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Darcy Grabenstein: Hello from SmartLinx Solutions. In today's podcast, we'll talk about ways to boost employee morale during the holidays. Our guest is Carol Looney, principal and co-founder of Signature HR Solutions, which provides human resources solutions for small and midsize businesses. Carol, before we get started, can you tell us a little bit about your background in long-term care.
Carol Looney: Absolutely, Darcy. Thank you so much for asking me to participate in the call today. For the past seven years, I've been a director of human resources within long-term care in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York in a wide variety of settings. I've always loved working in long-term care because of the great work that the employees do for the resident population, giving back to the community, and just the great feeling that it is to walk down the hall and see everyone making the lives of someone else better and richer. That is really the great reason why I've been in HR in long-term care. Currently, I'm an HR consultant with Signature HR Solutions. As you said, we provide HR solutions to small and midsize companies for a wide variety of reasons. I'm happy to be on the call today.
DG: Great, well let's get started. As we know, employee morale is important all year round, but why is it important to recognize the impact of that during the holiday season?
CL: Absolutely. The holidays can be a happy time for so many people, but everyone deals with the holidays in a different manner. A strong leader, a strong organization will recognize the value of being in tune with employees during the whole year, and specifically during the holiday time. Sometimes caregivers are honestly the last ones to take care of themselves. They're so busy being the emotional support, spiritual support, physical support for others that it's not easy to take a step back and remember that a caregiver has needs too. Recognizing the employee morale during the holiday time is really a great way to build a team, humanize the workplace, and fight sometimes the perception that nursing homes or long-term care can be very clinical, cold, depressing places to work. It's really important that we keep that in mind during the holiday season to impact employee morale.
DG: Great. What about resources that you can use to gauge employee morale?
CL: Sure. I think it's really important that you communicate with your department heads and let them know that the holiday season can be a different impact for a wide variety of employees. Just get the word out that you're looking to make that connection to understand that people may be struggling during the holiday time. I think using your social worker is a great way to ensure that staff knows that you're willing and able to offer outlet or community resources for employees. I think it's important that you're also tied into your HR department because they may be the first one that's seeing concerns about employee behavioral issues. If you've got someone that's having some lack of attention, poor attitude, lack of engagement, those can be signs that they're just not dealing with the holidays, and they may need that additional support from you or from the team.
I think it's important that you also have an open dialogue with your scheduler. The scheduler is the one who really is getting those phone calls from people that are saying, “I can't come into work.” They are not showing up. They're missing what they would normally have as a regular schedule. They may see those patterns of behavior. That's something you can use to gauge employee morale and allow you to dig a little bit deeper before concerns really surface. I think if you just expand your network a little bit more. Again, focus on your department heads, ask the questions, your HR team, and your scheduler, all collaboratively is really important to get those data points, to gauge how your workforce is doing during the holiday season.
DG: Those are all great. I particularly like the social worker idea. I always thought of the social worker in terms of residents and residents' families, but to offer that to your employees I think that makes an impact.
CL: Absolutely. I think it's a great way just to use those connections, those community resources because the social worker is in touch with just about every organization that can assist in any capacity. Stressing also that those conversations are confidential and private, will always give employees a greater comfort.
DG: Now, we all like to get a little pat on the back. How can recognition impact morale, particularly at holiday time?
CL: Absolutely. I think it's important that you know your staff. It's very critical to get out, to walk around, be visible, be accessible, and really model the behavior that you expect from your team. I also think it's a balance because you don't want to be overly bubbly, or intrusive, or try to be that person who wants to spread too much holiday cheer. It can come off as being not genuine, not sincere in really trying to get people motivated when perhaps they're just a little bit down, or they're not ready yet to engage at that high level of spirit during the holiday time. I think it's important to lay a foundation of trust, open conversation. Again, don't wait until you're making out the holiday schedule to try to figure out who's not dealing with it very well or who may need a little extra boost. Start those conversations really early. I think it's critical to just make sure those are confidential and private. You may want to reach out in advance to people that you know have had a very challenging year personally or professionally. Just keep those in mind as you go through the holiday time.
DG: What are some creative ways to increase morale?
