This article is the first of a five-part series Become a Great Senior Living Leader by the TALA Workforce Development Committee. Stay tuned each week for the next in the series.  

Let’s start off by stating the fact that we all want to be truly seen and truly known.  The workplace is no exception.  Famous psychologist, Abraham Harold Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs[1] lists five basic needs for all humans:

  1. Self-Actualization
  2. Self-Esteem
  3. Love & Belonging
  4. Safety & Security
  5. Physiological needs

Four of the five relate to one’s desire to be known: Love and Belonging, Self Esteem, Self-Actualization and Safety and Security.

What do leaders need to provide for senior living staff?

Certainly, as employers we are not responsible for providing the primary basic human need in Maslow’s pyramid, Physiological Needs, but we are contributors to the remaining four!  After all, staff are spending forty hours per week or more in our communities.  This is, by ratio more time than they spend with their families.

Maslow’s Pyramid

Maslow’s hierarchy of basic needs is a theory of psychology explaining human motivation based on the pursuit of different levels of needs. (add source) The theory states that humans are motivated to fulfill their needs in a hierarchical order. This order begins with the most basic needs before moving on to more advanced needs.

How do senior living providers aim to meet staff needs?

As leaders of a senior living community, consider asking yourself the following questions intended to promote a sense of belonging and acknowledgement of staff in the workplace:

  • Do you greet team members as you walk by and include eye contact?
  • Do you listen to problems rather than solve them? Ask for feedback?
  • Do you have programs in place to recognize top performers? Is Executive Director special attention provided in person to celebrate alongside of them?
  • Are you comfortable addressing team members’ needs that are not work related? Studies show that most team members’ needs and concerns stem from issues that are non-work related.
  • Does your organization offer counseling and/or EAP programs or provide access to outside resource groups?
  • Do you invest in a solid mentorship program to ensure team members get off on the right foot? Are the mentors staying in touch on a routine basis?
  • Do you involve staff in company decision making?
  • Do you effectively communicate and involve team members in changes within the company?
  • Do you set up volunteer opportunities where staff can give back? What passions do your team members have outside of work?
  • Do you plan company outings outside of the work environment?

If you answered “NO” to two or more of these questions, this tends to create an environment where team members feel de-valued or unappreciated. If this is the case, dig a little deeper to understand what may be creating barriers that once identified can help leaders break through!

Why do leaders fail to get to know staff?

This is an important question for leaders to self-reflect on. Below are some typical characteristics of differentiated individuals.

1. We do not inherently trust people

Many of us have given trust to someone, only to be betrayed in our past.  This hurts and we feel the only way to protect ourselves from this in the future is to pull back, right?  If I don’t trust, then I won’t get hurt.  The problem with this thinking is that it renders us incapable of developing a deeper relationship with another person.

2. The industry has seen an increase in lawsuits.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where anyone can sue literally anyone. Being involved in a lawsuit by no means indicates that you have done something wrong. However, the fear of a lawsuit can contribute to hesitation among leaders. It is essential to provide training for staff members preparing in advance.  Panic is never the right option. No one is okay with that feeling of “losing your job”. Executive Directors can be supportive of team members and walk beside them in the process of being named in a lawsuit.

3.  Corporate HR Department communication with community leadership.

Have you ever been named in a staff complaint that was called to the corporate HR department, before you even knew that there was an issue?  Was the HR representative supportive, or did you feel that things were kept “secret” as part of an investigation.  This type of scenario can instill panic and worry for any team member. Consider discussing with the organization’s HR team how best to reduce anxiety and get past a potential barrier.

4.  Executive Directors MUST be approachable.

Community leadership can be afraid to be open and transparent.  This leaves leaders projecting a false sense of self and doesn’t allow staff to see who leaders truly are. It is one thing to do this out of fear, but a whole other issue if it is the leader that needs to change. Imagine what it might look like for staff when an Executive Director appears not to be present in a community? How can trust be built?

Take the risk, be approachable. 



Written by: TALA Workforce Development Committee Member Brad Buschow, Executive Director, Morada Senior Living

This article is the first of a five-part series Become a Great Senior Living Leader by the TALA Workforce Development Committee. Stay tuned each week for the next in the series.