Why a Culture of Gentleness Makes Good Business Sense

The following article addresses the culture found in residential settings where the quality of life is shaped by the multiple relationships between residents and direct care support staff. I was struck by the correlation between the elements of a culture of gentleness and what LaLoux has described in “Reinventing Organizations” as new level of organization emerging that holds great promise. (see “Book Corner”) The organizing principle in this new tier is the constellation of the deep values individuals are liberated to express in their work. – Clint Galloway, Editor

Those of us in the business of providing care for others often find ourselves trying to balance sound financial decisions with decisions that directly impact the quality of care provided. Tipping the balance negatively on the economic side (we can refer to them as “scale tippers”) include staff turnover, worker’s compensation claims, unemployment claims and the cost of training new staff, all of which can lead to increased anxiety for those we support, lower staff morale, reduced quality of care and increased expenses. If we can agree that the scale tippers attribute to a majority of the increased costs then we can agree that by reducing the incidents of scale tipping we will be making decisions that can lead to expansion, fewer vacancies and other business opportunities. Fortunately, we are learning that the same things attributed to reducing expenses are also attributed to increasing the quality of care for the individuals we support.

The ever changing landscape of our system of care pales in comparison to the changes experienced by those receiving care due to staff turnover. I recently went to my dentist and was informed that I would have a different dental hygienist. “What…no Dena?” I thought, “she’s been my hygienist for many years and suddenly they expect me to have my teeth cleaned by someone else?” (Maybe if I’d flossed regularly I’d be less concerned). The care that the new hygienist provided for me and my teeth was more aggressive than I’m used to, leaving me wanting Dena back. After my initial disappointment, I’m okay now with the notion of waiting six months to find out who will do my cleaning next. But I would be much less settled if I was to experience this uncertainty with every shift change, 547 times over the next six months. This uncertainty about whom we will be interacting with in a face-to-face relationship makes us feel less safe and precipitates negative feelings and actions. It invades the entire culture of care. It is an expensive drain on our resources as well as the peace of mind of those that we support.

Providers report an average turnover rate of 49% among frontline direct caregivers. For agencies that experience high annual turnover rates (hopefully you’ve calculated your annual rate, if not this would be a good first step to take), it is likely staff will leave within the first six months of employment. This is the period in which the initial, comprehensive training will occur for new staff. At an average replacement cost of approximately $3,500 per employee, these costs weigh heavily on the economic scale.

Other scale tippers that often appear in a workplace with excessive rates of turnover include worker’s compensation, health insurance premiums and unemployment claims. Worker’s compensation claims tend to increase when the people in our care feel unsafe and are more likely to be aggressive towards staff, resulting in injury. Insurance rates increase when claims expense increases, and conversely, rates remain more stable when claims expense decrease; in some cases refund checks are cut to providers when there is a well-established “culture of gentleness.” When excessive scale tipping is present we are more likely to find frivolous worker’s compensation claims. This can reduce morale, as well as your bottom line, due to time spent resolving the issues. Another hidden cost of high turnover is health insurance premiums. Decreased turnover means that a large health insurance claim can be absorbed over time if staff continues to be employed after the claim has been paid. Unemployment claims, whether you are reimbursing or a contributing provider can be incredibly time consuming and expensive, costing up to $10,000 a claim in some cases.

Not to be forgotten in the discussion are wages and benefits. These are significant factors in finding and retaining qualified staff. According to the Michigan Assisted Living Association’s (MALA) 2009 Strategies for Improving Wages, Benefits, and Training to Staff Providing Community Mental Health Funded Residential Services, “Wages for direct care workers among the providers responding to this survey are as much as $3.25 per hour less than wages in other similar sectors of long-term care.” Although it will not bring parity to our Medicaid reimbursement rates, an established culture of gentleness will increase our ability to offer more attractive incentives for our employees.

Now that we’ve identified the scale tippers, how do we begin to tip them in more favorable directions? We cannot support the people we support without feeling supported by the people who support us.

That sentence will gain few points from English teachers, but it does offer insight into what our focus must be if we want to create a culture that is conducive for healthy bottom lines and healthy hearts alike.

Have you ever heard of “seagull management?” This philosophy is indicative of a culture that offers little or no proactive support, and when things are not going well—for example, if a group home is in chronic upheaval—management (the seagulls) intervenes by providing plenty of white droppings to go around. The flock then flies off, leaving those covered in white droppings to rectify the scale tippers. So where do we need to focus if we want to prevent the seagulls from disrupting our day at the beach?

