A People Business

Four women smiling and standing together in a kitchen
Employees are Key to Oakwood’s Success.

These days it’s rare to drive down the road without seeing “Help Wanted” or “Now Hiring” signs outside just about every business. Unemployment is low nationwide, with Dane County’s unemployment rate at just 2.4% as of January 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Attracting and retaining great employees is on the mind of every business these days, and Oakwood is no exception. People – residents, employees, volunteers – make up the fabric of the two campuses. Caregivers, housekeepers and waitstaff not only provide core services, they define Oakwood.

“It’s a challenging and competitive staffing environment,” shares Emilie Knutson, Director of Human Resources on the Prairie Ridge campus.

“We’re everywhere we need to be, and we’re pretty creative with being places you might not expect us to be, when it comes to recruiting,” adds Karin Hendrickson, Director of Human Resources at University Woods.

Oakwood is connected with area high schools, technical colleges, and other schools in the area. Members of the Human Resources team have built relationships with staff at those schools and Oakwood is present at their career fairs. Karin and Emilie’s teams have also created partnerships with local organizations such as YWCA and Centro Hispano
as part of its recruitment effort.

A lady smiling and holding notebook in hand
A lady smiling
A man smiling
A man smiling
A lady smiling and holding clipboard
A lady smiling

Retaining Good Employees

From the employer’s standpoint, there’s ‘good turnover’ and ‘not good turnover’ Karin explains. When looking at turnover, it is expected that a certain amount of staff will not stay on long-term.

“We hire high school students. We would love for them to stay and build their career with us, but we would also never want to hold them back from pursuing a different path or going off to college,” says Karin. “So that turnover is expected. It’s okay, and you can plan for that.”

Furthermore, caregivers in assisted living or skilled nursing may be on career paths that take them through nursing school, so serving as a certified nursing assistant or resident assistant may be a temporary position.

In any case, retention and recruitment go hand-in-hand, and the Human Resources department has been focused on better-understanding what it can do to keep employees. Because an important part of employee retention is employee appreciation, Oakwood recently surveyed employees to learn how they prefer to be shown appreciation.

A man setting up dining table on left; a female medical professional wheeling vital signs machine in hallway on right
People make up the fabric of the two campuses. Caregivers, housekeepers and waitstaff not only provide core services, they define Oakwood.

The number one answer that came back from staff was just to say thanks. They just want to be told thank you,” shares Emilie. Knowing that, the employee-run Thrive Committee has been coming up with creative and different ways to express gratitude to staff and to brighten their day. Bi-monthly popcorn giveaways are a mainstay, and seasonal and holiday-related appreciation efforts often take the form of edible treats and notes of gratitude.

But it takes more than events to keep employees. “We believe our organization does a good job of appreciating employees. Sometimes it’s the tangible things that make the big difference to employees,” says Karin. “People need their paycheck – that’s a key part of why they’re working. Oakwood’s leadership team and board realize there’s pressure on wages.”

““Whether someone is cleaning a hallway, serving a meal or providing care, you receive feedback and thanks on a regular basis.””

Karin and Emilie are proud that the recently-signed union contract resulted in a significant overall wage increase for union employees. “That’s going to go a long way to keep us competitive and to show appreciation,” Karin adds.

Another prevalent issue when looking at how to keep employees is work/life balance. “We are always trying to find ways to allow for better balance. We want to enable staff to live their life and also have a successful career here at Oakwood. It’s about flexibility,” Karin says.

“One nice thing we offer is very flexible schedules so people can ease in – a person doesn’t have to feel like they need to commit to a 40-hour week in order to work at Oakwood. With the different positions and shifts we offer, there really is something for everybody,” says Karin.

Oakwood Employment by the Numbers

  • 4.8 Years Average Length of Employment
  • 233 Employees over 5 Years of Service
  • 30% of Employees over 5 Years of Service
  • 136 Total Employees over 10 Years of Service
  • 17.6% of Employees over 10 Years of Service
  • 21 Employees over 20 years of Service
  • 2.7% of Employees over 20 Years of Service
A lady standing on walking ramp leaning over wall to talk with another lady sitting on couch with binder opened in hands

Donors Make a Difference
Donors support Oakwood’s Employee Appreciation Fund, a fund which ensures eligible employees receive an annual monetary gift at the end of each year and helps express the appreciation residents and families have for Oakwood staff. The employee appreciation celebration held on each campus during the holidays has become a highly-anticipated event.

Oakwood donors have also recently made a pilot caregiver mentor program possible at Oakwood, providing training resources and financial incentives to pair new certified nursing assistants or resident assistants with a seasoned staff member and support them through their training process.

“We wanted to improve how we were training new hires, and also understand how the expectation of ongoing training affects current employees,” Emilie explains. This mentor partnership, thanks to gifts to the Oakwood Foundation, provides greater support for the new employee and gives them assurance that they have resources and support at Oakwood in addition to their supervisor.

Meaningful Work

With such a tight labor market, why do people choose to work at Oakwood? “This is generally a positive and supportive environment,” Emilie states. “The work we do is appreciated and feedback is immediate. Whether someone is cleaning a hallway, serving a meal or providing care, you receive feedback and thanks on a regular basis. Knowing that we get to work in the homes of residents is meaningful and powerful.”

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A man wearing scrubs tapping on screen

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