What are we doing to create successful lives for senior living Sherpas?
Years ago I read the 1997 Jon Krakauer book “Into Thin Air” about the disastrous 1996 Mount Everest climbing season where, on a single day, 8 climbers died, including two experienced guides, Ever since I have been fascinated by stories about climbing Everest. After reading that book and a couple of others on Everest I even had a dream of doing the climb myself. . . . until I started looking at the cost ($100,000), the three to six months the expedition itself takes and, finally, the human toll. More recently a 68 year old great-grandfather, Jim Geiger, who is a part of my faith community, left to climb Everest this season. Because of that connection the headlines from a few days ago that a number of climbers were killed on Everest made my heart stop. We now know that all of those who died were Sherpas who had been hired to do the heavy lifting for the mostly Western and Asian climbers who will attempt the summit this year. Being a Sherpa Sherpas are an ethnic group in Nepal, many of whom live at high altitudes in the Himalayas. They have created a niche specialty of being human load carriers for climbers who are looking to tackle the most difficult Himalayan peaks, including Everest. They get paid a relatively high wage, in local terms, for hauling heavy packs and for the dangerous work of setting up ropes and ladders that the paying climbers will use to get to the top. This recent mass death has caused some individuals to wonder if the Sherpas are being asked to, or perhaps being forced to, pay too high a price so that wealthy Westerners and Asians can brag that they climbed Everest. Senior Living Sherpas In a very real sense food servers, personal care aides, drivers, house keepers, laundry staff and dishwashers are the Sherpas of senior living. While they don’t get paid big bucks, even relatively, and the amount of risk they take is not so high, they are the ones who, day to day, do that heavy lifting that allows residents to have a great quality of life. They make it possible for executive directors and corporate staff to claim great victories when communities are full and profitable. These low level workers are there for a variety of reasons but, for the most part, they are very much like the Sherpas in that they are doing what they are doing because it is the best they can do with the hand they were dealt. The Senior Living Response I find myself wondering if that is OK as a status quo. Do we just accept that this is the way the world and the economy works? If you say yes, then I would ask the second question: Is that the career you would choose for your child or grandchild? I am thinking the answer is no. I would propose that we have a unique opportunity and obligation when it comes to line staff. I would propose that each line staff member be provided a variety of opportunities to move up in the world, even if it means that they need to leave your employment, but especially if they can climb an internal career ladder. I would be so impressed with a senior living company where few, if any, line staff have been in the same position for longer than five years, because they are consistently growing out of their jobs. My wife did her AIT under an Administrator who started at the facility as a High School kitchen worker. She had filled many roles over the years, working her way up. Facility photo albums included photos from her wedding, her son growing up at facility events and, later, her grandson. The staff longevity and stability in that facility was unparalleled. What this concept means:
- Providing education opportunities.
- Providing education subsidies
- Providing schedule flexibility that allows staff to take advantage of the opportunities.
Mostly, though, it means community and corporate leadership helping line staff members dream big. Steve Moran
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Steve we very much agree with your characteriation of Sherpas as well as your analogy to the jobs that many have within senior housing. In our recent post, What Does It Take to Be a Sherpa? http://sherpacrm.com/blog/ we focused on the critical role of sales counselors. At their best. sales counselors in our communities perform as emotional Sherpas, guiding prospective seniors and their families thru the difficult emotional terrain associated with decisions about whether and when to move. We created an allegorical representation of this decision making process which you can see at http://sherpacrm.com/blog/ So whether you admire them for their ability to guide decisions or help carry heavy loads, we all can admire the work of the Sherpa!
I enjoyed your articles and observations Steve.
Being able to help the “senior sherpas” forecast their career into promotion, education and leadership is of greater value and investment than not doing so – and slugging on with excessive turnover, re-hiring, re-training, re-advertising for those lost employees and a loss in credibility and quality.
The time, cost, leadership frustration and related stresses place a much larger black hole leading to a negative reputation than helping senior sherpas move forward in life (when appropriate).
Steve’s point to providing senior sherpas with flexibility would also allow them an opportunity to better manage their own elder caregiving.
Veronica Woldt, MA
Corporate Eldercare Solutions, llc Wisconsin
I totally agree with your suggestions. I have been a big supporter of this concept of giving staff the opportunity to grow in their careers. Fortunately I work for a company that offers the educational support to make it happen. One of the things that needs to happen more is for management to encourage these opportunities for the line staff, not just state it in the company handbook.
Reminded of (fictional) conversation between COO & President:
Pres: what if we invest & train our people and they leave?
COO: what if we don’t and they stay?
Good points Steve. Btw, not sure if folks are climbing this season at all. Following the tragedy last week the Serpas went on strike. Without the Serpas, the climbs don’t happen..and to continue your analogy, with staff Sherpas communities don’t function.
Great article and analogy Steve. Not only do they do the heavy lifting, they are the front lines of our communities, they are the face of our organizations in the outside world, and the ones that residents and families interact the most with during any given day. We can not express the importance of these individuals to the health and prosperity of our senior living communities. Your staff will make you or break you, its up to Administrators and ownership to stress a company culture of inclusion and opportunity for everyone.
Your columns get better and better. Would you give me permission to reprint your Sherpa article in my newsletter, Aging Deliberately? It will come out in a month to 2000+ readers in the Pacific Northwest.
Yet another great article! A perfect analogy for a troubling situation. These employees play a critical role in the care of our seniors, but rarely are they acknowledged, encouraged, or offered a way up. Thank you for reminding us that everyone deserves the opportunity to improve their way of life and grow professionally.
One simple word Steve… and all….. AMEN!
Excellent analogy and in my experience, what you write is true. When you support in-house workers to move up you provide morale, more loyalty, and, inspiration. When I worked at Mirage Inn in Rancho Mirage, CA, now a Brookdale Senior Living home, each employee was encouraged to study for an administrator license. I also appreciated reading the related story you told of the administrator and the long-term staff where your wife worked. Thanks again for another terrific post. Blessings, Wendy