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"Mixing it up" for morale: an administrator's hands-on techniques.

All facilities are unique, but all staffers' morale-related needs are the same, no matter what their position. There are several issues to confront in addressing this generalized need. They range from staff cliques, to poor working conditions, to lack of supplies to accomplish assigned tasks, to poor management attitudes. For the benefit of my colleagues in this difficult arena, I will describe attempts we have made to address these issues.

Staff cliques are familiar to any experienced administrator -- those self-selected groups of employees who speak the same language, share the same attitudes, and tend to exclude those who do neither. In addressing such cliques, we try putting a few from each clique on committees together. We pair up members from different cliques whenever possible -- and we never entertain a discussion in which one clique is berating another. We praise their accomplishments as a group, and sometimes we see the development of mutual respect.

With some staffers, though, nothing seems to work. We start with one-on-one counseling with the administrator, and if this doesn't work, we use our personnel policy for termination, the message being that prejudice will not be tolerated. Such firmness on behalf of the entire staff gains their respect, at least in our experience.

Extend your leadership to your housekeeping and maintenance crew. If they are not keeping the facility clean and repaired, find out why. It may be lack of funds or inadequate supervision. If it's money, then as an administrator you must let the owner know of the need for these funds. If these legitimate requests are refused, pack it in -- during the next survey, it will be your license that is affected.

Assessing the competence of your department heads may be more difficult. Sometimes they are reluctant to answer your concerns honestly, for fear of losing their jobs or of you thinking they are incompetent because they're "complainers". Generally, just watching them interact with their personnel tells you a lot. Are they acting superior to their workers? Are they ordering instead of asking? Are they belittling instead of building up? If you notice behavior along these lines, talk with the department heads and see if something is bothering them. Maybe their morale is low and you can "fix" this with recognition.

I can remember taking over a facility where the morale was extremely low throughout -- including the residents. I was able to turn this around fairly rapidly; it was very easy and took little work on my part. The biggest advantage I had was that I liked the staff, and I went out of my way to show this.

Twice a week I pushed a cart with coffee, tea and cookies all over the facility and personally served the employees. Every month or so I fixed chili dogs in my office and invited staffers to drop by for lunch. At least six times a month I walked up to an outstanding employee or one that was obviously trying, handed them a five dollar bill, thanked them for doing a great job and invited them to have lunch on me (a modest move that was surprisingly effective; word got around and everyone wanted to be seen as "special" in this way). Once every three months I had my department heads serve lunch to their workers and give out certificates of appreciation. This not only conveyed recognition, but kindled more respect for the department heads.

An old boss of mine used to say, "Bring me the solution, not the problem." I got happier department heads by letting them solve their own problems, by inviting them to "think." If their solution isn't feasible, we searched for other solutions together. I learned never to make a department head feel inadequate or that any of his/her problems seemed trivial. I've also learned never to chastise anyone in front of other people -- you don't hurt them anywhere near as much as you hurt yourself.

A facility run on fear ends up in devastation, because count on it, your staff will get even -- if not with you, then with the owner. You can imagine the ways this gets accomplished, and is about as good an argument as any for removing the "fear quotient."

These suggestions will not provide answers to all your problems, but in my experience, they'll solve about 90% of them. As for the rest, "come up with the solution, not the problem."

Bobbye Greet is administrator of the East Los Angeles Convalescent Center, Los Angeles, CA.
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Author:Greet, Bobbye
Publication:Nursing Homes
Date:Mar 1, 1996
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