The Square
News and perspectives from Covia.

Originally published in Engage Winter 2019

In December 2018, Sandra Crowder, Environmental Services Tech, was named Los Gatos Meadows Employee of the Quarter.

The Covia community shared on Facebook that “Sandra’s positivity and attention to detail inspires all who cross her path. She holds herself to very high standards and strives to provide excellence to residents, team members, and guests.”

For her part, Sandra says, “One of my goals at work is to make people smile and feel cared for which is easy here.” She adds, “Also I have a wonderful supervisor and I feel appreciated by my boss and the management.”

But which came first: Sandra’s high standards, or the appreciation of the management?

“What we find across all industries across all countries is that people want the same thing,” says Jacquelyn Kung, CEO of Activated Insights, a senior care company of Great Place to Work. “And it comes down to trust.”

Great Place to Work has been studying the elements of trust in the workplace for over 30 years. They have found five key elements: Respect, Credibility, Fairness, Camaraderie, and Pride. Together, these comprise the Trust Index – a measure that is tied to increased organizational performance.  

According to Kung, the first three measures – Respect (I feel respected by my employer), Credibility (I can believe what my employer is telling me), and Fairness (I feel that decisions and policies are fair) establish a relationship built in trust. “What really elevates it even more is Camaraderie, which is with my coworkers, and then Pride in what I do,” she says.

For the first time this year, Great Place to Work has offered a list of Best Places to Work in Aging Services.  Covia, a LeadingAge California member based in Walnut Creek, placed 29th overall.

The Trust Index has been shown to have a causal effect on improving the workplace. “You improve the Trust Index score, and your performance as an organization improves. In public companies, the best companies outperform the stock market index by a factor of 200 to 300 percent,” says Kung. “In our industry, higher Trust Index score, lower employee turnover. Higher Trust Index score, happier residents and families. Higher Trust Index score, better occupancy.”

Of the five dimensions of Trust, Covia rated highest in Pride and lowest in Fairness – a typical result for the Aging Services industry, according to Kung.

“Our industry compared to other industries really stands out for that reason – pride and purpose – and it’s the organizations that highlight and inculcate that best that seem to do best,” says Kung. “And of course they also are high in respect, credibility, fairness, camaraderie.”

For fairness, perception is key, and a lot of the perception is based on day to day activities, such as scheduling. “Scheduling is really important for this industry. If you’re not getting what you requested and you see someone else and you don’t know why, then it’s perceived as not fair.” One way to improve the perception is to make sure employees understand why something is the way it is.

Another common area of perceived unfairness is compensation. “Our industry does not do a good job communicating how compensation is determined,” notes Kung. “And compensation includes of course the pay itself, but also benefits, and having some sort of share in success.”

For Covia, which had been evaluating employee satisfaction through other surveys since 2010, the choice to partner with Great Place to Work made sense.

“Quite honestly, it’s a great recruiting tool,” says Prab Brinton, Covia’s Vice President of Human Resources. “The minute that you say, ‘We’re a great place to work,’ the candidate instinctively paints a picture of what that looks like for them.”

“I think the designation is also a good reminder for our current workforce,” she adds. “It reminds them: ‘Oh, wait a minute. Actually, you know what? We are a pretty good place to work because here’s what all of my peers are saying. Here are all the great things my employer offers me.’ It’s a great reminder, just from a retention perspective.”

“The other thing that was really good about this tool is that it’s also being able to tie our employee feedback to the resident experience,” says Brinton. With other surveys, “We got lots of great information, but how do you tie it into the resident experience? With Great Place to Work, we were able to give them that information and they were able to correlate that together for us.”

And of course, the Great Place to Work survey gave Covia information on where it can grow and improve, both overall as an organization as well as at a community or departmental level.

One area where Brinton feels Covia has room to improve is in building stronger relationships with employees, rather than spending the bulk of the time in bureaucratic tasks. “We have systems to handle day to day tasks. These systems help us move employee conversations from ‘did you fill out your benefits paperwork’ to ‘let’s talk about what would be the best benefit choice for you and your family.’ Or if you know that there’s a rising star within your community – the conversation turns to ‘Hey what are your plans? I know you’re getting ready to graduate from school, what are you planning to do? Have you considered this kind of position with us?’ We should be turning it more into that kind of relationship. We spend a lot of time building those relationships with our residents. We need to do the same with our employees.”

In her one-on-one meetings with her direct report, Brinton focuses on four areas: the status of current projects; any roadblocks or concerns; current successes; and ongoing career development needs and desires. “I do think that a lot of times in many organizations, HR falls into the role of ‘managing’ employees through their tenure. The true role of HR should be to create an environment that employees can come in and do a great job every day and feel pride in the job that they are doing. We’re also here hopefully to educate in some way, to help employees along their career path.”

