No two Life Enrichment teams are alike. Coordinators' and staff members' personalities philosophies, and practices give each Life Enrichment Department (LED) a unique character. That's a wonderful thing.
No matter who’s on the team, however, every LED, everywhere, wants to achieve the same thing. They want to engage seniors in meaningful experiences and contribute to their quality of life.
As any life enrichment coordinator will tell you, that’s far from easy. It takes a special kind of team to achieve that engagement — let alone sustain it.
Here’s what the very best of those teams have in common.
1 - They’re Resident-Centered
For highly effective life enrichment teams, the resident is always at the forefront of their concerns.
And not in a hokey, abstract kind of way. Top performing life enrichment have done their due diligence. They really know their residents.
Thanks to their face-to-face time with each individual in their community, excellent LEDs keenly understand residents’ strengths and limitations, their preferences and their quirks, and they’re relentless about catering to their needs.
As a result, residents in these communities have options to explore a wide variety of activities they enjoy, on a schedule that works for them. To excellent enrichment staff, this level of specificity isn’t just a CMS requirement — it’s the rhythm of their working life.
2 - They’re creative
Maybe the simplest test of this resident-centeredness? Have a look at the activity calendar. If all you see is BINGO, BINGO, BINGO… this LED team may not be serving their residents to the best of their ability.
Residents are human beings, not machines. “Life enrichment” isn’t an item you can tick off on a checklist. Routines are important, but like anyone else, residents crave variety in how they spend their time.
Great LED teams bring everything they have to the task, including their imaginations. Nobody’s expecting grand and elaborate activities every single day. Little flourishes of creativity, though, show a level of human engagement that residents and their families really appreciate.
Art and craft projects, science experiments, carnivals, writing, and cooking are all activities that seniors love — and creative LED teams know how to make those activities work.
3 - They’re organized
Getting all that done, though, is quite a logistical challenge. Which is why high-performing life enrichment teams are also highly organized.
They can coordinate complicated group activities, and wrap them up in time for the next meal; they’re floor-plan experts, and they know to take transport time into account when they make their plans; they never slack on documentation, because they know how much it matters.
All of this keeps life enrichment staff plenty busy. But they do it anyway, because they know a disorganized LED is far less able to meet their residents’ needs.
4 - They collaborate with clinical care
At the same time, great LEDs recognize that they’re just one part of a residents’ life. It takes teamwork to make residents thrive, and the very best life enrichment staff are happy to keep their clinical colleagues in the loop.
Clinical care teams and life enrichment departments aren’t always great at communicating with each other. That communication, however, is extremely important. Issues that arise in clinical care have a huge impact on a residents’ ability to participate in an activity. Likewise, problems that come up during life enrichment activities — lethargy, disengagement, loss of appetite — can be signs of clinical issues.
Great teams keep the channel of communication open, so that everyone has a complete picture of the residents’ wellbeing.
5 - They’re adaptable
But nobody’s perfect. Even if they’re focused on the resident, they’re hyper-organized, and they’re up to speed with every residents’ clinical needs, things can still go wrong. High-performing LEDs recognize that, and they know how to adapt.
Activity equipment breaks down? They can improvise a game session. Attendance for an activity is low? They’ll adjust it for next time.
They know how to find constructive solutions on the fly, because they have to. Improvising is an essential part of their job. Staying flexible is how they keep their residents (not to mention themselves!) feeling sane.
6 - They’re happy!
Perhaps most important quality of an effective life-enrichment team — they’re happy in their work.
Residents pick up on the moods of their caregivers. What they see from staff makes a dramatic difference in how they perceive their own lives in their communities. Research has consistently shown that, in senior housing communities, the happiness and engagement of staff members is a very strong predictor of the happiness and engagement of residents.
But contentment can’t be faked. It needs to stem from an authentic sense of joy in service. Leaders can’t exactly force their staff members to feel that way.
But they can cultivate joy in the workplace by giving it space to grow. That means removing the barriers that keep staff from doing their best work. Onerous paperwork and documentation are a frequently-cited complaint from senior-living staff members. While it’s impossible to eliminate those entirely, modernizing those practices can minimize the time it takes to complete them — and give staff members more time to spend with residents.
Which is what the very best life enrichment teams really want.