Communication Gap in Aged Care Catering
Is there a communication gap in aged care between management and catering staff?
In my opinion, yes there is. There might be different words to describe this communication gap. Such as difference of opinion, different reasoning, lack of understanding of basic fundamentals on both levels etc.
I see so many people talking so passionately about “what needs to happen in aged care catering” but I don’t see many people talking about how we can fix it. Often, I notice that the management sees things from a completely different view than catering staff and vice versa. Management’s responsibility is to decide the direction in which the company needs to move forward and make sure sufficient and appropriate tools are available for this to happen. Staff’s (Catering staff in this instance) responsibility is to make sure that provided resources are fully utilised and the company moves forward unified in management’s expected direction.
First step to achieve this is for both parties to understand each other’s basic operational strengths and limitations. If management is identifying the area of improvement or introducing a change or an innovation then it is also management’s responsibility to realise that change in idea also requires change in operations / resources / labour. It is the same for the staff to understand that if it is a change or an innovation, it means doing thigs different (moving away from the same routine) and adapting to change gracefully.
For example, if we expect individual menu options (for more personalised experience) for residents then how do we get rid of standard menu that is often decided by management with little input from chef’s, residents and dietitians. Each aged care is different, each kitchen is different and all residents are different then why “SAME MENU” for each aged care that belongs to same provider. I don’t see same furniture, same decorations, same beds, same facility layouts, same dining rooms, same package for all residents yet when it comes to menu, it’s the same!
Management looks at this from consistency, maintaining standards, better cost/quality control, standard recipes and other administrative aspects. However, kitchen at various facilities would struggle to sell same items to their residents. I have also noticed that sometimes, it is the kitchen staff who probably doesn’t realise the importance of consistency, standard recipes and quality control and are too rigid to try something new/different and actually willing to give it a fair go before rejecting any change. The only way to resolve this is for the management and the staff to have regular meetings / communication to get better understanding of each other’s reasoning and view points and come up with a mutual solution. In a perfect world, I would even say that it won’t be a bad idea to have catering staff spend a week or so in head office and see what management deals with on daily basis and also for management to spend a week in kitchen to see what really catering is all about.
I would like to share my own experience about filling in other person’s shoes. I used to work as a chef for a catering company and was often a little annoyed about how the head office demanded certain things to happen in particular ways. I could never understand why the management was so focused on things that I saw of not much importance. After spending couple of years at the facility level, I got an opportunity to work at the head office as an administrative assistant. Before I knew, I was the person demanding the same things from the chef’s that I used to get annoyed about myself. This was the time I saw and understood the other side of the coin, so to speak. I asked myself, why wasn’t there a better communication to make me realise the importance of how and why management operates. At the same time, why didn’t management try and understand how and why it was frustrating for me to keep up with some of the expectations.
Now, let’s look at the same argument from kitchen’s perspective. If management expects top of the range meals and services on daily basis then is there sufficient and appropriate resources allocated to achieve this!!! So many aged care providers are wanting to create a wonderful experience for their residents but are not willing to change anything in catering in terms of extra staff, extra hours or even extra budget. Everything costs money, be it labour or ingredients or equipment. If a piece of fish is expected to be cooked to order then you will definitely need one person to take order, one person to cook a fish and may be one person to plate it up with proper garnish. Multiply this with the number of residents at one facility and see if there is a room for any extra resource allocation.
In the end, the argument is simple. Kitchen needs to understand that the only way aged care can keep operating is if things are in control financially and pretty much everything is utilised wisely to yield the maximum potential and management needs to understand that goals must be decided based on strengths of current catering model or be prepared to allocate additional resources to minimise limitations.