Creating a culture of gentleness starts with the leaders of organizations recognizing that the way we train, support, and maintain our employees ultimately has a direct effect on both the quality of care provided and staff retention. Just as those we support in our system of care strive for unconditional valuing, uplifting interactions, and encouragement so do our employees. We all do. It is imperative that all levels of management have an understanding of the six elements (safe, valued, praise, demand, structure, and transitions) that lead to a culture of gentleness. The key to higher quality training includes finding quality trainers and materials. The Center for Positive Living Supports (the Center) has been involved with supporting staff in numerous Mobile Response Training Unit deployments. Overall, we find that without understanding, commitment, and congruent behavior from the host provider and CMH staff, we often find an increased amount of scale tipping.

For example, our home managers play a vital role. Staff often quit a direct care position, not because of the people they support in the home, but rather the way they feel devalued by management. Many home managers also feel devalued from lack of support from above. One way in which we demonstrate our appreciation of the value of employees is by providing tools that give them the confidence to help create a supportive culture under complex circumstances. These tools come in the form of training and gaining a basic understanding of what we can do. In a best case scenario, it is estimated that 2% of annual budgets are earmarked for training. To use this effectively we need to incorporate ongoing support within the day-to-day culture and focus less on the external classroom. This requires developing trainers and recognizing that mentors play a vital role in creating and sustaining a culture of gentleness.

When the going gets tough, the mentors get going. Not exactly the adage with which we are all familiar, but a culture of gentleness requires us to invest in some of the more skilled staff, enabling them to become mentors. They are able to assist in some of our more difficult situations that traditionally may have escalated into scale tipping events. If you can build a capacity of at least one mentor for every 50 staff you will be investing in someone who has the skill set to assist in our most complex situations. The goal of mentoring is to create a sustained environment that will begin to make everyone that lives and works in the setting feel safer, more valued and less volatile. MALA’s findings, from their aforementioned 2009 study, concluded, “Education related to this culture of “gentleness” should be broadened throughout the state.”

According to projections from Michigan’s Department of Labor and Economic Growth (DLEG), employment in the state’s long term care industry is projected to grow by 20 % over the decade from 2006-2016, adding nearly 25,000 new positions. May I take you back to the dentist chair experience for a moment? When it’s time to see your dental hygienist wouldn’t you rather have Dena, whom you have grown to trust and respect? Me too, and for the same reasons the people receiving our care and those we employ will look to you, and want to stay with you. We need entire organizations that embody the elements that constitute a culture of gentleness. Working within an organization built on trust, mutual respect and valuing, dedicated to quality service, is like a sunny day at the beach engaging in experiences that can be meaningful and fun without worrying about Seagulls hovering overhead. They have also learned the prerequisites for landing and being warmly welcomed on the beach.

Example: Ayanna is extremely bright, has a wonderful sense of humour, likes to shop, and cares deeply about her family. She has had over 15 different placements over the past several years and more recently spent two-thirds of a year in psychiatric hospitals. Ayanna spent 45 days at the Transition Home and her future caregivers attended the preliminary training offered by The Center. When Ayanna moved to her new home, our staff worked for approximately three weeks with her caregivers during which time the six elements were demonstrated, coached, and observed by the Mobile Response Team Mentor. Her current provider remains committed to supporting her in her home and for the past year she has lived successfully in her home having only been hospitalized for a week.

Ed Kiefer, B.S., L.B.S.W
The Center for Positive Living Supports, an affiliate of Macomb-Oakland Regional Center.


History Changes Our Perspective

History. Everyone has one, yet most of the time they are hidden like little secrets that blow in the wind. When you meet a person it isn’t the first thing that typically comes to mind.

If I was to meet a stranger on the side of the road (because that’s my normal hangout spot 🙂 they would most likely notice that I am a pretty outgoing guy, I like to smile and find joy in the small things and hopefully notice that I am kind in spirit. At first glance you wouldn’t know that I’ve moved half a dozen times in my life, travelled as a musician for year or had an eating disorder in my teenage years. You wouldn’t be able to tell whether or not my parents were married or divorced and what my relationship with them is like. You wouldn’t be able to tell that art is soothing to my soul, or that my wife was the second woman I had ever dated and the only one to capture my attention and keep. You wouldn’t be able to tell that over the past three years mild health problems have led to intense bouts of anxiety. You wouldn’t be able to tell that I have been in six car accidents and have a perpetual fear of sitting in the passenger seat. And you wouldn’t be able to tell that one of those car accidents was because of a grasshopper that latched itself to my eye—this has caused a lasting fear of insects like grasshoppers and lady-bugs.

