Emmaus Embarks on Employment Branding Initiative

Stacy Olson saw the writing on the wall: Industry-wide staffing shortages were set to pose a substantial challenge to Emmaus Homes.

“Our industry, like a lot of health care and home health industries, has very high turnover,” says Olson, chief human resources officer of the CHHSM member organization, which provides care to people with disabilities. “It’s the nature of our business, and a nationwide trend.”

Numbers tell a harsher future. The major client base of aging baby boomers is growing, but the typical workforce-aged population for home health care — women between the age of 20 and 45 — is shrinking, Olson explains.

“There is just not enough population coming up in the workforce,” Olson says. “Staffing and recruiting was an area we felt we really needed to get a handle on.”

So Olson urged a refined focus on the staff of about 700, the majority of whom provide direct support to Emmaus’ approximately 280 clients.

“I proposed changing our big question to simplify what we’re trying to accomplish: How do we attract and retain high quality staff?” Olson says.

The answer? Employment branding. The idea is a trend in corporate culture today, Olson says. The terminology describes an organization’s effort to mold and define its reputation as an employer, and value to its employees — rather than to its customers.

Putting the idea into practice is Employment Branding Specialist Steven Amrhein, who replaced the recently vacated recruiter position at Emmaus in February. His multi-disciplinary role — communicator, recruiter, event planner — is ultimately about meeting that big idea of Emmaus’ employment branding effort: Assert the organization’s high regard for its employees.

A large part of Emmaus Homes’ efforts has been drawing out the staff’s personal narratives in engaging and forthcoming ways.

The Employee Spotlight, for example, is a feature that shines a light on the staff’s many facets, fostering compassion, camaraderie and community. The idea grew organically from Amrhein’s time at Emmaus, he says, as he overheard stories of the incredible things staff did outside work, from running their own nonprofits to completing degrees while working full time.

Incorporating employee feedback has been another key part, Amrhein says. For instance, Emmaus’ leadership team uses online review systems, a platform for periodic feedback to management from staff members on the anniversary of their hire.

“It allows them after one year, and every year after, to tell us their story about how their year went, and how it can be improved,” Amrhein says.

During weekly sessions, executive leaders also solicit feedback, asking questions like, ‘If you were the CEO, what would you do to make Emmaus better?’ he says.

Seeking and receiving feedback about the workers and the culture is crucial, Amrhein says, otherwise, companies risk easily misinterpreting the entire point of employment branding.

“A lot of companies get into the problem where they want to say what their culture is before they really think about what their culture is,” Amrhein says. “A lot of implementation is getting to know who is working for you; getting to know why they chose your company and why they’re still working for your company.”

That can take a while, he says, and companies have to be willing to invest in that, and more.

“Invest in employee recognition and appreciation, because it’s about making people happy in the place where they spend the majority of their time,” he says. “That’s what they’re here to do and that’s what they do — they make their clients happy. So from a corporate level, we want to make our employees happy, too.”

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