The brick two-family house where I grew up in Queens, New York was just one of the many identical homes on my block. Inside these identical homes were different, yet very similar children. They answered the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” with similar answers. A fireman! A princess! A baseball player!
Except for the child who lived on 126th Street. She dreamt of working with “old people.” Her dance troupe would perform at the apartment building around the block where the old people lived. She would dance her heart out and make those people smile. She would see their faces light up and go home and dream about doing that for the rest of her life.
Fast forward to 1988, when the phone rings. It’s her mother’s friend, “The nursing home where I work is looking for kitchen workers this summer. If someone calls in sick and can’t come to work, they’ll contact you in the morning, and you’ll fill in for them that day. Would you want to do that?”
“Yes, absolutely! That would be amazing!” She envisioned herself be-bopping around the tables filled with people eating, making them smile and cheering them up. This was her big break!
Day three on the job, and she’s standing in the nursing home’s dining area that’s overflowing with people who are in fairly good health, but frail. Dinner is about to be served when Miss Anna begins to struggle over to her table. Although new on the job, she knows instinctively to put her arm on Miss Anna to help. Out of nowhere, the Director of Dining approaches and pulls her aside and says, “That is not your job. You are here to serve food. You’re not to be helping people to their table.”
That was my introduction to the senior living workforce.
Acknowledge the Good Intent to Preserve Workplace Enthusiasm
Though that episode was over 25 years ago, I distinctly recall stepping back from helping Miss Anna and watching as she continued to struggle with a puzzled look on her face. Why had I left her when she still needed help? I retreated back into the kitchen and went about completing the tasks that I had been assigned for the night.
Later we had a meeting where the Director of Dining shared with the team, “I want to remind everyone that in the dining room our job is to serve food. Under no circumstances should you be helping residents walk or get seated. That is the responsibility of the nursing department.”
From that moment on I was careful about everything I did. I didn’t interact with residents in the hall as I delivered trays up to the floors. Embarrassed and disappointed, I saw my desire to help as negative. It felt awful to see people in need of help; help that I wanted to give, but couldn’t. I wanted to serve seniors – literally and figuratively. It was my dream! Unfortunately, my dream job morphed into a long list of tasks: cleaning, serving, and stocking.
Technically, the director was right. She was ensuring the safety of a resident and an employee, but her response to my desire to help came at a price: The enthusiasm for the work I was doing. No doubt you face similar situations all the time. Employees that don’t quite get it right and need to be corrected. But what if you spent more time focusing on the intention behind the action rather than the correction itself?
Two tips to help senior living managers focus on what’s behind their employee’s actions:
1. Consider situations such as these as a learning moment for you, as well as the employee in question. It may turn out that your employees have helpful information. You may learn that orientation is lacking or that a certain training program is not being understood as well as you thought. However, if thoughts are constantly of disciplining employees, this information will never be shared.
2. Don’t assume every person has the knowledge you do. Imagine if the Director had said, “Denise, I’m really impressed! In the middle of having to serve all these meals you stopped to help Miss Anna, but I want to explain something to you. It takes specialized training to assist residents because they, or you, could get hurt and the organization could get in trouble.” What was very obvious to her was news to me!
When the good intentions of employees are ignored, they fear fixing problems on their own and apathy develops. On the flip side, if employees are involved, they will be more helpful and flexible in their interactions with their teammates and the residents they support. Use these tips to show employees you believe in them and they will believe in the organization!
Interested in more tips? Visit our site at www.denisebscott.com
About the Author
A former nursing home and assisted living administrator herself, Denise B. Scott guides people into identifying the possibilities within their organization. She then helps them embrace and sustain the changes needed to make those possibilities come to life. Denise B. Scott, LLC, helps healthcare organizations improve the resident and staff experience, and the bottom-line, through stronger leaders and engaged employees.