And if the original career path doesn’t work, there may be another way to use a talented employee’s skills and talents. Gina Secchi, Marketing Coordinator at St. Paul’s Towers in Oakland, started her career at Covia as the Catering Manager at San Francisco Towers. “I loved the event planning and the San Francisco Towers residents and felt mentored by [Director of Dining Services] Larry Brooks,” says Secchi. “Unfortunately, the commute was too much and I wasn’t going to be able to stay. When I mentioned this to Larry, he was instrumental in me coming to St. Paul’s Towers. He knew my strengths and suggested to [Executive Director] Melody Mitchell and [HR Director] Donna Tendler that I work at St. Paul’s as the marketing coordinator and they all helped me to do so. Larry made me feel very respected because he said, ‘I wish you could stay here but I would rather have you work for Covia than have the company lose you.’” Secchi is now considering getting a degree in Marketing. “I know that Covia has a program that assists with going back to school and I am looking into participating in this program.”

“I would say to other aging services companies, figure out ways to make your employees feel connected to the organization, to the management teams, to the other employees. I think that goes a long way,” says Brinton. “If you don’t feel connected to your spouse or partner, you say, ‘OK, I need to find greener pastures.’ It’s the same thing on employment. If employees don’t feel connected then they’ll ask themselves, ‘Why should I keep coming here? You don’t value anything that I bring to you.’ It’s really being able to harness the connection between employer and employee.”

“Covia believes that every single employee is essential and vital to our team. Our management staff works hard to communicate this and to be sure everyone is treated that way,” says Ron Schaefer, Chief Operating Officer. “Covia is also a great place to work because of the important work we do: supporting older people to live well and age well.”

“There are always the usual things: you have pay, you have benefits,” says Brinton. “I think more importantly are the people you work with, believing in the mission of the organization, and being surrounded by a bunch of people who are driven by that same thing. I think that makes Covia a great place to work.”

Brinton adds, “I think something that makes us unique over numerous other industries outside of senior living is the employees get to feel like they have an extended family outside of your work family. You have these great seniors or elderly people that you are interacting with on a day to day basis. One, they’re very grateful that you’re there helping them. But two, just think about all the stories you get and the added knowledge or learning. You just feel connected.”

This connection is clearly felt by Sandra Crowder at Los Gatos Meadows. “I truly give my all to Covia and the residents,” she says. “I also receive a lot of joy from the residents in return.”

In January, Webster House welcomed Mehrad “Rod” Moshiri as its new executive director. He’s spent his first month getting to know the community, both staff and residents.

“The first thing that I think I noticed about Webster House is that people care,” he says. “From the line staff to upper management, everybody cares about the residents who live here, which is great. Everything else can be learned. People caring is something you either have it or you don’t.”

After emigrating to the Bay Area from Iran in 1988 at the age of 15, Rod attended San Jose State University, getting a Bachelor’s degree in Occupational Therapy. His first job was as an Occupational Therapist in a Skilled Nursing Facility in Alameda. After that, he moved to San Francisco where he worked first as a rehabilitation manager, then became a case manager and director of case management while at the same time earning his MBA. Meanwhile, he learned of an opportunity to enter an Administrator in Training program: “I applied, I got in, and got my Masters and became an Administrator at the same time.” After getting his Administrator’s license and MBA, Rod managed Skilled Nursing Facilities for about 16 years.

Because Rod’s prior experience has mostly been as the administrator of places like Webster House Health Center, one of his first goals is to get more exposure to the Independent Living side of the community. In his short time here so far, he’s visited the dining committee, the financial study group, and presented at his first Fireside Chat – an all-community update that happens monthly – as well as getting to know individual residents.

“We have the greatest residents,” he says. “They’re very welcoming. They’re very casual. They’re more than happy to converse with people that are interested and letting them know why they’re here,” such as the fact that they can walk half a block to get to downtown Palo Alto.

His first impression of Webster House Health Center, which provides rehabilitation services and skilled nursing, is that “for the size of the health center, it’s a smooth running operation. And that’s typically not achievable unless you have competent people in place. Room for improvement? Always. But looking at it from a global perspective, it’s a smooth-running operation.”

“Because I have the background and experience in the health center side, I would confidently tell people that the care they will receive here is by far much better than 85-90 percent of the skilled nursing facilities in the area,” he says.

Rod was drawn to the position because Webster House and Covia have a good reputation as an employer in the area of senior living. The Assistant Executive Director of St. Paul’s Towers, Maggie Youssef, and Rod had worked together previously and “she spoke very highly of the company,” Rod says. “I can tell you that everyone I have met so far has been great. And I do get emails saying, ‘Everything OK? Do you need anything?’ Knowing that I’m newer to the position, knowing that I may need something, they’re taking the first step to reach out to me before I reach out to them, which is wonderful.”

Being the Executive Director of a Life Plan Community is not an easy role to fill. “You need to be able to wear multiple hats. You need to be able to think on your feet. You need to be able to put out fires right away. And you need to be able to remember that you’re dealing with people’s lives,” Rod says. “It is a tough business. Different personalities, different challenges, different situations. That’s what’s tough about it.”

