By Sophie Okolo, MPH

Where are the CNAs? It makes me annoyed that we don’t hear and talk enough about them. I always say that if residents are the heart of senior living, then CNAs are the backbone of our industry.

But CNAs (also called certified nursing assistants) are often ignored. Even though they may have a lower position, they do very important work — work that some of us cannot, or, to be honest, may not want to do for others. They take care of our loved ones and help them with things like eating, bathing or showering, dressing, getting in and out of bed or a chair, walking, and using the toilet.

So it’s high time we start valuing and appreciating CNAs.

What I Observed 

Call me a rebel, but I have always caused trouble as a volunteer in nursing homes. I don’t intend to, but I also cannot stand it when I see things that should change or can be improved. We can do better than playing bingo or pushing residents in wheelchairs. But when you notice CNAs buying basic items for residents with their own money, you know we have a bigger problem.

This was my experience at a famous senior living community during my time as an intern. It was shocking, to say the least, because it’s not like they are paid a lot. Their work is challenging enough; let’s not make it impossible to do.

Small Gestures Go a Long Way!

Every CNA deserves recognition, but there is nothing more uplifting for a CNA (or any employee) than when they are recognized for a job well done.

It is easy to point out any problems or mistakes in their work, but you can change that! Don’t forget that giving regular positive reinforcement and praising someone for a job well done can increase their self-confidence.

Here are a few ways to show that you appreciate them and their work … and without spending a dime!

  • Give verbal praise.
  • Send them a handwritten note.
  • Encourage self-care by giving extra days off.
  • Create a bulletin board to recognize their birthdays, milestones, and work anniversaries.
  • Have regular “one-on-ones” to get to know your CNAs.
  • Offer to add “senior” or “shift leader” to their title.
  • Have CNA appreciation days.

Change Your Mindset

Invest in your CNAs. Offer encouragement and emotional support, because they do not have the easiest or most glorifying jobs. Empower them for success by showing them that their job matters, and that no job is too small.

Perhaps offer them training classes so they can improve their knowledge and work performance. And if a CNA wants to move up in position to become an LPN or RN, make sure to support their dream of becoming one.

Having the Power

CNA jobs are not menial or inferior, and managers have the power to make sure they know that. For example, not everyone can take a proper shower, considering their limitations. This is why we need CNAs! That’s why you cannot underestimate or ignore the job that CNAs do.

As we know, big change starts small, and it starts from the top. So start embracing CNAs as important team members.

We recently teamed up with KARE to launch KARE-ing Conversations, a weekly livestream celebrating and listening to frontline workers. You’ll learn how to get — and keep — a full staff of happy caregivers. Check it out Wednesdays at 2 p.m. ET / 11 a.m. PT, or replay it anytime: LinkedIn, YouTube, or Facebook.