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Effective Communication Could Be Key to Enhancing Operations

Eric Frederick |

How important is your ability to communicate with your employees and customers? Does a manager need to be an effective salesman?
Is there a relationship between employee loyalty and the manager’s ability to communicate effectively? Is there a relationship between quality communication from the laundry and the amount of abuse and linen loss that a facility experiences?
Of all the skills a manager must have to be successful, I believe the ability to communicate to all levels of an organization and his customers is the most critical.
It is, after all, the manager’s ability to effectively get work done through other people and enlist his customers in helping to reduce costs that distinguishes him from the other employees.
The proper guidance and training of employees depends upon the manager’s knowledge and ability to communicate.
Some time ago I visited a laundry where it was obvious that the manager had not taken the time to communicate his production goals and objectives. Consequently, the employees feeding the ironer were only producing an average of four sheets per minute.
When questioned about the pace of production, the employees responded that it must be adequate because the manager had never said anything about it. When told that the pace was not adequate and that the ironer should produce 12 sheets per minute, production immediately doubled.
During that same visit I wandered up to the nursing units to see how the linen was used.
I noticed incontinent pads were being layered, two or three, per bed. This created ridges for the patient to lay on, increasing the chance of skin breakdown. To help eliminate the ridges, nurses placed a towel on top of the layered pads. This is a point of procedure where a little two-way communication between the laundry manager and the linen users clearly could reduce costs and increase the quality of patient care.
The obvious question to ask is why the pads are being layered. Is the existing pad too small? Does the existing pads in the system have a tendency to leak? Do the nurses layer the pads simply out of habit?
Problems with the product can be corrected. The ideal situation is to use one pad at a time. Educating the staff about the use of an incontinent pad and its qualities is definitely required. Here is an opportunity for cost savings waiting to be achieved.
I also witnessed perfectly good bath towels being cut up to make washcloths. Nurses reacted to what they perceived as a chronic shortage of washcloths by making some for their patients. They believed they were justified in what they were doing, and assumed the laundry didn’t care about patient care or it would have provided the washcloths they needed.
The chronic shortage had been created when nurses, believing that some washcloths were so soiled with feces that the laundry could never adequately get them clean, threw them out in the trash. Again, here is an opportunity for good two-way communication to solve a long-standing problem.
When was the last time you reviewed your production rates and communicated your goals to your employees?
When was the last time you walked through your customers’ institutions or businesses and studied how they are using their linen?
Checking on your employees’ productivity and how your customers utilize your linen demonstrates that you really care. A well-chosen word or two will reward a job well done or encourage them to try harder.
Communication should be positive whenever possible. Encouraging an employee by telling him you’re sure he can do better if he tries a little harder is preferable to accusing him of being lazy and threatening to fire him if he doesn’t produce more.
Profane or abusive language should always be avoided. I’ve found that using profanities as adjectives does little to improve communication. Some managers use salty language as a signal to their employees that they are really upset – a trap of their own making. We determine the “key” behavior or words that “tell” our employees that we are really upset. Once these are set, we must use them each time we get upset. To break this set of signals, once in place, can take years.
Effective two-way communication with employees and customers will help the manager meet his departmental goals and objectives, and help those in the laundry to work as a cohesive unit.
Regardless of the size of the laundry, a manager’s ability to establish and maintain effective two-way communication with his employees and his customers is a key to his eventual success.
 

About the author

Eric Frederick

Carilion Laundry Service

Director of Laundry Services

Eric Frederick is director of laundry services for Carilion Laundry Service, Roanoke, Va., and past president of the National Association of Institutional Linen Management (NAILM), now called the Association for Linen Management (ALM). He’s a two-time association manager of the year. You can reach him by e-mail at efrederick@carilion.com.

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