If you are an administrator of a senior care or disability services organization, you know how important activities are in delivering quality care. Finding unique, creative activities can be overwhelming when you’re dealing with other workforce challenges like staffing shortages, HR burdens, and regulations. That’s why we sat down with Natalie who has over 20 years of experience running a senior care facility on ideas to create joy in your organization. Whether it’s for your employees, residents, or third parties that enter your care home, everyone will benefit from your positive energy.

Think Like a Child

Despite the age of your residents, when you think about what sparks joy in children, you will undoubtedly bring smiles to all ages. Think balloons, music, and dress-up.

Balloons – It doesn’t matter if it’s a holiday or a birthday, you can celebrate any day with a balloon. Get long balloons and hand them out to residents to slap together while you listen to music. For even more smiles, learn how to tie a balloon animal and share it with residents and families.

Music – Music has a way of bringing back memories, and for seniors, the past can be easier to remember than the present. For busy staff, music can help clear their brain when they are overstimulated with tasks. Instead of just playing music, make it interesting. Play a music game like “Name that Tune” or “Guess the Decade.” Or use music with other physical activities, like during a bean bag toss, play music of a certain decade when the bag hits a spot on the board.

Dress Up – Costumes aren’t just for Halloween. It’s hard not to smile when you see a funny costume. Inflatable costumes are affordable and fun! Dress up and walk around the facility, especially during events where families are encouraged to attend. Wear it once a week or during the lunch hour. Don’t forget to bring the music with you! You’ll create a dance party wherever you go. Residents will laugh and join in on the fun, plus it’s something they will look forward to on a regular basis.  

Use Your Resources

If you’re overwhelmed thinking about allocating your budget to creating joy, don’t stress! Look around and think about how you can use the resources you have.

Utility Carts – Decorate your utility cart, put a Bluetooth speaker on it, and turn it into the source of the party! Residents will peek out of their rooms and see what the commotion is. Turn it up a notch and hand out ice cream too – you’ll bring back the joys of the ice cream truck.

Use your Hands – In the world of healthcare, we are required to be masked which can be difficult for residents who are hard of hearing or just miss your smile. To lighten spirits and create more effective communication, use your hands to say you’re smiling. Using the “raise the roof” gesture is a great way for both parties to lighten spirits and share their joy. Once you establish the gesture and the meaning, it will become part of the culture.

Blank Walls – Think of a blank wall as your blank canvas! There are a lot of ideas about how you can fill this space.

  • Hand out index cards and ask people to write a positive thing about someone else in the facility and then post all the cards on the wall.
  • Paint the blank wall with chalkboard paint and let residents, families, and staff share thank you notes, kudos, and good news on it. When the wall is filled, take them all down and start over.
  • Showcase art and other craft projects residents or students at the local school made.
  • Paint a mural. You can either make this a team effort where everyone paints a part of a picture or hire an artist. With a projector, painting a mural isn’t as intimidating as it sounds.

Partners – Partner with 4H, homeschool co-ops, music programs, art programs, and pet organizations to bring joy from the community. The options are endless: color, quiz kids on math multiplication tables, read books, serve snacks, pot plants, create crafts, and more! Keep in mind the season, for example, students on a hockey team could have a snowman competition or you could host trick-or-treaters at Halloween. Not only are you creating intergenerational programming, you are exposing students to the workforce.

Families – According to a survey by the American Health Care Association, 87% of nursing homes are facing moderate or high staffing shortages. Now more than ever, it’s useful to engage the residents’ families to help with events. Create a virtual or printed newsletter that you can share with families regarding upcoming events and how they can participate. Be specific in your needs, for example, we need 5 people to hand out ice cream sundaes on September 1 from 5-9 pm. Create a call to action on how they can sign up to volunteer. You’re more likely to get a response when you are specific and make it easy for them to respond.

Engage Your Employees

This task isn’t just on administrators. When you set the expectation that everyone can contribute to creating joy, you won’t just make an impact on your company culture, that joy will overspill to your residents.

Random Acts of Kindness – Encourage employees to do random acts of kindness and also to recognize it. At the end of each shift, ask employees to recognize someone who demonstrated a random act of kindness. When someone receives 5 recognitions, award them with a gift card for gas or food. You can take this a step further and invite residents and families to participate in nominating employees.

Technology – Utilize your HR technology to keep track of birthdays and work anniversaries, and then celebrate them! Hand out a giant poster that everyone can sign.

Prioritize Rounds – Your employees, especially in a leadership position, can get bogged down when they come to the office. It’s important that before they open their computer or respond to an email, they make their rounds. It makes a difference in your organization when the leaders are visiting all residents. It shows residents that you care.

Stand Up Meetings – When your work gets busy, it’s easy to forget why you’re in the business. It’s important to pause and be with people. On a weekly basis, have a meeting with your team. This is a great time for leadership to share what’s happening for the day and week. You can start with a fun icebreaker game to get to know each other.

Communicate Specifics – How we communicate brings joy too. Teach your staff to never say “soon”. Residents can experience anxiety when staff says “I’ll be back soon”. One of the simplest ways to create joy in your facility is to communicate specifics. Tell residents where you’re going and when you’ll be there, and then ask “Will this work for you?” For example, “I’m going next door to help Betty with her medication. I will come back to you after that. It should take about 15 minutes. Will that work for you?” This helps give residents closure and creates a more positive environment.

Welcome New Hires – When a new hire joins your team, go all out! Include residents in welcoming them with balloons, decorate their office door if they have one, or share an oversized card that everyone signs. Match the new hire with a mentor that can ensure they feel welcomed.

Change Your Greeting – It’s easy to opt for a simple phone greeting like “(Your Business Name) (Your Name) Speaking”. How you answer the phone sets the tone for the entire business. Try “It’s a great day at (Your Business Name)”. It’s always a great day for a great day!

Partner with a PEO

The HR landscape is highly regulated, complex, and time-consuming. As an organization specializing in caregiving, you want to deliver quality care and not get bogged down in becoming a trained HR professional. That’s where Procare HR comes in. We only work with organizations that serve seniors and the disabled. Not only do we provide industry-specific HR advice and guidance, Procare HR takes on payroll, workers’ compensation, benefits administration, and more. Find out how partnering with Procare HR can help your organization.  

Looking for more ideas? Download our free poster on 100 Ideas to Create Joy. The poster includes ideas specifically for organizations that serve seniors and individuals with disabilities such as Assisted Living, Group Homes, Memory Care, Home Care, Day Programs, Skilled Nursing, and more. Hang up the poster in your breakroom or where employees will see it.

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