Skip to content Skip to navigation

5 keys to finding and retaining resident-centered employees

August 20, 2013
by Rebecca McNeil
| Reprints

Long-term care increasingly is emphasizing the resident experience and resident-centered care. Communities are committing to providing residents with more choices and independence in an effort to increase residents’ dignity.

To deliver on this promise, long-term care (LTC) organizations must find employees who are passionate about building and maintaining relationships with residents. To do so, organizations must pay attention to employees’ internal motivators.

Most healthcare workers come to long-term care with a story and a reason for being there. This fact is evident at EMA communities. “We find that the employees who are the most motivated are people who have been moved and inspired by something in their lives related to older adults,” said Ryan Lillis, director of organizational development. “In many cases, they want to change society’s norms about aging.”


Organizations that identify internal motivators and design systems and processes that keep employees in touch with them in the workplace are more likely to hire and retain employees who are engaged with residents. Here are five keys to cultivating a team of relationship-focused employees:

1. Select candidates who value service and relationships.

During the hiring process, evaluate applicants’ personalities and soft skills as well as their clinical abilities.

“We aren’t just looking for people with a certain certification or degree,” Lillis said. “We also are looking for people with the passion and intrinsic motivation that makes them view their work as more than simply a job.”

To identify these individuals, EMA uses behavioral assessment software, focusing especially on candidates’ service excellence scores. These scores provide insights into how employees will engage with residents as they perform their jobs. For example, a fitness instructor who scored well on service excellence and performed well in interviews doesn’t simply guide residents through exercise programs; he or she also engages in discussions with residents and values that interaction.

2. Create a culture that gives employees permission to develop relationships.

Identifying and hiring employees who value resident relationships is a good first step, but to guarantee an environment of resident-centered care, LTC communities must ensure that their cultures and practices support staff and resident relationships.

EMA, for example, has five core values: people, passion, purpose, permission and promise-keeping. Each of these values is supported by a guiding principle and supporting behaviors. The guiding principle for the core value of people, for instance, is, “We believe in the power of relationships.”

EMA encourages its employees to engage in relationship-oriented behaviors, including setting aside distractions and giving others full attention; openly appreciating the gifts and contributions of others; encouraging openness and sharing to build trust; seeking first to understand, then to be understood; and suspending judgment, dispelling fear and creating a safe space for relationships to grow.

3. Hold managers accountable for inspiring employees.

EMA prides itself on creating a culture in which employees are inspired rather than motivated. “When we talk about managers motivating employees, there is a subtext of fear,” Lillis said. “On the other hand, when managers inspire employees, they take action based on love. We find that this approach is more effective; it assigns meaning to work and enables employees to become part of something bigger than them.”

When employees believe they are an integral part of a community, they are more likely to engage with residents and have positive interactions.

4. Realize the power of public recognition.

One of the best ways that EMA communities have found to promote positive employee behaviors is public recognition. “Public recognition is a huge inspiration not only for employees but for the entire community,” Lillis said.

It doesn’t take a major effort for staff recognition to have the desired effect. For example, during a staff meeting, managers can call attention to a team member who interacted well with a resident. Alternatively, a supervisor might create and hang by the time clock a poster that commends an employee.

Such recognition has positive effects on the entire community. Honored employees are inspired to continue their behaviors, employees who see the recognition are inspired to emulate their peers, and residents are inspired because they see that they are a part of a community that encourages relationship-building.

“People shouldn’t underestimate how powerful public recognition can be,” Lillis said. “It’s cost-effective, has a positive viral effect in the community and fosters a continued emphasis on staff and resident relationships.”

5. Assess relationship-building skills via performance evaluations and resident satisfaction surveys.

To reinforce the importance of resident relationships to the organization, EMA evaluates employees on service-related factors. First, each staff member creates a self-evaluation. Doing so gives employees the opportunity to communicate what they’ve done well, what they want to do better and what they believe the organization could improve. Next, managers assess their teams based on essential functions as well as how their behaviors align with each of the supporting behaviors for all five guiding principles.