Pictured: Team members at Madison Villa, an Affordable Living by ERS community in Madisonville, OH.
For the last 12 years, The Enquirer and Cincinnati.com have honored Cincinnati’s best companies, agencies, and governments on their Top Workplaces list — and we at Episcopal Retirement Services (ERS) are proud to have remained on that list throughout its legacy.
Since 1951, we’ve fought to provide expert, dignified and person-centered care to all of our residents and beneficiaries of our community-based services. We put a lot of care and thought into our recruitment processes, hiring people who demonstrate a passion for looking after seniors and show genuine compassion and joy in their work.
We also recognize that to fulfill our mission, we have to take care of our own. Team members who feel fulfilled spread that happiness to not only their coworkers but also our senior residents.
So, what is it about ERS and its culture that has made us a Top Workplace for twelve consecutive years? We recently sat down with the VP of Human Resources and Organizational Development, Joan Wetzel, to learn more.
Q: To kick us off, can you please describe your current role at ERS?
Joan: I serve as the VP of Human Resources and Organizational Development; which includes areas such as talent acquisition, payroll, benefits, employee relations, leadership development, learning and compliance.
Q: ERS was just named one of Cincinnati’s Top Workplaces for the 12th consecutive year. In your opinion, what does this achievement say about the organization?
Joan: I think the Top Workplaces award is exceptional because it’s not based on revenue growth or a census. It’s based purely on feedback that our team members give directly to The Enquirer and Cincinnati.com. So, it’s truly our team member’s voices and opinions that are selecting us as a top workplace.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies were struggling, including ERS. I believe our team members really valued and appreciated the Servant Leadership Team’s diligence and strong commitment to stay in step with all of the national and state guidelines that were coming out at the time. We took bold steps to keep our residents and team members safe. We also recognized that our team members were not only working in healthcare, caring for the most vulnerable during a global pandemic but also living in it too. They had the same challenges everyone else did — kids being out of school, grocery stories being out of toilet paper, limited metro schedules, and the fear of the unknown.
We tried our very best to help team members address those needs by helping them to find available childcare and tutors, hosting a pop up pantry with food and supplies, providing detailed resource information for their communities, delivering care packages and conducting personal check ins. I think that’s part of why we received the title again this year.
But, as you said, this is the 12th consecutive year. So, it’s not just about how we handled the pandemic. I talk to ERS team members across our organization every day, and will often ask, “why do you stay?” Their responses always have a common theme: the culture. It’s how we feel when we’re at work and the collective environment all of our team members create. It’s all very intentional, so I think that plays a huge role in why we’ve been a Top Workplace for the last 12 years.
Q: What does the HR team do to drive a positive work environment at ERS? Has that changed during the pandemic?
Joan: A lot has changed during the pandemic, but a lot has also stayed the same, like our residents’ need for quality care. Our job as the HR team is to take excellent care of our staff so they can take excellent care of our residents. So, we’ve continued to find creative ways to have “boots on the ground,” and support our team member’s needs.
At first, I think the biggest hurdle for us as a department was continuing to manage payroll for almost 800 team members. When our support office closed and we went remote, we had to move the entire payroll processing off-site — and that's an undertaking.
We also had to figure out how to interview, hire, and onboard staff when only essential team members were allowed in the communities. We needed to start doing temperature checks and COVID-19 testing without overburdening our clinical teams. I’m so proud of all of our teams for finding creative solutions, seemingly overnight, to keep operations going and to keep everyone safe.
Q: You mentioned the hiring process. What does ERS look for when recruiting a candidate?
Joan: Of course, we’re looking for qualified candidates who have the right strengths and experiences. More importantly, we’re looking for candidates who are a cultural fit and a cultural add. Those who can bring new ideas and perspectives to the team while also fulfilling our Mission and Core Values. To do this, we have to hire slowly. We have to ask really good questions to find a mutually beneficial fit.
Q: Can you tell us more about ERS’s Core Values? How do the Core Values guide managers and team members in their interactions with residents and other staff?
Joan: Our mission statement says what we do. But our values dictate how we do it.
So, ERS “enriches the lives of older adults in a person-centered, innovative and spiritually based way.” And how we do that is by living out our values. And, the order of those values matters.
The first of our Core Values is “relationships.” It is an expectation that team members build strong and meaningful relationships with residents and with each other. We spend a lot of time with the people we work with side-by-side. Prioritizing healthy relationships helps us all to feel valued, energized and fulfilled when we are at work every day.
We also have a document called our “Ways of Working.” We describe these as a double-click on our Core Values. It’s a document that everyone commits to, from our team members, to our board to our residents and families.