Contrary to popular belief my goal is not to expose my soul to the eyes and ears of our internet readers: rather to challenge our ideas of “history” and how it effects the way that we communicate and relate with each other. If a person knew that I had an eating disorder as a teenager, the likelihood of them teasing me about being overweight, fat or “chunky like a monkey” most likely wouldn’t happen. Why? Because when you know a person, your response changes. The person becomes less of a stranger; they have shared the intimacy of their life with you—they reach out with open hands asking you to be careful as they seek to trust you in relationship.

As we know, not everyone is willing to share freely about their life and its past events—this makes our job as a people difficult because regardless of who you are and where you came from, you have a history—stories upon stories that have come to shape your life, beliefs and character. Our job, though difficult, is exciting! Learning to approach people with unconditional love which knocks on the door of their lives asking to be part of their story, in true and honest relationship in a manner in which we are constantly learning about who they are as people, and not who they are on paper.

Ben, Director of Culture and Mentorship

It’s all about your pace.

Have you ever stopped to think about the way that you walk?

I know that it is a strange question and if you chose to stop reading here I would likely understand. But  I promise you, I’m on to something. Now I am not talking about the physicality of your walk: do hips sway with a hoola-hoop like action, or is one leg shorter than the other causing a noticeable limp. More so, when you walk with a friend or companion, do you walk as if it is the end of the world and speed to wherever your destination may be or do you walk intentionally taking in your surroundings and the conversation that you may be having.

For the past three years I have been married to the love of my life. It has been an incredible adventure and we have enjoyed every minute of it: including the bountiful walks that we have taken. However one of the things that I noticed early on into our marriage is that my wife walks as if she is an Olympian speed walker–it eventually got to the point where I had to tenderly grab her hand and ask her to slow down. To ally my naysayers out there, it wasn’t because I couldn’t keep up to her, rather I didn’t like the feeling of being rushed in moments where I felt like I could relax.

I have been thinking about this idea of “pace” for a long time and it finally struck me: the way we pace ourselves not only determines when we finish the proverbial race, but also how we finish it.  As supports, friends, family and others associated with COR and the Gentle Teaching movement has this idea fully penetrated our hearts and minds, thus being embodied in our words and actions?  I ask this because I was convicted about it in my own heart, when I began noticing the young man that I support was always a few steps behind me. At first I didn’t think much of it, but as time passed I was frustrated: not at him, but myself. I had become the ‘Olympian’, though accomplishing much, missing the view.

So do me a favor, after reading this blog: stop whatever you are doing and ask yourself a few questions:

  1. What is the pace you are moving at?
  2. Are you noticing the ‘view’ and slowing down to assist others?
  3. Take a few moments to review the four tools of Gentle Teaching  and honestly ask yourself how you are doing in each of the following areas.

a)Loving Eyes/Gaze

b) Hands

c) Loving Words

d) Loving Presence


Ben, COR Support

What Makes COR Different?

I began supporting with COR in April 2014. Being close to completing my Social Work degree and having years of previous experience in working with those with different abilities, I thought I had a good expectation and understanding of what this job would entail. Little did I realize that being a support for COR would not only change how I viewed working in this field, but also shape who I am as a human being.

I love working at COR because those we support are given so many opportunities to achieve, succeed, and feel proud of themselves in many areas of their life and community. Often people with exceptionalities have limits placed on them given their physical state or cognitive functioning, but rather than focusing on a ‘disability’, COR focus on the abilities that a person has and realizes their potential for achievement and fulfillment. I love that we are not ‘working with people with disabilities’, we are being a friend and extending support.

Working at COR has been very rewarding, but there have also been challenging moments. However, these challenging moments have always turned out to be entirely beneficial in the end because they have taught me more about myself then I could have ever imagined. COR is different than any other place I have worked because the philosophy is not centered around changing those we support – it is about accepting and loving them for who they are, and instead changing ourselves to better understand and care for those we support. Supporting at COR has taught me that although a person may be shaped by their past and their history, expressing unconditional kindness and acceptance has the potential to turn a person’s day and even their life around. The lessons I have learned at COR have transferred into my personal life, my professional perspective, and my overall understanding of human interaction.

