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Caring for Employees Who Care for Others

Human Resources in a Company Where the Mission is to Serve People at Life’s Most Vulnerable Times

By Aimee Linke
Vice President, Human Resources

Seventy-two percent of Vital Decisions’ workforce are behavioral health clinicians: counselors, social workers, people trained to care deeply for others. We hire clinicians who are especially skilled at being empathic and compassionate, helpful guides in healthcare decision making and advance care planning. We serve individuals who are navigating complex health issues, some just learning about a diagnosis, some facing serious illness, others considering how they want their goals and values incorporated into their healthcare, now and in the future if their disease progresses toward the end of life. 

Helping others navigate vulnerable conversations and think through difficult decisions is a special talent. Our clinicians are very special people. It’s vital that we take good care of our employees, who are taking care of others.

Unique Qualities of Our Clinicians 

  • Many of our clinicians are drawn to this work because they have personally faced a serious diagnosis and found themselves having to make difficult healthcare decisions, for themselves or a loved one. Others have dealt with loss and grief up front and personally.
  • For some, healthcare decisions may have happened in crisis or did not go as well as hoped. Some are drawn to Vital Decisions in order to be able to support others to have a different experience.
  • We hire clinicians that often have professional and personal experience in Advance Care Planning, so carrying out our mission becomes personal.
  • Many of our employees are also caregivers for children or for someone who is ill.
  • One’s personal experience with grief and loss can have a direct impact on their work. This experience is heightened when the work involves caring for others.

The nature of our work means we have to take special care of those we employ. Providing support for a workforce primarily made up of caregivers and behavioral health clinicians comes with unique nuances that differ from other fields. It’s not enough to just help employees succeed in their roles; caring for employees includes providing a level of support needed to sustain personal and professional stamina.

A third of our employees have had to take time away from work, at some point, because of a personal loss or as the result of being a caregiver. We grant time away well beyond the protected leave period, as we know how critical it is to take time away to care for self and others. Turnover following a leave of absence is minimal and employees are grateful for the flexibility in being able to manage their personal and work lives. We also allow our clinicians to work remotely, again giving them greater flexibility.

Engaging and Retaining Our Clinicians

The short answer to how we attract and retain our highly valued employees is by listening to what is most important to them. We do this by creating opportunities for feedback, and then incorporating feedback and adapting. As a result, our company truly reflects the values and culture of our people.

We are driven by our mission and grounded by our values; these steer our determination for evolution and growth. Eliciting feedback is vital for the evolution we strive for, and this is grounded in our values of transparency, communication, respect, and collaboration. Because we constantly keep an ear to the ground and an open door policy when it comes to feedback, we’re structured to constantly evolve. With each new hire comes a new story, a new perspective, which has the potential to shift the company as a result.

With change comes its own set of challenges in supporting staff through the transition. During the 5 years I’ve served as the VP, Human Resources, I’ve seen the organization implement numerous strategies to support staff. These strategies help with building stability and trust with our employees and are directly in line with our core values.

The Strategies That Have Been Most Impactful:

1. Forming committees, focus groups and pilot teams

  • This allows staff at all levels to participate and move an idea to fruition while offering feedback on a smaller scale prior to implementation or inclusion of the entire workforce. An example is our Compassion Fatigue group that provides a place for clinicians to support one another with the intensity of the work. This started as a pilot, was refined and then made available to the entire organization.

2. Consistent surveys and inviting feedback

  • Employees want to share their thoughts, feedback and ideas, and are encouraged to do so through surveying. While we’re conscious of “survey fatigue”, we send surveys for topics both big and small to help inform decisions. Employees have come to understand that this is a part of our culture, and have experienced positive change as a result.
  • One example of a positive change that was implemented due to employee feedback was allowing 100% work from home for the clinicians delivering direct care to individuals over the phone. This has been a welcomed option for employees, and truly set us up for success during the COVID environment that followed.

3. Structuring policies and frameworks for flexibility and individualized support

This means:

  • Taking the time to hear someone’s story, knowing that returning from maternity/paternity leave can look different for different mothers and fathers.
  • Understanding that caregivers need different levels of support.
  • Acknowledging that employees may be affected to varying degrees, at any given time, by the conversations that take place in their daily work, and collaborating around what the employees needs may be.

4. Acknowledging and building upon shortcomings

  • Shortcomings are a fact of any aspect of life, including businesses. Feedback and open door policies offer transparency about where we fall short as an organization, and allow opportunity to incorporate lessons learned into the next iteration of evolution.

5. Understanding the impact of grief and loss on the workforce

  • We acknowledge the difficulty of returning to work after the loss of a loved one where clinicians are continually speaking to clients about death, dying and how they want to live during a difficult health experience.
  • ƒƒWe have developed resources and accommodations which we continue to review and hone. These were developed through focus groups, and the work of employees themselves, offering feedback.
  • One example is the Bereavement Guide developed by a clinician because of her own experiences as a means to support co-workers.

6. Facilitating peer-to-peer sharing & storytelling

  • Our mission is to change the way health care is delivered for those facing a serious illness. Nearly all of our employees have a personal story that led them to work at our company. We hold fireside chats and experiential forums to bring employees together in personal storytelling and shared learning.
  • These are very impactful events that give employees a chance to pause to support and inspire each other and recognize that we are all in this together with a noble mission.

The work of discussing Advance Care Planning is not light work and comes with its own challenges for supporting those in the field. Employees’ needs stretch beyond the basic Human Resources realm, which is why gleaning feedback, with a focus on evolution is key to supporting the unique needs of a workforce in supporting roles. The work we do is personal; Advance Care Planning conversations permeate through the professional/personal barrier. The goal of Human Resources in this field is to not only bring knowledge of employee rights and benefits, but also compassion and adaptability.

 


Aimee has over 15 years of experience in Human Resources, 10 of which have been in a leadership role. Holding a Master’s degree in HR Management from Rutgers University and a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) certification, Aimee has spent her career in the HR field in a variety of industries including Healthcare, Non-Profit, Manufacturing and Energy. Aimee was hired in 2015 at Vital Decisions as the first Human Resources professional and tasked with building the HR department, practices, processes and programs we have today. Aimee oversees the HR function for the organization, including HR strategic initiatives, DEI efforts, recruitment and retention, compensation and benefits, and employee relations.