Investing in our Workforce

Nowadays, the same concern is top of mind of nearly every employer: how do we attract and retain good employees?

Oakwood is no different.

“In today’s competitive labor market, it’s essential to create a positive work environment and provide a great employee experience for current and new team members,” Oakwood Chief People Officer Jeff Hackel explains.

In fact, given the number of people needed to provide core services to Oakwood residents on both campuses around the clock–currently approximately 700 full- and part-time employees–the health of our community depends on us making Oakwood a great place to work.

Getting the Basics Right: Fair Pay and Strong Benefits

Attracting and keeping good employees starts with the basics: offering competitive wages and salaries along with a strong benefit package. At a time when wages are steadily increasing, and when employees are ready to explore new job opportunities if it means earning an additional .25 or .50 cents per hour, employers need to be acutely aware of what the market is offering.

“Being entirely reactive in today’s labor market will leave you in a position where you are always behind and struggling to catch up,” Jeff states. “We are constantly evaluating our compensation and benefit programs to ensure we are extremely competitive and delivering value to our employees."

Oakwood regularly conducts market studies to ensure its wages and salaries are in alignment with health care providers and other employers in Madison; no small task given the number of hospitals, clinics, and retirement communities in our area. A compensation committee– led by Oakwood’s Chief People Officer, Compensation and Benefits Specialist, and clinical leaders–meets quarterly to assess wage and salary ranges for positions throughout the organization.

Oakwood reviews its medical, dental, and vision coverage annually, with the goal of providing employees with the best possible coverage at the most reasonable cost. A professional third-party employee assistance program provides a resource for employees who would like confidential support with issues such as managing stress, drug and alcohol abuse, an unsafe home environment, and related concerns

In today’s competitive labor market, it’s essential to create a positive work environment and provide a great employee experience for current and new team members.

A generous paid time off program allows employees to carry over unused paid time off into the following year, and FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) coverage provides unpaid leave for an employee's serious health condition; the serious health condition of a parent, child or spouse; or for the birth or adoption of a child.

Oakwood’s retirement plan, offered via a 403(b) program, was recently adjusted to provide up to a 15 percent match, and is deliberately structured to incentivize staff members to remain at Oakwood. Education about the importance of saving for retirement is regularly provided to all employees.

Recognizing Employees

In today’s employment market, competitive pay and benefits are not a primary differentiator–they are a baseline expectation. Just as important is creating a work environment where employees feel appreciated for their work and have a sense of purpose. Oakwood continues to focus on recognizing employees, both formally and informally, in an effort to set itself apart from other employers.

Both campuses have a THRIVE Committee–led by human resources, life enrichment, and other team members–that meets monthly to create employee engagement and recognition opportunities. Food trucks, ice cream trucks, and campus cookouts can be found at Prairie Ridge and University Woods throughout the year, and are a great way for staff to connect with residents and one another outside of daily responsibilities. Catered lunches and holiday celebrations provide managers with additional opportunities to say thank you to employees, and often come with gifts of appreciation such as apparel.

“The primary goal of the THRIVE Committee is to support employee engagement and recognition,” Talent Development and Human Resources Director Mary Bjorklund says. “Basically, we want to give employees opportunities to have fun."

There doesn’t need to be a scheduled event for employees to be recognized, however. In what seems to be an increasingly demanding world, supervisors at Oakwood are encouraged to acknowledge employees for a job well done and for making a difference in the lives of residents.

“We believe strongly in the evolution away from the traditional, once-a-year, formal performance review,” Jeff explains. “And we encourage our leaders to provide continuous and specific feedback and recognition to their team members.”

The primary goal of the THRIVE Committee is to support employee engagement and recognition. Basically, we want to give employees opportunities to have fun.

Supporting Staff Through Training and Education

Given staff turnover challenges in healthcare and the mobility of employees in today’s workforce, Oakwood has responded by expanding its new employee orientation curriculum, and is focused on enhancing its on-boarding process. Team members new to Oakwood are required to participate in a full week of orientation to learn about the organization, expectations for providing care and services, and the important role they play in the lives of residents, regardless of position or job title. Clinical staff are required to participate in a second week of orientation to ensure they have the skills and instruction needed to provide direct care.

Orientation week includes a catered lunch with Oakwood residents, where new employees can hear about their impact on the daily lives of residents. There is also a lunch with leaders from across campus.

Response to the extended orientation period has been positive, with many employees expressing appreciation for the investment Oakwood makes in them before they even start in their new position.

For managers to be successful, it’s essential they have the skills and tools necessary to be good leaders. Oakwood has begun Leadership Training classes in partnership with Madison College, and has made them mandatory for all Oakwood supervisors. While training covers the basics, such as maintaining regulatory compliance, conducting effective performance reviews, managing attendance and budgets, it also provides supervisors with additional education regarding navigating conflict, rewarding and recognizing staff members, and developing talent.

Members of senior management and those who complete Oakwood’s initial Leadership Training program are then invited to pursue a Leadership Skills Certification offered by Oakwood in partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Continuing Studies. Courses focus on management strategies such as building effective teams, supporting strong work performance, and employee satisfaction and engagement.