Those I have met through COR and the philosophy and culture of gentleness that I have learned to practice will stay with me forever. Through supporting at COR I have learned what it truly means to be a friend, a caring professional, and part of the community.

Kasey, COR Support

Family is not just a thing, it is everything!

In 500 words or less what makes me love working at COR…well how about in one word, “Family”. I am a very casual employee at COR. On average, since I started in August 2011, I have worked nine hours a week with Jarrod. But since August 2011 those nine hours a week have provided some of my most cherished memories. What’s more, those nine hours a week have helped me stay connected to a community, and friends that are dear to me.

So in five hundred words, well actually a lot less; I love working at COR because the individual I support makes me feel like I am making a difference, like I am important to him and like our bond has developed organically beyond the roles of support and supported. I compliment the COR philosophy of Gentle Teaching, for my aforementioned feelings, because it reminds me that we can all thrive as individuals, in any situation, if we have autonomy and the freedom to choose.

Mike J. Fox said, “Family is not just a thing, it is everything!” I echo these words about my own Family: my wife and son; my mom, brother and sister; my amazing friends and colleagues; and my main hombre, homie and friend for life – Jarrod, who all mean the world to me.

Said differently, an understanding that family is everything, by working very hard to make you a member of its family and instilling a model of support that creates the feeling of family, is what makes COR different.

Troy, COR Support


Gentle Teaching Practicum: August 28, 2014

Gentle Teaching Practicum Poster 2014


Refuting the Bystander Effect

Kitty GenoveseIn 1964 a woman by the name of ‘Kitty Genovese’ was murdered but was not found out for two or three weeks later. When her death was later published in a local newspaper, numerous neighbors came forward telling the police of  their accounts of the murder. When questioned why they didn’t come forward sooner, the majority of the neighbours claimed that they didn’t feel like it was their place or responsibility. This became known as the bystander effect.

The bystander effect is a phenomenon that refers to cases in which individuals do not offer any means of help to persons in need, when others are present. The probability of help is inversely related to the number of bystanders. In other words, the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will help. Why is this?  Some say it is because of self-apathy, others argue personal boundaries, but I wonder whether or not it could be that we (as a society) have forgotten or neglected how to live in human relationship. Believe me, I am all for my own space but I wonder if we use that as an excuse sometimes to keep us from real, honest and true relationships.

Within the Gentle Teaching model, I believe that the four pillars of SAFE, LOVED, LOVING and ENGAGE, equip people with the  ability to refute the bystander effect: calling us as individuals to first and foremost work on our hearts, while we turn towards serving and caring for others.

Ben, COR Support


COR is not like any other job that I have had in the past!

I heart my job at CORWhen joining the team at Creative Options Regina (COR) I had no idea what I was getting involved in.

Everything I knew about COR consisted of knowing I would be working with individuals with intellectual disabilities, that I would be there to help improve their quality of life and to help these individuals through their day as a support person. After six months at COR I have realized that this kind of work goes well beyond what I initially believed I would be getting into. As stated by COR itself, we as support workers follow two ideals: “first, giving each person a sense of feeling safe and loved with their caregivers as companions, and second, helping individuals to express love to others, both in the COR community and in the greater community.”

COR is not like any other job that I have had in the past.

Working other jobs, such as retail or customer service, I was able to distance myself as an individual after I left work; with COR this is not the case. The individuals I support in COR have taken on a role in my life, as well as I have theirs. When I am not supporting the individuals I am usually with, I often find myself wondering what they are doing that day, how their day is going and even missing spending time with them. This kind of relationship goes far beyond that of a working relationship. It becomes a friendship. As with any kind of friend you want to see them lead a good life, make good choices, and improve as an individual; these are all qualities closely related to the ideals followed by Gentle Teaching.

It is because of the friendship I have developed with the individuals I support that I believe I maintain a culture of gentleness. I treat the individuals I support the same way I would treat anyone in my life; with patience, tolerance, compassion and happiness. I am able to joke around and have fun with the individuals I support the same way I interact with my friends outside of COR. This is a special relationship that helps us create a healthy environment for these individuals to thrive and grow. Being able to view the individuals within COR in this light is what makes us different from other organizations that use physical restraints, consequences, and the use of reward and punishment for behavioural interventions.   If we used these traditional practices it would hamper the kind of friendship that develops over time with the practice of Gentle Teaching and I would not be a capable support person or friend to the individuals I spend time with. It is because of the Gentle Teaching philosophy that I have come to love my time with COR and look forward to the time I spend with the people I support.