CL: A couple really creative ideas that I love are leveraging social media to publicly thank employees that work during the holiday time. Allow them to send a message on social media over Facebook or whatever vehicle that you have through your website to spread their own message of holiday cheer. A personal letter sent to their home thanking them for their efforts. I think every family member loves to receive something that says that their spouse, their partner, their child, their roommate did a great job at work where they spend so much time. To have that personal acknowledgment is really important. A holiday party for children of employees can go a long way as well too as a creative way to just have the workforce become a little more personal and get folks to see that it's a bright, happy atmosphere. I love a decoration contest among floors or units. This doesn't have to be limited to the holiday time. This could be a luau event in the summer or anything that's just a creative outlet.
One location that I worked with had a craft fair. That would be to have local vendors come in and just provide some gifts for employees that they could purchase during breaks. A lot of those were handmade which was wonderfully creative. They were very cost effective. It was just a way that people could take a little bit of burden out of how they spend their free time during the holiday season. That was a really fun atmosphere, and everyone got an extra maybe 10 or 15-minute break to go down and check out the vendors. We had some food and some holiday music, so it was just a light-hearted atmosphere. That was great.
Another location that I worked at had an ugly sweater contest. That's always just a hoot to see who's going to have the ugliest sweater, whether it’s got lights on it or tinsel. Some of them were even handmade if you didn't have an ugly sweater. They just went to the craft store and bought some felt, and some glitter, and tinsel. That was a very creative way. We actually had our CEO one year, put a video on Facebook of himself in an ugly sweater. He challenged other CEOs and administrators in the area to have fun with their team as well. It was a little bit about putting yourself out there and just having a lighthearted spirit around it.
Another idea is to leverage your local community. Many groups would be willing to come onsite and do a recital, a concert, a performance, even help you with holiday decorating. I'm thinking around Girl Scout troops, Boy Scout Troops, your local theater group, your local community singers, anything, a magician, a performer. Anyone that would love to come on and spread some holiday cheer. Oftentimes they're really cost effective. It's a great way to just give back to your employees and spread a little good cheer and increase morale during the holiday time.
DG: You didn't mention dancers! I'm actually in a dance class and we've gone and performed. We don't call it “performed,” but we've gone and danced for free at facilities. The residents appreciate it so much.
CL: That's an absolutely great idea. I love anything that allows residents and staff to see what the local community has to offer. Something that's visually stimulating, that's got music or activity, I think is a great way to just break that cycle of regular day-in, day-out work and just really spread some good holiday cheer, so that's great.
Then my last idea is everyone gets that clunker of a gift after holiday time. Maybe consider doing a Yankee swap in between the Christmas holiday and New Year where people bring in either an unwanted or unloved gift that they've received, and some lucky winner gets to go home with it, with a Yankee swap. That can just be a really fun, creative idea that you can use during the holiday time.
Another thing might be to have a video created of holiday memories. Many of our employees or residents have great holiday memories that they'd love to share. To have a video created either by your marketing team or sometimes you may have a college student home from break that's very creative that's looking for a special project that they can work on in the holiday break time and take back to their school. That would be a great outlet to show just some creative ideas around holiday memories and really just capturing that on video. Then use it in your social media to represent how your workforce, your culture is different and creative. That's a great retention tool as well.
DG: I love all these ideas. I particularly like the idea of a party for the children of employees because at this time of the year employees may be away from home more, working some more shifts or more hours during the holiday time. This way is one way to spend some extra time with the kids.
CL: Yeah, that's great. I know a number of locations do it at Halloween as well too, or they'll have a tea or a luncheon during Mother's Day weekend or Father's Day weekend, and invite children to come and spend some time to get to see where mom or dad works. It's just a great way to open the doors to the community or the family and get them to appreciate that: oh, this is what mom or dad does; and this is why they have to be away from home; and they're really helping and contributing towards others. Isn't that a great feeling to get?
DG: That has an added benefit because residents love when kids are around. It's a win-win for everyone.
CL: Absolutely. If your site has any inter-generational programming: maybe you've got folks in an adult day health program, and you've got some onsite childcare, or you have little ones come in for a special craft project. Those are great opportunities to share on social media, get employees excited about. It just presents a great positive picture of the environment that you're creating.
DG: Carol, thank you so much for all your insights today. Some real hands-on things that facilities can do to help employees during the holidays. Thanks to our listeners. If you'd like to learn more about SmartLinx Solutions and our fully integrated workforce management solutions suite, visit us online at SmartLinxSolutions.com.