What makes your job great? Is it your co-workers, your supervisor, or the people you support? Can a simple “Thank you” get a worker through a tough day? What can AHRC New York City do to ensure that employee morale gets and remains high? All of these questions and much more were shared and answered as part of an exercise called Appreciative Inquiry.

In a session headed by Sarah Soriano and Kassie Barrett, both Community Support Supervisors for AHRC NYC’s Day Hab Without Walls, approximately 25 employees from a number of Adult Day Services program locations in Queens, Staten Island, and Manhattan gathered at Manhattan Day Habilitation (315 Hudson Street) and discussed their AHRC NYC history, things they love about their jobs, and ways their experiences could be improved. The meeting was the third of its kind after prior events held in the Bronx and in Brooklyn. Katerina Chatzistyli, Associate Director of Adult Day Services, and Carole Gothelf, Director of Individualized Supports, were among those in attendance. Ife Okoh, Director of AHRC NYC’s Melissa Riggio Higher Education Program at Kingsborough Community College and the College of Staten Island, and Kassie directed the meeting in Brooklyn while Andrew Pfadt-Trilling, Director of the Riggio Program at Hostos Community College and Borough of Manhattan Community College, and Sarah directed the meeting in the Bronx.

What is Appreciative Inquiry?

In short, appreciative inquiry is an approach to organizational development that aims to discover and amplify what’s already working,” Andrew said. “The approach gathers people from various roles and vantage points and frames conversations around identifying existing strengths, successes, and positive developments. The goal is to identify themes and connect practices and values so they can be the central focus of change efforts.”

Appreciative Inquiry Signs from the exercise

Appreciative Inquiry seeks to enhance the positive aspects of a company and replicate them, rather than point out problems in an attempt to correct them. Throughout the three sessions feedback was received from a number of different employees throughout AHRC NYC’s Adult Day Services department. The workers had great variance in terms of experience. One employee has been working at AHRC NYC since 1987 while another has worked since August 2015. By design, the employees represented a number of different professional roles, with some in supervisory positions and others at entry-level positions.

Pairs and Quads

A sheet of paper was placed under each person’s chair at the outset of the session. Before reviewing the worksheet, a plush iguana was tossed around the room in an ice-breaking exercise, where each person stated their name, position, and one word to describe their work style. Among the words people used were passionate, outgoing, creative, and collaborative. Each person was then paired with another employee and asked to complete the first side of the worksheet, which contained the following prompts:

Describe a time in your experience when agency morale was at its highest.

Brag a little – What do you value most about yourself that you contribute to the agency?

Describe a time you feel like you were most appreciated at work.

Immediately following this, pairs then formed quads (groups of four) and answered additional questions based on their previous responses:

What are the common conditions needed to ensure high morale?

– What are the common themes from your experiences?
– What current and/or previous company benefits do you use and value?

What are three hopes/wishes you have to enhance morale/satisfaction among AHRC NYC employees?

Findings

A number of employees said that simple, positive recognition from a supervisor makes a big difference in their day. They also said that having their supervisors be accessible at all times, not just when there is an immediate issue, is necessary. Among the benefits and perks workers said they enjoyed the most were WageWorks, Plum Benefits, company cell phones, and trips to cultural institutions and AHRC NYC’s upstate camp retreats.

Low salaries combined with job-related stress were often mentioned as reasons people left their positions, especially relevant at a time when the minimum wage is scheduled to raised without requisite funding for Direct Support Professionals in the budget. Staff also suggested more personal interaction between coworkers, (rather than electronic), increased use of adaptive/assistive technology, and unity among agency departments as ways to keep morale high.

The next step is to bring together the feedback from the three sessions to identify patterns, themes, and specific ideas that can be used in ongoing initiatives and decision-making relating to staff satisfaction,” Andrew said. Katerina added that the Adult Day Services department will soon meet to analyze the information received from employees.