July 30, 2021
by Sara Wildberger
With 16 years’ experience in senior living—and currently an executive director at an assisted living community—Susan Gold, CDAL, has seen many kinds of employee engagement efforts.
At Sterling Meadows, she has a unique situation that she feels is very fortunate: She lives about two hours away from the community, so she comes in on Monday and stays at the community until Friday. Her team knows she is readily available should an issue arise late evening or overnight.
In these excerpts from a longer interview, she gives her views on what practices really make a difference.
Stop and listen
In senior living, you have to be a great listener. So if somebody walks into my office—small problem, large problem, it doesn’t matter—I stop what I’m doing. I put my phone on mute. I stop looking at the computer; I shut the lid. I listen to what they have to say.
Team members value leadership that will be there in the trenches with them if it’s needed. I know how to operate a dishwasher. I can serve residents food. I can care for a resident. My team members know if somebody calls in sick and it’s an 11-to-seven shift, I’m going to cover that shift.
It starts with hiring
I try to keep my community very upbeat. We have a great sense of a team effort here. We take our time to hire the right individuals. You can always teach someone a task, but you can’t always find that engaging attitude and positivity—only certain people possess that.
They’ve got to have empathy; they’ve got to have a teamwork mentality.
So that’s what I look for—people that bring a positive energy into the community, and then we’ll mentor and teach them the tasks we need them to perform. I have been very lucky to have a great team, but I’ve also taken my time to hire people and make sure that they’re a good fit for the community.
My very first executive director when I started in this field would quote his motto daily: We’re all housekeepers, and we’re all marketers. That means we all have a vested interest in keeping our community clean and well-occupied.
When I’m bringing a tour through, I expect anybody that I introduced to those prospects to turn around, greet us, give a smile, and an introduction. If somebody spills some water, whoever is closest and sees it can clean it up—it doesn’t matter if you’re the housekeeper or the resident service director. We are all cross-trained, and we can all pitch in and help out whenever need be.
We have an employee of the month, and we do the parties. We’ve been making TikTok videos, and everyone can collaborate on what those should look like.
But at the end of the day, it’s not the pizza parties. It’s not the gift cards. People just want to feel appreciated. If they’re in an environment where they feel appreciated, not only by their leadership team, but by their coworkers and by the residents, they’re going to stay. They want to feel like their work matters.
I try to give a smile and a wink, and say “Hey, the community and residents look great. Thanks for all your hard work.” Or asking about their families, if you know that their husband has been ill, or they have a new grandchild. I make a point of greeting every one of them every day with a smile. You have to find that human connection and you have to go out of your way.
We laugh and engage a lot—the other day, when “Proud Mary” came on the overhead radio, we all stopped and danced. We were all singing “Jolene” along with Dolly Parton a little while ago—it’s fun. It just brightens everyone’s day.
People just want to be recognized. Team members need to know that they’re valued, and they’re appreciated. The simple ways are better.