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Compassionate caring Featured

11:01am EDT July 29, 2006
Peggy Miller never intended to get into the health care field.

The owner of PE Miller & Associates, an agency providing short-term home health care, had worked in real estate, and her career goal involved working in an office. Then a friend encouraged her to apply for a job at a long-term care facility.

“I entered this business initially as a personal challenge,” Miller says. “I decided to enter the field in order to discipline myself. I certainly did not have the background or genuine desire to get into this field — I had actually never set foot in a nursing home. In this process of getting out of my comfort zone, I discovered that I have a deep compassion and concern for those in need.”

Miller worked at the long-term care facility for five years, but had a nagging feeling that there had to be a better way. She had ideas about how to train employees more effectively and ways to overcome operational deficiencies resulting from chronic short staffing, and in1985 she left her job to start her own business.

Today, PE Miller & Associates has between 85 and 100 employees who generate annual revenue of between $5 million and $6 million.

Smart Business spoke with Miller about finding the right employees to work in a difficult business and the importance of delegating.

How would you describe your leadership style?
I am careful about delegating. I consider it my responsibility as a leader to handle the more difficult and demanding tasks such as complaints.

It is not fair to expect employees to wrestle with these sensitive issues. Many of our clients have used our services for years.

It is meaningful to them to know they can contact me directly. I do not believe in an ivory tower management style — you must be accessible and genuine with your employees.

The caring professions are extremely stressful, so we put a lot of effort into keeping stress at bay. We allow our employees space and autonomy.

However, we make it clear to our employees that their clients have their own problems. It is unacceptable to burden them further by sharing personal issues.

What qualities do you look for when hiring?
It takes a special person to work in this business, which is why the turnover typically is quite high. We look for a giving spirit and a positive attitude.

Negative employees are the kiss of death in this business, and most others. We remind our employees that our clients have minimal control over their lives. For many, their care is the only control they have. Therefore, they have a right to exercise that control by expecting quality care provided with respect.

How do you deal with fluctuations in your industry?
Sometimes there is very little you can do about them, so adapting is the key. We are regulated heavily by the government, and must contend with constant changes. This is a huge challenge at times, because we are expected to do more with the same number of people and less time.

My approach is to accept the things I cannot change and learn to juggle the challenges in a factual and nonreactive manner. If you truly enjoy what you are doing, the fluctuations and stressful challenges are less daunting.

How do you keep employees motivated?
We have employee of the month awards, year-end bonuses, a credit union, 401(k) and other benefits, and we pay the most we are able. Getting employees together periodically for communication sessions is important in building teamwork and maintaining a strong sense of purpose. However, it is a real challenge in this business.

We have employees working different hours, so we have to be creative and hold several meetings to accommodate schedules. We get the staff together for jam sessions where we treat them to pizza and kick around ideas on how to better service our clients.

I also believe in rewarding loyalty, so we provide incentives for employees who celebrate their five-year anniversary with us.

What is your greatest challenge?
Striving to stay at the level of service we want to provide while complying with government regulations is frustrating. We do not always feel the regulations are realistic or reasonable.

It would be easy to become bitter and angry about this. My approach is to remind myself that nobody is singling us out — there are many organizations in the same boat. The only way you learn is by dealing with and accepting change, so I keep my attitude in check when meeting these challenges.

I basically look at this as my personal dragon to slay in the pursuit of excellence. Nobody said it would be easy, but my love and concern for my clients and employees make it worthwhile.

HOW TO REACH: PE Miller & Associates, (614) 231-4743