team and your community.

Trust your instincts while also being intentional throughout the hiring process. Consider what personality traits will fit your values and your existing team culture. Ensure that those in a position to hire others ask thoughtful questions about each candidate’s career path and intentions for growth.

As much as qualifications and experience factor into the decision to bring someone new onboard, keep in mind that, in many ways, we are in a relationship-building industry. We understand that our organizations are communities. The energy and sense of camaraderie between team members, as well as team members and residents, can make or break a culture.

Provide team members with support and opportunities for growth.

Supporting your employees should be a clear priority. The pandemic has created a focus wherein healthcare employees need to feel comfortable coming to work. They need to know that they will be provided not only with the PPE to keep them safe but also resources to programs for themselves and their families that support their physical and mental well-being during this stressful time.

Taking care of your employees will empower them to take proper care of themselves, residents and one another. Support can be shown in various ways, including competitive wages, comprehensive benefits packages and encouragement for a healthy work-life balance for all.

Identifying and offering opportunities for professional and personal development also may show employees that their employer cares about them and their true selves — inside and outside of work. At Wesley Enhanced Living, team members can volunteer and join one of several sanctioned employee groups designed to empower those who wish to connect and propose enhancements to programming for both employees and residents.

Acknowledge and celebrate shared accomplishments.

Don’t miss an opportunity to celebrate shared accomplishments. For example, at each of our communities, we highlight team members who are going above and beyond to make a difference in the lives of our residents.

Through a consistent individual assessment program, our team members can define the areas in which they excel, encouraging professional and personal growth. We view these opportunities as a success for both our collective team and individual team members.

Celebrating milestones, both individually and through teamwork, helps to strengthen bonds and retain employees. Show appreciation for each other and your work to better the lives of seniors. Taking time to celebrate — especially during hardships — allows us to truly develop a strong sense of respect for the positive difference we are making for those in our care.

Pat Lamoreux is vice president of human potential at Wesley Enhanced Living.

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