I recently came across a story on McKnight’s Long-Term Care News that really resonated with me. Martie Moore, a frequent contributor, talked about the idea of creating a sense of community in the workplace.
Moore says a recent study found that due to the pandemic, people are craving a sense of community more than ever before. She then discusses the four pillars of community, developed by two Vanderbilt University psychologists: Membership, influence, meeting needs and shared emotional connection. I did some digging into the ideas behind their theories and started thinking about how senior care organizations can foster a stronger sense of community in their own communities.
Culture vs. Community
I wanted to make one note before we dive into the four pillars. In the past, we have focused a lot on our culture, which in a sense, is the foundation for any community. The difference is that culture is imposed. “It's established by the company and employees are expected to be a part of it, to participate, even if it doesn't fit their style or personality. Culture is about the company, and how you as an employee fit within it,” Claudia Fry, VP of People for a San Francisco-based company, says in an Inc.com article. Community, on the other hand, “is the manifestation of the people within it, guided by the company values.”
According to Fry, communities are composed of the individual perspectives, insights and experiences of the people within them and give members a sense of purpose to hold themselves and their colleagues accountable for the company’s success.
“A community allows employees to feel a sense of belonging, that they're part of something larger than themselves, which gives meaning to their work, and their lives as a whole.”
Now, let's take a look at the four pillars of community, as established by David W. McMillan and David Chavis and how LTC and senior living communities can implement them.
“The feeling of belonging or of sharing a sense of personal relatedness.”
Ensuring your employees feel welcomed into the group should be a main focus during the onboarding process. One of the easiest ways to align employees is through your mission vision and values. Make sure that all employees – new hires and tenured staff members – are aligned on what they are and how their roles fit into achieving them.
Keep your values top of mind, calling attention to them during team meetings and praising those that are contributing to them publicly. Rewarding and recognizing high performers for living your values validates their hard work and encourages others to follow suit.
Develop connections between employees with regular team-building exercises and group gatherings that encourage employees to get to know one another on a personal level. Additionally, foster stronger manager-employee relationships by encouraging regular communication and frequent one-on-ones.
“A sense of mattering, of making a difference to a group and of the group mattering to its members.”
The idea of recognizing employees for their contributions to your community also applies here. But it goes one step further.
Moore explains this well: “Think about the statement, 'My voice is heard, my voice makes a difference.' Does that statement reflect your community at this moment? Is every individual’s voice valued? If you even have a twinge of 'no,' now is the time to roll up your sleeves and work to change it to a resounding — 'YES!'”
In other words, give employees a voice to effect positive change. I think of a story I read about an employee’s idea to build makeshift PPE gear until their delayed shipment arrived. Particularly frontline staff are closest to their residents – they often times have a better understanding of their needs and wellbeing than their own families. Give them an outlet to communicate their ideas and their concerns. Doing so will only lead to better care and give employees the satisfaction of being heard.
It's been so encouraging to see how providers are working to give their employees a voice and listening to their concerns and challenges during the pandemic. In fact, in our own customer data, we saw three times the number of surveys sent out via OnShift Engage to collect feedback from staff, including direct questions on how they can help better their lives during this time.
“The feeling that members’ needs will be met by the resources received through their membership in the group.”
How are you reinforcing that you value your community members? What are they getting in return for their commitment to your organization? This pillar involves examining your perks and benefits package. Are they in line with what today’s workers want? Work with your employees to ensure your offerings are impactful.
For example, one perk that has proven powerful time and time again is financial support. Employees that use OnShift Wallet – which gives them access to earned wages before payday – have been able to avoid high interest loans and pay bills on time. What’s more, 88% of users would recommend their workplace, and 94% of users would recommend OnShift Wallet, to a friend.
Career development is also non-negotiable for the modern workforce. Ensure you have structured career paths and resources in place. Additionally, managers should be having regular conversations with staff to set goals, assess progress and keep them on track.
Shared Emotional Connection
“The commitment and belief that members have shared and will share history, common places, time together, and similar experiences.”
Moore says, “When we think of shared connection, we often think about the body of work that we do together in a workplace. We are in the caring profession and that should align us from the start is an assumption often utilized. It is correct that there is an intrinsic desire in most people to make a difference. Relying on that is where many times we stumble as leaders.”
This pillar, albeit tricky, is extremely important. Establishing emotional connections between employees can be challenging, especially during times of tension like the one our country is currently experiencing. People are going to disagree, there’s no question about that, but can they agree to disagree? Can they have mutual respect for one another’s beliefs and opinions, put any differences aside and work toward a common goal?
Respecting someone with a different point of view does not mean you agree with them; it means you care about them. It makes me think of the idea that everyone is struggling with something. As the saying goes: "Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about." And most people are doing so silently. With that in mind, I think if everyone committed to being kinder—to their colleagues, their family members and even those they come into contact with at the grocery store—the world would be a much better place.
My daughter created a piece of art for me a few years back with the word compassion. She told me that this word always reminds her of me. I’ve kept her framed artwork in my office as a reminder to always exercise respect and kindness to others, regardless of our differences. I admit, it is not always easy, but following this rule of thumb has never steered me wrong.
Encourage your employees to get to know one another personally and to appreciate others’ unique experiences and ways of looking at the world. After all, diversity is what makes a community vibrant and something truly special.