Everyone at ERS is a “keeper of the culture”. We all have to work together to create an environment where our residents love living in and our staff love working in.
Pictured: Alishia Lee, Director of Talent Acquisition, (left) with Joan Wetzel (right).
Q: Are you involved with ERS’s “We Can Do Better” initiative? How does ERS promote diversity in the workplace?
Joan: The name of that initiative came from a Maya Angelou quote: “You do the best you can with what you know. But, when you know better, you do better.” And I think diversity and inclusion is something that we as a leadership team recognize that we could do better.
We have a high percentage of team members of color, especially in our line staff, and we can’t lead well if we don’t understand what someone is going through. We had conversations with the entire ERS team after the mass shooting in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. Our staff truly appreciated coming together and talking about this. After the murder of George Floyd in 2020, we knew we had to do more than just bring the team together to talk about this. It was time to take a deep internal look at our organization, our systems, policies and processes and discern if they were equitable and fair for all of the people who live and serve within ERS. In our We Can Do Better meeting, we encourage people to share their stories so we could learn and better understand what challenges they face as an underrepresented team member. So “We Can Do Better” started with giving people a platform to talk, listen and learn from each other about systematic racism and unconscious bias.
To give you an example, I'm a white woman and have a white son. I can't even pretend to imagine what it feels like to have a black son and have him walk out the door every day and know what he faces. One of our black Affordable Living managers shared a story about having two sons and moving to a predominantly white neighborhood. She shared that she felt she needed to take her 14 year old son to the local police station to introduce him so that if the police saw him walking down the street, they would know he lived there and wasn’t there causing trouble. This story hit home for me. I have a 14 year old son too. I have never felt the need to introduce him to the police. Hearing stories on the evening news is one thing, but hearing them from our friends and the people that we work elbow-to-elbow with is life-changing.
Some people are very engaged in the We Can Do Better sessions, while others just listen. I think both are great, because it’s planting the seed. It’s helping people learn how to be empathetic to another person’s situation or, in this case, to a group of people who have been grossly marginalized in our country.
And, of course, the sessions help us take a better look at our systems here at ERS. For example, we’re identifying ways to recruit in more diverse circles, partner with diverse associations, and give our team members of color a safe place to go to talk about the challenges they’re facing.
Q: Can you give an example of how “When you love what you do, it shows” is not just a marketing catchphrase, but a reality for ERS team members?
Joan: I so vividly remember sitting in a conference room a few years ago when we were talking about employment branding. We were trying to find a phrase that really defined what it felt like to work at ERS. Eventually, somebody said, “When you love what you do, it shows,” and the whole room went silent. We were all like, ‘that’s it!’
I think about that phrase anytime I see our team members caring for and sharing time with our residents. They truly love them as their own family members. It brings each of us joy to allow our elders to live life on their own terms and restore freedom choice and purpose to their lives.
The phrase is truly indicative of our team. Many of our team members wouldn’t tell you that they have a job at ERS. They’d say that they have a vocation or a mission. This is so much more than a job to most of us. So, “When you love what you do, it shows” just so beautifully describes Episcopal Retirement Services.
Q: In other interviews with staff, such as this recent one with Brittany Kauffman at Marjorie P. Lee, we’ve heard ERS team members say, “I work in our residents’ homes — they don’t live in my workplace.” What does this sentiment mean to you?
Joan: I’m so passionate about that mindset. I try to pop into every one of the new hire orientations, not only so I can meet everyone, which I enjoy but also so I can say exactly that.
I say to them, ‘if you walk away with nothing else from today, walk away with this,’ and I say it two or three times.
Fundamentally, there is such a difference between those mindsets. We just do our jobs much differently if we acknowledge that we are guests in our resident’s homes versus our residents living in our workplace.
Pictured: Team members at Deupree House, an ERS premier retirement community in Cincinnati, OH.
Q: What do you like most about your career with Episcopal Retirement Services?
Joan: A lot of organizations are very tactical and focused purely on outcomes. We are certainly looking at outcomes, too — but our focus on relationships that we build with residents and coworkers mean so much to me. In addition, I love that ERS values innovation. It is exciting to work for an organization that is leading the way to bring new and innovative services to elders in our communities. I feel so fortunate to be a part of the ERS team.
Thank you to all of our incredible staff members for recognizing us as a Top Workplace for the 12th consecutive year. Because of you, we’re able to deliver high-quality eldercare and change the lives of older adults throughout Cincinnati.
For more on Episcopal Retirement Services’ unique workplace culture or browse our open career opportunities, click here. For tips on preparing for a role in eldercare, download our Guide for Careers in Senior Living.