3 small changes promise big impact in motivating your LTC staff (LTL mag online)

Here’s my latest article in Long-Term Living magazine online:

 Doctor in shock

3 small changes promise big impact in motivating your LTC staff

The new year has just begun and even without an official resolution, January holds the promise of a fresh start. This could be the year to address perennial problems plaguing your organization. It can be a challenge, though, to know where to begin on the mountain of tasks needing attention. Perhaps you have neither the time nor the budget for major changes. The good news is that psychological research suggests small goals tend to be more successful than great ambitions. With that in mind, make use of the new year’s momentum by making minor adjustments in three areas for a big impact: appreciation, repair and organization.


Studies show that long-term care staff members aren’t in it for the money. Because workers tend to be more motivated by recognition of their efforts than by remuneration, showing appreciation will reap great rewards.

  • Start small by simply thanking the people around you for their efforts. Recognize triumphs, commitment to the team and attempts even if they don’t result in success. As leaders within the organization, your attention to appreciation can create a ripple effect as others model their behavior after you and start thanking their coworkers and subordinates.
  • Make it a habit to recognize one person, unit or action in each morning report or department head meeting. By calling attention to positive behaviors, you provide a roadmap for your employees or coworkers regarding the kind of work you’d like to see.  Ask coworkers to “tell on” their peers, and vary who receives acknowledgement so that the unsung heroes shine as much as the obvious go-getters. Use this powerful tool, for example, if you sense a new employee might be feeling anxious, commending their work in front of colleagues to generate a feeling of inclusion and welcome.
  • Take appreciation a step further by establishing an official recognition program such as “Employee of the Month.” Rewards can be as simple as a good parking spot, a plaque on the wall or a gift certificate to a local restaurant.


In any establishment there are things that break down. The New York City subway system, for example, is over 100 years old and in constant need of repair. The Metropolitan Transit Authority moves station to station with complete renovations that transform the location from dingy and crumbling to bright and freshly tiled. A recent sign in a subway car, however, announced a change in its repair program: instead of complete overhauls while most stations languished in disrepair, they’d now be attending to the most urgent needs of all stations. If the MTA can use this triage approach, so can long-term care.


For more, visit LTL mag online: 3 small changes promise big impact in motivating your LTC staff


4 thoughts on “3 small changes promise big impact in motivating your LTC staff (LTL mag online)”

    • Thanks, Sue! I wish all nursing home administrators would read all my articles! I’m sure the psychologist perspective would be illuminating and possibly as close as they could get to being a fly on the wall in their own facilities.

  1. About 2 months ago, I listened to a show on NPR talking about issues in the long-term care system. The “expert” that was interviewed mainly advocated for higher wages for nurse aides. As a person who spent 10 years as a nurse aide, I vehemently disagree. While more money is always nice, getting paid an extra dollar or two per hour would not have made the frustrations and difficulties I faced as a CNA easier for me to grapple with. It would have done nothing to make me a happier and more satisfied aide. You are right that long-term care workers are not “in it for the money”. You’re suggestion for administrators and managers to show more appreciation and implement a system for recognition is a good one. It is an effective way to boost morale, and a clever, covert intervention to motivate workers to meet higher work standards. However, any manager or administrator who takes that advice should also be committed to creating a CULTURE of appreciation in their facility, and take steps to improving other aspects of the work environment. Nurses and CNA’s need to know that their opinions and suggestions are being heard, and they need to see through changes made in the workplace that they matter. Otherwise, the appreciation and recognition is nothing more than lip service. Which then leads to more negativity because it is insulting to be cooed over and praised, but ignored in every other way.

    The second suggestion for addressing the most urgent repair needs is also a good one. I remember a few years into working at a certain facility, the corporate division announced that they would begin renovations in many of the facilities. After that I heard administrators and managers using that as a selling point to potential residents and their families. On the first day of renovations, carpenters, painters, etc… came in and headed straight for the offices. All administrative personnel and other office workers received full renovations of their office spaces and a new heating and cooling system. Of course, the front foyer and reception area was also given a facelift. But, the hallways and wings where resident rooms were located and the resident rooms remained untouched. Resident’s who were lucky enough to have a family (one), a family that cared (two) and a family with money (three) had window air-conditioners.

    I remember feeling angry and disgusted during that renovation process. Not because I was bitter or felt that administration and office workers did not also work hard and deserve a nice work space, but because the carpenters, etc… walking into the offices first that day really demonstrated to me what was truly valued.

    Now, that could lead me into a much longer post about how awful it is that long-term care is a business, but for now I’ll stop here.

    To close though, I will say that I am glad you are using your expertise to make changes in the long-term care system.

    • Sarah Jane, thank you for sharing your thoughts on the subject. I agree that it’s important to incorporate the suggestions and opinions of the CNAs, nurses and others who are working with the residents in order to make effective decisions. While those at the administrative level are privy to certain types of information, CNAs, nurses, etc also have crucial information. To make decisions without getting the feedback of those who will be following them is to miss out not only on an opportunity to make better choices, but to create a more harmonious team where workers see that their opinions are valued. Part of what I love about the blogosphere is that there’s a forum for everybody to share their experience and learn from each other. You don’t have to be a CEO to comment on my blog (though CEOs are welcome too!).


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