Kelly, COR Support

Being Awesome On An iPad – COR Ventures To RDACL!

Sharing Your Awesome Online from Creative Options Regina (COR) on Vimeo.

This Summer COR has the pleasure of collaborating with the fine, friendly folks at the Regina and District Association for Community Living (RDACL). RDACL has been hosting workshops on how to use an iPad for several months now for folks with intellectual disabilities in the Regina area. So far the feedback has been very positive! They’re helping to enhance one’s quality of life by giving people the tools and knowledge of how to use state of the art technology.

“When you first turn it on or play music for the first time, you get to experience this moment of pure bliss in their eyes. When you see someone’s face light up by seeing something for the first time, it’s truly a magical experience.”

Not only does the workshop cover online privacy, what you can and can’t share, how to download apps, use the calendar, set alarms, take notes, save contacts, research information, change the time, draw a picture, play music, play a video, and even download several bowling games.Creative Options Regina goes to RDACL

When we learn, it’s never about the one teacher who’s the be all and end all, it’s about all the peers sitting beside peers. It’s the conversations in between lessons, it’s students being students. People understanding how other people tick.

A good teacher isn’t the focal point of the classroom, a good teacher facilitates the conversation where people can learn from each other, where they can teach each other, and where they can find comfort in one another. Yes there’s a lot of learning going on, but the social benefits are arguably more beneficial in the long run.

We love the Being Awesome on an iPad workshops at RDACL!

A Night at the Ritz…aka BeerBros

Sleepless in Seattle Award-COR

The “Sleepless in Seattle” Award

In Saskatchewan the month of April is often the most anticipated month of the year: the snow finally begins to melt and spring slowly makes its appearance. People everywhere just seem a little bit happier. Unfortunately, this year Mother Nature didn’t get the memo and the cold just kept on coming.  So in lieu of spring’s arrival the fine people at Creative Options Regina chose to throw an Employee Appreciation Night, to lighten the winter blues.

In collaboration with the Gentle Teaching Symposium that was taking place in the city, a handful of us at COR set out to create a party atmosphere: bringing together both employees and guests to enjoy a few drinks, good food and great conversations. During the evening there was a buzz throughout the room—conversations were flying, laughter was boisterous: the energy was undeniable.

As part of a volunteer group of employees self-titled as the “Fun Club”, we set out to assist in planning social event’s within COR, for its employees and the individuals we serve. With our guests present there was no better time than to honor some of our own with employee awards. Not wanting our awards to be simply be accepted and then disposed of as soon as the winners walked into the front door of their homes: we thought that we would add some spunk and creativity of our own to the mix. In order to make things fair, we sent out the five categories and requested that fellow employees nominate those whom they thought deserving of the award. The categories, descriptions and victors are as follows:

    1. The Mother Hen Award was to be awarded to a person who gave freely of themselves to not only the supported individual, but also others around them. This person was to encompass a spirit of selflessness. The winner of this award went to Elaine Godon: a sweetheart through and through.
    2.  The Mentorship Award was awarded to Krystel Eddy for investing her time and energy into the lives of other supports, with the intent of building a stronger support system within COR.
    3. Kelsey Tiechrob walked away with the Swiss Army Knife Award. Over the course of his time with COR, Kelsey has dazzled his onlookers with his ability to be a multi-functional team player: being adaptable to new situations while being able to support almost anyone.
    4. The Sunnyside Up Award, was to be given to a person who exhibited a continuous spirit of optimism. When it came down to deciding a winner, the judges were unanimous, Ryan Robinson was the man! With his ‘perma-smile’ always locked and loaded, the choice was easy.
    5. The Gentle Giant Award was endowed to Matt Chin for exuding a spirit of gentle teaching: not only in his work life, but also in his personal life. 

And then there was one! A surprise award for Michael Lavis: to acknowledge all of his hard work and contribution to the organization as well as give a little praise, where praise is due. The award that Michael received was entitled, ‘The Sleepless in Seattle Award’: for getting the most done (and being successful at it) on the least amount of sleep. Did I mention that along with a small token of appreciation, came personalised tacky yet tasteful trophies? Embellished with ‘gold plated’, one of a kind figurines they were the envy of the ball.

The night was fun and with a great turnout of supports and guests it left everyone in anticipation for the next COR social gathering. If you want to join the ‘Fun Club’ pre-approved applications can be found by contacting Michael Lavis at 

Ben, COR Support