In 2023, Oakwood will also begin offering Spanish language classes for Oakwood supervisors and employees. These classes are intended to improve communication between managers and Spanish-speaking employees while making Oakwood a more welcoming and inclusive workplace. Oakwood is also planning on offering an English as a Second Language (ESL) course in the upcoming year.

Growing Here

Perhaps the most impactful way Oakwood strives to differentiate itself from other employers is a commitment to supporting the education and long-term professional growth of its employees.

“Prospective employees today want to see a career path,” Mary explains. “If you’re not providing opportunities for people to grow, they’ll go elsewhere.”

Oakwood offers a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) training class, also in partnership with Madison College. This class is available at no cost to Oakwood employees, but is most often utilized by Resident Assistants (RAs) looking to develop professionally by assuming additional caregiving responsibilities.

The class entails 75 hours of education, including onsite clinicals if the CNAs will be working in the skilled nursing setting.

Those that complete CNA training receive opportunities for a new role with higher pay, as well as a $750 bonus for completing the program. While employees are not obligated to stay at Oakwood after receiving their CNA license, about 75 percent of employees who have completed the course in the past 18 months have continued their career here.

Rachel Corbine moved to Madison from her hometown of Hayward, Wisconsin to be closer to family, and began working as a dietary aide at University Woods in January 2020. Two months later, COVID-related precautions required Rachel to deliver meals to assisted living residents in their suites. Wendy Zimmick, the Tabor Oaks Nurse Manager, noted Rachel’s caring rapport when she interacted with residents, and her willingness to help however needed and suggested she apply to be a Resident Assistant.

Rachel transitioned to serving residents as an RA in the evenings in Tabor Oaks and also served in the Health and Wellness Department in independent living. When she learned that Oakwood was offering the opportunity to become certified as a CNA, she took advantage of it.

“I had wanted to get my CNA license, but between working and having kids it was difficult,” Rachel shares. “Online classes and clinicals onsite at Oakwood made it possible. I was nervous about taking this next step, but was able to learn in a comfortable, supportive setting.”

Rachel is now thriving as a CNA in the University Woods Health and Wellness Department, and intends to pursue a degree in nursing.

Certified Nursing Assistants looking to climb the career ladder can also participate in Medication Administration training to become a Med Tech.
Medication Administration training is offered through a five-week course to employees with over 2,000 hours of CNA experience. The cost of training is also covered by Oakwood Village.

“Regardless of whether the graduates stay here or not, we’re working to build a culture where employees are supported,” Mary states. “Even if an employee receives their CNA license and chooses to go elsewhere, hopefully their Oakwood experience was positive and they’re telling their friends about the benefits of working here.”

For the first time, Oakwood is offering educational grants and educational reimbursement opportunities to full- and part-time employees, regardless of their role Mary says. “We are constantly exploring what we can do for our employees to help them reach their potential and achieve their career goals, whether it’s clinical staff or non-clinical staff.”

Investing in the Next Generation of Care Providers

While ensuring staff is exceeding the expectation of today’s residents is the priority, Oakwood is also investing in tomorrow’s healthcare leaders and caregivers.

Participation in the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s Administrator-in-Training practicum program means nursing home administrator students from Eau Claire can spend twelve months gaining “real-world” administrator experience prior to graduation, including six months of rotations between departments and six months working on a process improvement project for the skilled nursing facility. Student Leah Hagen is currently participating in rotations at Prairie Ridge, and applications are being reviewed on both Oakwood campuses for 2023-2024 placement.

“The purpose of the program is to learn what it takes to run a skilled nursing facility,” Leah shares. “Oakwood has been a perfect fit for me.”

Oakwood also partners with nearby Edgewood College, offering its two skilled nursing programs as long-term care clinical scholar internship sites. Two skilled nursing students from Edgewood are placed at Oakwood each summer to work with Oakwood nurses, providing valuable experience working with older adults alongside seasoned care providers while bringing their knowledge and enthusiasm to Oakwood.

“Nurses entering the workforce today too often have little experience working primarily with older adults,” Mary explains. “We hope participation in this program proves to be a good experience for them and we are able to draw more graduates here to Oakwood.”

Other valuable learning opportunities for future healthcare professionals at Oakwood include the Oakwood Pharmacy’s partnership with University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Pharmacy through its student Pharmacist-Oakwood Partners (POPs) program, which connects pharmacy students with Oakwood residents. Oakwood’s Rehabilitation Services team also provides opportunities for students to shadow occupational, physical, and speech therapy staff members throughout the year to earn hours needed to apply for graduate school.

Oakwood has also recently started a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program, providing opportunities for aspiring chaplains to gain the experience needed to become a healthcare chaplain.

Making a Difference

Ultimately, staff choose Oakwood because of the culture and the opportunity to positively impact the lives of residents and their families every day. With the disruptions in the job market over the past few years, there remains in many people (now more than ever) a desire to do meaningful work and make a difference.

“Each time new employees join our organization, we ask them what led them here,” Jeff says. “For most, the response is that they know someone who works here, and Oakwood truly cares about their staff. There is a culture of caring here that prioritizes taking great care of residents and one another.”

“People who work here have both the privilege and the responsibility of working in the homes of our customers. Ultimately, we want people here who find it rewarding to build relationships, be a part of a community, and make a difference in the lives of residents every single day.”

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