Heritage Gets Creative on Quest to Become an Employer of Choice

When Heritage Ministries announced an employee recognition program, it’s likely workers envisioned a free T-shirt or pizza party.

Instead, employees who were nominated by their peers are getting vacations, paid days off, Christmas bonuses equivalent to 5% of annual salary, spa visits and serenity rooms with massage chairs where they can take 10-minute breaks.

Even before the pandemic, finding good employees was tough, especially in the senior-care industry. Heritage Ministries CEO Lisa Haglund said she recognized the Jamestown nonprofit must become an employer of choice to attract and keep those employees.

“It’s so significant with what’s going on in our world,” she said. “We’ve just got to change the entire narrative.”

With 10 senior-living communities in four states and a combined budget of about $100 million, Heritage Ministries operates skilled nursing, assisted living and independent living sites serving 2,500 residents.

That takes a staff of 1,500 full- and part-time and includes dietary and housekeeping workers, social workers and registered nurses. Improving retention rates has been vital – two years ago, the turnover rate was 49% to 79%. Haglund said changes implemented over the last year have shrunk that rate to 2% to 40%.

Employees at sites in New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania and the state of Washington nominated their peers for a golden ticket. Winners were randomly selected.

“One person in dietary worked for us for 20 years and this woman had never taken a vacation,” Haglund said. “She was beside herself, didn’t even know where to go. Another was an activities gal who has been with us maybe seven years and has been working overtime. The third was in social work. It was just a great, great moment.”

Most importantly, the entire workforce had a hand in choosing the winners, which made it a team-building exercise as well.

Just as important is taking care of the team on a daily basis, Haglund said. So while one person might be worried about retirement plans, others may be struggling to pay a cell phone bill or have enough gas to get to work. The company is signing employees up for Instacart and bringing grocery basics on site for those whose work schedule doesn’t allow time for shopping.

“I grew up in a corporate world where when you went into work it didn’t matter what happened at home, you put it in a box,” Haglund said. “It’s about the financial side, but also are you happy? It’s about culture and mental well-being.”

This story was originally published at BizJournals.com. Read the story by Tracy Drury here.