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5 Steps for Launching a Workplace Culture of Retention

By Susan R. Misiorski | March 19, 2019

If you’re struggling with employee turnover, you’re not alone. Across the country, leaders in long-term care are telling us turnover is their number one problem, and it has gotten so bad, the turnover itself is causing turnover!

In other words, exhaustion and burnout from constant staffing challenges permeate workplace culture. Home care agencies struggle to fill client cases, and a culture of burnout is on the rise in nursing homes where many staff report that working short is the new norm. In fact, health care workers experiencing burnout are more likely to quit and 63 percent more likely to take a sick day, according to Gallup.

If these scenarios resonate, then it’s time to leverage the role of workplace culture in improving employee retention.

Defining ‘Workplace Culture’

Culture encompasses the personality of an organization. It’s shaped by values, attitudes, behaviors, and practices.

I met a nursing assistant recently who shared a story that’s a great example of the power of workplace culture. Liza, a CNA, said she had been working at this nursing home for two months and described it as “a breath of fresh air.” I was interested to learn more, so I asked what she meant.

Liza said that in the 15 years she had been a CNA, she had never worked in “a place like this.” She went on to explain that just a day before, the director of nursing asked her to pick up a shift on Saturday. It would have been her third extra shift that week, and she said “no,” admitting she was tired and needed to rest. The director of nursing responded by telling Liza that she understood and that she was glad she was taking care of herself.

Liza said that same situation would have gone very differently at her previous job: “I still would have been working extra shifts every week, but if I said I couldn’t work extra on a weekend, I got told I’m not a team player.” Liza went on: “It didn’t matter how many times we said ‘yes,’ because the one time we said ‘no,’ we would get labeled.”

Liza’s story is a great example of a culture of blame versus a culture of support. Moments like these accumulate in a workplace until they form a critical mass that’s significant enough to shape the usual work experience. These moments may stem from a home health aide calling the coordinator to say she got lost trying to find the client’s house, to a worker approaching someone in payroll claiming their paycheck was short. How we respond in situations like these matters greatly, and our responses are expressions of the workplace culture.

If you’d like to proactively cultivate a thriving workplace culture, here are five simple steps to get you started.

Ask and Listen

Ask your employees to pick one word that describes the overall experience of their workplace, and why they picked that word. If they choose negative words like “stressful,” “frenetic,” or “overwhelming,” learn as much as you can about what’s contributing to this sentiment.

Be Intentional

Don’t wait for workplace culture to evolve on its own–be intentional about shaping it. Invite employees to participate in a workgroup to identify strategies that make the organization a great place to work. Ask a different question in facilitating this workgroup: ask what word they would like to be able to use to describe their workplace culture, and then ask for ideas to make that happen.

Build Relationships

Strained relationships are fuel for toxic workplace cultures. Invest in building relationships through training in interpersonal communication skills, events, and activities that bring people together, as well as communication systems that ensure people are as important as tasks.

See strengths

People are motivated by supervisors who see and value their strengths. We need to tell people consistently what we appreciate in them. Also, be extra careful that supervisory conversations aren’t limited to when something has gone wrong.

Care for the Caregivers

Burnout happens when the balance between caring for others and caring for ourselves is skewed, leaving little to no time for self-care. Employers need to care for their employees through education and organizational practices that help them tend to their own physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

There is no doubt that being a direct care worker is rewarding, soulful work. There is also no doubt it’s hard work. Intentionally treating our employees with the same compassion that we ask of them as paid caregivers is critical to creating a strong culture of retention.

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