As the training and development manager for Leisure Living Management, Shannon Sobeck’s plan was to launch a virtual orientation and education program for employees in 2021.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed that.
But rather than hit the pause button, Sobeck and Leisure Living, a senior housing and care provider with 26 communities across Michigan, went into fast forward mode.
The leadership team designed, implemented, and then refined a plan within a three-week span between Michigan’s first stay-at-home order and the first session for current and new employees. The flipped model turned instruction that was once three days of 8-hour, in-person training to engaging online mini-lessons delivered on tech platforms, including Microsoft Teams, interactive PowerPoint presentations and a robust chat feature.
Leisure Living has brought aboard almost 500 new employees since March while going on a recruitment and hiring spree to beef up caregiving staffing levels at each of its communities. Pandemic safety guidelines adopted by communities required more team members to provide direct care and support for residents.
“It was uncharted territory, but we never felt uncomfortable,” Sobeck said. “We all had the same vision of providing the best care in the best caring environment. We were never going to compromise our training ideals, and we started delivering our already strong education structure in the virtual environment.
“Everyone had to be nimble and agile to make it work, and part of that was taking and valuing the feedback from employees on how we could improve what we were doing to make them feel ready for their roles.”
In addition to the online content, Leisure Living communities adapted their job shadowing program that walked new employees through the expectations and responsibilities of their positions. The workers were also paired with experienced staffers who could be “success partners” to field questions and help advance skills. The multiple touchpoints allowed employees to gain knowledge in a variety of methods.
Overwhelmingly, staff, new and old, responded positively, Sobeck said. Internal surveys showed a satisfaction rate of over 90 percent when employees were asked if they felt ready to care for seniors in the communities that offer independent, assisted and memory care living options. Leisure Living followed up with caregivers to continually supplement their training, displaying a connection to one of the company’s core values of lifelong learning.
“Our learners are savvy and came in with the goal of finding success and then getting better,” Sobeck said.
Workers emerged ready to engage residents socially, emotionally and physically during the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s a critical need as research shows that the benefits of social and physical activities and emotional engagement impact the overall health of seniors and help them experience a better overall quality of life.
The data illustrates seniors have a reduced risk of heart problems, lower blood pressure, reduced rate of Alzheimer’s and improved mental health and capacity. The interactions, when coupled with a nutritious diet, have long-standing rewards.
Sobeck and the corporate team were well positioned for the transition. Leaders in the organization are forward-thinking and challenged each other to build a new road map. Sobeck’s history as a corporate trainer for Fortune 500 companies, an educator and a project manager gave the team a solid foundation to develop new content.
“Everyone involved had to jump in, and I feel like we landed on our feet,” Sobeck said. “We continue to provide the highest level of care while not compromising our best practices for serving our residents.”
The learning program template will help Leisure Living provide ongoing education to staff members and a leadership academy, Sobeck said.
“There is a lot more we can do for our teams, and it’s all aimed at helping them advance professionally while creating the best living environment possible for our residents,” she said.