Rowntree Gardens has a large number of employees who display a high level of engagement — at a rate of 64%!

By Steve Moran

When a senior living provider has a turnover rate of just 20% and is in the top 14% of all providers for employee engagement, it’s probably a pretty good idea to find out how they’re doing it. Rowntree Gardens, a life care senior community in Stanton, Calif., has the good fortune of having a large number of employees who display a high level of engagement — at a rate of 64%, according to its Gallup Q12 Employee Engagement Survey results.

Steve Moran took some time recently to sit down with Randy Brown, CEO and Chairman of Rowntree, and talk about the community’s secret sauce for having committed, motivated, and capable employees. “So how did you get to this high number of actively engaged staff?” Moran asked Brown.

A Culture of Compassion and Dedication

“I think our existing culture had something to do with it,” Brown replied, noting that the community’s staff members are very compassionate and devoted. “On top of that,” he says, “I think we’ve done a lot to acknowledge employees and make them feel that their roles here are important no matter what level they are working.” He emphasized that Rowntree is “not in the senior care business, we’re in the people business, and if we’re in the people business, that crosses over into the people who work for us.”

It was one year ago that Rowntree employed Gallup to administer its employee engagement survey and discovered that 64% of its employees were considered to be “actively engaged,” while 4% were “actively disengaged.” Brown adds that since the national average of actively engaged staff is at 30%, Rowntree is proud to have doubled it. What’s more, the average actively disengaged score nationwide is 18%, while Rowntree’s is just a fraction of that.

In addition to impressive employee engagement numbers, Rowntree also beats the national average among senior living providers with a low 20% turnover rate.

Sometimes, It’s A Simple Solution

Having heard that Brown had implemented a somewhat unorthodox yet innovative method of fostering and teaching leadership skills among its supervisors, Moran asked him to explain: “We have half-hour power talks with staff each month,” says Brown. “We take managers and move them into leadership positions, but that doesn’t always translate into leadership skills. So we give them those skills.”

Brown explains that they hold half-hour meetings each month, twice per day over two days. Each supervisor is required to attend one meeting. “This enables staff to come while they’re on the clock and helps us equip them with interpersonal skills and suggestions about how to acknowledge their staff, commend them for work well done, and teach them how to have difficult conversations,” he says. “We give them a skill to go out and try. “when we meet again, they share the experience and talk about how they used it and the outcome they got.”

Converting the Disengaged

Brown is also determined to turn around that 4 percent that is actively disengaged. He told Moran that while he recognizes that the figure may never get to zero, he certainly plans to try. Some of that effort has worked, he adds, explaining how one employee has gone from disengaged to engaged: “We sort of retooled their job description and their responsibilities around things they really enjoyed and liked,” Brown explains. “After doing so, there was a 180-degree turn on being engaged from not being engaged. And I think after witnessing that firsthand, seeing that the individual actually is kind of a star employee now, gives me hope that you can take a disengaged person and get them to be fully engaged.”

That being said, Brown believes that working with employees to help them fit into Rowntree’s culture is important. “We can’t blame the employee unless we’ve given them all the resources and tools and training that they need. So as long as we’ve done all of that, and we’ve tried to identify what might make an actively disengaged person become engaged, that’s a success for all of us,” he says.