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It's All About Connections

Published February 11, 2009 2:56 PM by Brian Garavaglia

Nursing home administrators face an important dilemma: They need to lead and at times be firm, yet they need to remain connected to their workers. 

Many administrators and managers think they cannot be leaders and be connected to their workers. A frequent management ideology is that one must remain distant from their staff to produce the most objective form of management. In other words, remaining distant, aloof and uninvolved is frequently viewed as the necessary means for managing people in long-term care facilities. However, quite to the contrary, this can be a very hazardous management style to employ. It may not only lead to a more contentious work environment, but it may also lead to lower levels of productivity among the staff.   

Connectivity does not necessarily mean that the administrator has to establish a buddy system. Connectivity means that there is a feeling by the workers that they are attached to the larger environment. Individuals with a sense of connectivity feel that they are productive members of the larger nursing home environment.

Feeling connected to something is very important. Studies have found that those that feel connected to their school excel at greater levels. Those connected to their community demonstrate lower levels of deviance and crime. And those connected to their workplace have lower levels of turnover and higher levels of job satisfaction. An important element of leadership is nurturing the connection of the workers to their work environment. However, administrators that are dictatorial, aloof and disconnected themselves create a fragmented environment.

Empathy and Connectivity

Empathy is an important emotion that helps to build feelings of connectivity. Empathy, contrary to sympathy, is an emotion that helps you feel what another person is feeling.  Empathy is so fundamental that without it individuals can commit unthinkable behaviors. 

However, it is also sometimes felt that empathy can be detrimental for sound administration. I have frequently heard many individuals say that in a higher management or administrative position you have to leave your empathy at the doorstep. The thinking here is that empathy will prevent an administrator or manager from successfully disciplining workers and making them work in a productive manner. 

However, in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Workers often want to feel that they are being understood. In a nursing facility, an administrator is often faced with many workers that will frequently want to have the administrator's ear. Coming off distant, aloof, uncaring and unfeeling can make workers feel that their concerns and feelings are not important. Empathy is an important emotion that helps administrators and managers connect with their workers, helping them understand what their employees are feeling. 

Being an empathic administrator does not mean you will become "soft," unable to lead firmly and without conviction. However, it does mean that your leadership will be predicated upon a greater knowledge of your workers, and with it, a greater intersubjective understanding of your interaction as an administrator with those that you lead.           

The Importance of Listening

Listening is a very important part of communication. All too often when communication is discussed the transmission of the message, especially verbally, is emphasized. Being a good listener helps to establish a connection with your workers. One of the most common complaints that workers in nursing care facilities have is that they are not being listened to by management. 

When workers feel that they are being listened to, they feel a sense of connectivity. It should also be mentioned that productive listening skills are based on "active" listening, which is different than "passive" listening. Active listening leads to feedback and questions that are used. When an administrator, manager or regional director is listening to their workers and providing feedback as well as asking questions, workers feel a sense of connectivity. They are aware that the person they are interacting with is not only hearing them, but listening to them as well. They feel that the person who is actively listening to them is taking their entire "self" into consideration. This is quite different than the passive listener, who may just stare and hear what a person is saying, but is really not listening intently to the worker. Workers often are quite aware of these types of listeners and come away feeling disconnected and unappreciated, not only as workers, but as a person. 

The Secure Base

Psychologists, especially those that study attachment, have known for some time that establishing a "secure base" is very important to feel a level of connectivity. Psychologists have studied the importance of creating a secure base in childhood, as well as in adulthood.  This also applies to the workplace and in particular, the nursing home environment. Those that have a secure base feel a sense of security and trust. 

This is very important, especially during these volatile economic times. However, workers that feel that their environment is fraught with insecurity will fear speaking or interacting with the administrator or other managers for fear of what it may lead to. The nursing home environment becomes one that individuals feel they need to tread very gingerly in due to the perception that management is disconnected and not caring about their workers.   

Contrary to what most individuals have come to assume, nursing home management is predicated upon maintaining a strong level of connectivity. This attachment or connection to workers in the nursing home environment is critical. Workers that feel disconnected also will typically have lower levels of productivity, feel lower levels of job satisfaction, and experience higher turnover rates. 

Workers need to feel that their concerns and feelings are being taken seriously, that they are being listened to, and that their environment is one that builds on feelings of trust and security. An uncaring and disconnected administrator or manager can lead to an environment that leaves the workers disconnected and subsequently uninvolved. When this happens it further spirals into a work environment that not only leads to worker dissatisfaction, but it also compromises the care that is so paramount to the nursing care facility.       

posted by Brian Garavaglia
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About this Blog


    Brian Garavaglia, PhD
    Occupation: Long-term care administrator
    Setting: Sterling Heights, Mich.
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