​​Attracting and retaining good staff is about more than wages and traditional benefits. Increasingly, the key to engaged teams involves three Ps—partnerships, personalized perks, and personal or professional development. “Employees want to know that they are appreciated as individuals, and they want organizations that are willing to invest in them and help them grow and thrive,” said Jim Janicki, APR, chief administrative officer of Nebraska-based Hillcrest Health Services. 


These can be local or national, but they enable team members to get services, products, discounts, and more. “We are able to offer discounts through certain businesses we have relationships with, such as shipping companies, hotels, and mobile phone services,” said Janicki. A key to the success of such partnerships, he suggested, is letting team members know they are available and what they entail. “They won’t use these benefits if they don’t know about them,” he explained. 

Jim JanickiGenesis HealthCare has a unique partner of sorts in its Michael R. Walker Foundation, a nonprofit charitable organization funded by contributions made by employees for employees whose financial situations have been severely impacted by medical emergencies, natural disasters, fire, domestic abuse, and funeral expenses. Genesis also has community partnerships with over 450 schools for student clinical placements and career advancement. Brandon D. Poole, Genesis chief human resource officer, said, “This provides a meaningful way for people to start their careers or further their education and career pathways with one of our affiliated locations.”

Rivka Heisler, regional director of employee experience at Autumn Lake Healthcare in Baltimore, Md., said, “We are so excited to have partnered with the Baltimore Ravens this season, and we’ve seen a huge uptick in our staff morale. We do things like raffle sweepstakes to our suite at Ravens Stadium, based on attendance. At the same time, Ravens players, cheerleaders, and team mascots come to special events, and our scrubs are even Ravens branded. This is a wonderful partnership that really makes staff feel special and connected to their community.”

​Persona​​​lized Perks

“We find that people respond best to things that are personalized and recognize that we know and appreciate their efforts,” said Janicki. For instance, they use an online gifting platform that enables employees to redeem gift vouchers for prizes they want—things like snack boxes, air purifiers, coffee makers, electronics, and subscriptions. The amount is based on achieving awards for creating amazing customer experiences. 

Another popular perk at several Hillcrest locations is the “Rock the Box” program. This involves workers getting to choose a prize from a box when a supervisor wants to recognize someone for doing something great. These are small gifts, said Janicki, but they are given in the moment, and the person is recognized in front of others, which makes them feel recognized and validated for their hard work. 

Large events and celebrations may seem impersonal, but they can help people feel appreciated and give them a chance to share fun and create happy memories with colleagues away from the stress of the office. For instance, Hillcrest has an annual employee appreciation event—a huge celebration with games, food, an Elvis impersonator, 20-second grabs in a cash cube, and more. At the end of the night, there is a raffle with over 80 prizes such as electronics or tech devices.

Autumn Lake recently held a family fun day at the Maryland State Fair. Employees and their families had exclusive access to the fairgrounds. All the rides were open, and there were food stands, live music, and street performers. There also was a space where employees with side hustles could set up booths to sell their products, such as jewelry. In the past, Autumn Lake rented out a Six Flags amusement park for staff and had a holiday party at Ravens Stadium in Baltimore. 

Having special events that celebrate teams brings everyone together and helps eliminate the “us versus them” feelings staff may have about management. Swati Gaur, MD, MBA, CMD, AGSF, a Georgia-based medical director, said, “It sends the message that this is our team and every member is important. We are all in this together.”

While large events can be fun and team building, Heisler stressed the value of smaller events to recognize the uniqueness of individual buildings. She said, “Every building is different, so we create lots of varied initiatives. We have fun competitions, team-building activities, and, of course, snacks. We celebrate and show gratitude at every chance possible. We also have inter-facility competitions like pumpkin-carving competitions at Halloween, gingerbread-decorating contests for the holidays, and so much more.” She added, “We gear our programs specifically to our employees. We want them to know and feel we truly support them.” 

Recognizing workers who are willing to sacrifice holidays to work, Hillcrest offers a $50 bonus for individuals who cover a shift over Christmas. Sherry Perry, a long-term certified nursing assistant and chair of the National Association of Health Care Assistants, stressed the value of a thoughtful gift for the holidays, as well. “A turkey or ham, gift cards, or bonuses based on profits or longevity are very much appreciated by everyone, especially those who have to work and won’t be able to be with their loved ones for Thanksgiving or Christmas,” she said. 

Perry also stressed the value of acknowledging the varying needs of workers at different stages of life. She said, “Right now we have several generations in the workplace. We need different benefit packages based on where people are in life.” 

For instance, younger workers might want things like cash bonuses, low-interest loans to buy a car, and tuition reimbursement. When they start to have families, they may want child care support and parental leave. Older workers may want more time off and retirement benefits. 

Strategies for Staffing

​​​Personal and Professional Development

“We have a professional development program that includes tuition assistance and paying for various certifications or licensures. We pay for these things to help our people grow,” said Janicki. His organization also offers a program that pays $1 toward student loan debt for every hour a nurse works. 

Janicki said, “I want to start a life coach type of program for our employees. This would provide them with things like financial counseling, goal-setting, career guidance, and problem-solving. One of our strategic missions is to be an employer of choice. This program would reach out to our teams and let them know they’re part of our family.”

When Tana Gall, president of Merrill Gardens, finds people in her organization who take initiative, show great passion for long term care, and go above and beyond, she brings them in for “dream job conversations,” where they talk one-on-one about what they like about their job, where their interests lie, and how they think they can contribute to the organization and the community around them. “We talk about the possibility of crafting a job around their interests and abilities. If we can’t do that, I look for ways we can involve them in projects or activities that bring them joy and satisfaction,” Gall said. “We need to recognize people who go above and beyond and reward them with things that are meaningful for them. This keeps them motivated and on a career path that will bring them satisfaction and benefit the organization.”

​Presentation Is Important

It is important to see various benefits or perks from the employees’ viewpoint. For instance, Janicki said, “Things like food pantries may be seen by staff as a handout instead of a benefit.” 

Perry agreed, noting, “Workers don’t want food pantries. They want to go to the store and buy their food. As for oil changes or other transportation benefits, the message may be seen as you just care about them coming to work.” A better approach may be to offer gift cards to a local grocery store. Instead of free oil changes for front-line or low-income workers, have a day when everyone in the organization can partake of this benefit. 

Janicki said, “You need to be careful about the perks or benefits you offer. Sometimes, things seem like a good idea in theory but aren’t practical in reality.” For instance, Hillcrest tried to have a shuttle service from more populous areas but couldn’t make it work logistically. At the same time, they gave out gas cards but realized they had to declare the value on taxes, and that created issues.

Gaur noted, “When we just do things like pizza parties, people can feel shortchanged. They don’t want more pizza. They want to know they make a difference and are appreciated.” 

For instance, Gaur said that when a local business brought in lunch for staff as gesture of appreciation, that “meant the world to them.”  She noted, “But it wasn’t really about the food. It was about being visible and acknowledged for their hard work. That means more than anything else.” Elsewhere, she noted, “we have a local business who sells special cupcakes. We order these for certain events, and staff really love them. But again, it’s not as much about the food as the thought behind it.”

When employers prioritize the three Ps, talk to staff about what really matters to them, and find creative ways to support and recognize their teams, they can improve retention and engagement and have communities where people want to work.  ​