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Why Your Mission and Culture Matter

An Interview with Alex Chamberlain of EasyLiving

By Shannon Martin of AgingWisely

Alex Chamberlain, Executive Director of EasyLiving, Inc. in Clearwater, Florida shares some of the innovative ways they have built a strong team culture amongst their caregivers, and how that has resulted in success.

Tell us about your mission and why you think it is so important.

EasyLiving’s mission is to create an environment where we set our team members up for success empowering them to provide the best in home care to the community. To be honest, I don’t think you should be in the home care business if you just see it as a money-making opportunity. There’s been a lot of press about the growing demand of our aging population, and I think that sometimes attracts people who don’t truly care about the client and what it will take to provide excellent care. We approach this as a professional business and take being an employer in our local community very seriously. The only way we can accomplish our goal every day is to hire, train and treat our caregivers the best. This in turn leads to satisfied clients, more business and therefore helps keep our caregivers employed with plenty of work.

We look at everything through the lens of our mission and take any concerns that arise as a sign we need to be doing something better to support that caregiver. For example, if we have a client who requests a caregiver not return, we have that caregiver come in for a caregiver coaching session (which we also perform at regular intervals) to talk about ways to improve or how to resolve the concern.

Tell us more about how your culture ties in with your mission.

We want to rethink the image of caregivers and the culture of home care. Caregivers are amazing people with caring hearts and they need to be thanked for what they do. There are people out there who think of caregivers as “the hired help” and do not always respect them. We expect professional behavior from our caregivers, so we also demand our clients show that respect. We have “fired” clients who do not do so.
We take our mission to mean that we must hire, train, and treat our caregivers in the best way possible. It means constantly figuring out the best ways to do this. When you do this, you demonstrate that you take your mission seriously and your team begins to feel pride not only in what they do, but in where they work. When you have a team that buys into your mission and culture it attracts other like-minded individuals.

What are some of the specific initiatives you have set up to reward and appreciate caregivers?
We believe it’s essential to reward good behavior. A punitive system only reduces bad behavior; it won’t necessarily develop good behavior. We have a comprehensive rewards program we call iCaRewards™ which allows caregivers to earn rewards points they can redeem for great prizes. They can earn points for everything from getting a “kudos” sticker from a client to attending a training or event. Some of the neat things we have done for caregivers include:

  • Sending a personal thank you note when they do something great or we get good feedback.
  • Setting up a “personal pizza party” where we send pizza to their home so they can enjoy a complimentary family meal on us.
  • Providing a “day off” pass, eight hours of PTO.
  • Car washes, massage gift certificates and magazine subscriptions along with a variety of gift cards they can choose from to redeem rewards.
We recently created an “Inspirational Caregiver Award”. Each month we choose five finalists, who exemplify top quality caregiving. They each receive a gift card and we create a lot of excitement about the award. We partner within our community network to feature this award on a local radio show. The winner gets a spotlight on the radio show, our website and social media. This takes the recognition to a whole new level and shows a wider audience the positive picture of caregiving. It’s one thing to be recognized, but it adds a lot of excitement when it’s being shouted out to the world.

What are some of the challenges to creating this culture and some advice you would give to other business owners?

Buy-in takes time. It took us almost two years for every one of our caregivers to acknowledge our rewards program and start to talk about the differences in working at EasyLiving. You have to be persistent and creative and take every opportunity to share about your mission and why you are doing what you do. Culture is so much more than one event. Caregivers have to see that it underlies everything you do…in other words, you really mean it and it shows. Communicating is key. We take a multi-pronged approach to communication…mailing, emailing, calling and texting our caregivers about events and initiatives. We have an intranet site where we share upcoming events and company updates. We also use social media to help us push messages out to the team and build the sense of community. We don’t use social media primarily to reach new clients; we have harnessed its power instead to communicate to our caregivers and spread our mission.

How do you measure your success?

The obvious benchmarks include recruitment (referrals from current caregivers especially) and retention rates. But more importantly, your caregiver efforts should be reflected in your quality scores. We see this at EasyLiving, with consistent top scores in our independent Home Care Pulse surveys. The efforts you put in to your caregivers mean clients will be requesting those caregivers to come back and your clients become ambassadors for you in the community. When our clients are asked if they’d recommend our agency in our surveys, almost all of them respond positively and most have already done so.

Beyond the numbers, you can feel the shift in your culture. We felt it at our recent Memorial Day party, when we had a large crowd of caregivers (and some of their family and clients), staff and friends gathering for camaraderie and relaxation. We also feel it when we see our caregivers telling their friends how great it is to work at EasyLiving, encouraging each other and interacting on our Facebook page.

Alex Chamberlain is Executive Director of EasyLiving, Inc., a private duty home care agency serving Pinellas County, Florida. Alex was recently named Clearwater Chamber’s Young Professional of the Year. Under his leadership, EasyLiving has been named a “Best in Home Care” agency by Home Care Pulse and one of the fastest growing businesses by the Tampa Bay Business Journal. Alex is also the founder of EZFingerprints, an electronic fingerprinting service which is currently offering franchise opportunities.

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