At the same time, “You can make a difference in people’s lives and well-being,” Rod notes. “What I like about it is that there are no two days that are the same. It never gets boring.”

Especially with so many interesting people around. “I love and welcome conversations. I live by the fact that I have an open-door policy. I invite people to come in and say hi to me in my office. I’m enjoying every day that I’m here and I’m learning a lot.”

We are pleased to announce that Covia has been recognized as one of the 50 Best Workplaces in Aging Services in a new list published in Fortune. Covia ranked 29th among senior housing organizations nationwide.

This is the first time Fortune and Great Places to Work have created a list for the Aging Services industry, which includes both senior housing and at-home care. According to Fortune, the list was developed by analyzing survey results from more than 162,000 employees working in both aspects of the industry.

“We are honored to be recognized in this list of organizations in Aging Services,” says Kevin Gerber, President and CEO. “We are especially proud of all the incredible Covia employees who help us live out our mission and guiding principles every day. Their excellence, compassion and camaraderie are what make us a great place to work.” 

“Making the list is a huge accomplishment,” says Prab Brinton, Vice President of Human Resources. “Although we have room to grow, I’m very proud of what this recognition says about our organizational culture.”

The article in Fortune Magazine can be found at http://fortune.com/2018/09/27/best-workplaces-for-aging-services-2018/

Covia’s organizational profile is online at http://reviews.greatplacetowork.com/covia

After graduating from high school in Vallejo, Jasphere “Phey” Abuan wanted to be a biochemist. “I was actually in a biochem program back in the day,” she says, “and then life happens.” In 2000, she left an abusive relationship, took her 8-month-old daughter and the $30 she had in her pocket and moved home to live with her mother. Now, with the support of Covia’s employee Educational Assistance program, she is preparing to enter a graduate program for a Master’s Degree in Physician’s Assistant Studies.

After returning to Vallejo, Phey joined a temp agency that assigned her to construction companies. “I did subcontracting, I did liens, I did accounts payable stuff. I picked it up really quick. And I picked up the 10 key really fast too. That’s when I decided, ‘I have this kid. I need to do something. And I can’t do anything without a degree.’” While working, she got her Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management and a minor in accounting in 2009. But she still hoped to work for a health-related organization.

Married and with a second child, Phey got laid off from her job with the construction company in 2010. “I got into another temp job I didn’t like so much. It was still construction but more, like, pipes. It paid the bills. I was still looking for something and then [in 2012] I got an opportunity for another temp to hire job here. They told me it’s a senior living community management type company and I’m like, ‘Yes! This is what I want.’ So I finally got in here, got my foot in the door.”

Her work with Covia took her to visit Webster House Health Center. “I would go there and I would see the facility and it intrigued me.” Observing the Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs), nurses, and others made Phey revisit her dream to enter the medical field – a dream that was also part of her family history. Her father had studied to be a doctor in the Philippines, but the death of his father had interrupted his studies. Instead, after immigrating to the US with Phey and her two siblings, he had had to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet for his family.

At Covia, “my manager  pushed us to look into the Educational Assistance program at every finance meeting we had,” Phey says. However, she didn’t think she qualified since the program is for training directly related to a person’s job or career path at Covia. “I thought, it can’t be applied to me, because I want to be a PA [Physician’s Assistant] and I don’t think there’s a lot of PAs employed directly here. So I talked to Prab [Brinton, VP of HR] and Prab said, ‘It’s still a medical line. You can totally do that.’”

Phey began her studies in 2016. “Every new fiscal year, I applied to complete one grueling class. In 2016, I completed my Chemistry class. In 2017, I completed my Anatomy & Physiology class, and in 2018, I have completed my Biochemistry class using the Educational Assistance program here at Covia. I coordinated the most expensive courses first and paid out of pocket with my other courses. I also took advantage in borrowing from my Covia 403b to pay for other classes.” Her final class this semester is Human Biology at Diablo Valley College. “We get to dissect a pig. I’m so excited!”

In January, Phey plans to get her certificate to be a CNA. While continuing in her full-time position as Payroll Specialist at Support Services, she will also work on getting at least 2,000 direct care hours as a CNA at Covia Communities before applying for Physician’s Assistant programs.

“One thing led to another for me and it was kind of – I don’t know, it was just magical. If you asked me when I was hired here, I had no clue. But one question I had that I actually asked opened up doors for other opportunities that can advance my career. And that I did not expect,” Phey says.

Her biggest advice for Covia employees who wonder if this benefit applies to them is simply to ask. “There’s so much opportunity that we as Covia Communities give our employees. If you’re interested, get the information. There are so many benefits out there – not just medical benefits. Our HR group has a lot of information that can guide you through these things. So if you’re interested in any – even if you don’t know if there are benefits out there, ask. It doesn’t hurt to ask.”