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Raising quality of work with quality of life at Residence at Timber Pines

Published Apr. 28, 2012

SPRING HILL

The management at the Residence at Timber Pines knows success is the product of a happy workforce.

"With happy employees, you have happy everything," executive director Terri Osteen said.

So she strives to make each of the 175 staff members feel like a member of the family.

The Residence at Timber Pines is an assisted living facility more akin to a luxury resort thanks to amenities like a beauty salon, spa, cafe and gift shop.

Besides the basic benefits — 401(k), health insurance, discounted lunches — employees enjoy some other luxuries: a professional massage on Thursday afternoons, prime rib for $1 on Saturday nights and a water balloon fight on the Fourth of July.

"It can't be all business," Osteen said. "You have to have some fun thrown in there. You have to enjoy coming to work."

Last year, she bought a Shih Tzu puppy, Timber, thinking he would live at her home and be a pet for her two young sons. She brought him to the Residence instead, and when she saw how much the residents and staff loved him, she got him a little brother, Patch, and moved them in permanently.

The fluffy little lap dogs live behind the nurses stations and are cared for by the entire staff.

"I've never had a job where I could stop and play with puppies all day if I wanted to," chef Keith Guzik said.

But the pets aren't the only things that unite the staff as a family, the employees say.

If a staff member does something commendable, he or she gets a handwritten thank you card from the boss with a gift card to a local restaurant tucked inside.

When people have trouble paying bills, the staff gets together and holds a small fundraiser. Employees are even welcome to host a baby shower, Sweet 16 birthday party or a wedding at the Residence.

"It's just a great place to be," Guzik said.

Osteen came on board as executive director when the facility opened in 2000. Having worked at hourly jobs herself, she wanted to create a different sort of environment at the Residence at Timber Pines.

Ask any of her employees, and they will tell you that she has accomplished that goal.

One of the staff's favorite activities, Guzik said, is the monthly "employee fun days." Water balloon fights highlight the summer. This month it was the annual Easter egg hunt.

Last year, the Residence at Timber Pines won the employee satisfaction award from the Goodman Group, the facility's corporate owner with more than 50 residences in nine states. The Residence serves as a flagship of sorts for the company, which is in the process of opening a facility in the U.K. When corporate wanted to give investors a tour, they were taken to the Residence at Timber Pines.

"It's a place people are proud to work in," Osteen said.

About 50 percent of the staff members have been there for five years or more, and Osteen credits that to the relationships they build with the residents and each other.

A few years ago she made the decision to take positions and titles off employee name tags, leaving just their first names. Each job is equally important, she said.

Despite all the fun, Osteen doesn't hire just anybody.

"We don't have a warm body syndrome," she said.

All applicants are subject to a thorough background check, which Guzik said is something that the other employees appreciate as much as the management.

The staff lives by the Goodman Group's Platinum Service Standards, a code of ethics and service.

Rule No. 7 is the golden rule of the Residence at Timber Pines: Never say "no" to an opportunity to serve residents or improve their living experience.

If an applicant can't meet her standards, Osteen has no problem with leaving a position open until she can find the right person.

"It's not about hiring anymore; it's about selecting," she said. "We grow the flowers, and we pluck the weeds. And we have a lot of flowers."

The staff holds daily meetings to go over what needs to be done and what needs to be done better, and employees meet with supervisors once a year for evaluations.

Following the annual evaluation, employees are eligible for a 1 percent to 4 percent salary increase, Osteen said.

Everyone also gets a Christmas bonus and the chance to find $50 or a lottery ticket in an Easter egg or a balloon on an Employee Fun Day.

Guzik, who found $50 at one such event, said he has felt appreciated since the day he started work at the Residence at Timber Pines.

"I've never gotten up once, not once since I came here, and not wanted to come to work," he said.

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