By Julianne Pepitone
When Jennifer Larson and Sara Ashbeck took the helm of Gundersen Health System’s foodservice, the situation was dire. Staffers looked miserable. They complained of being afraid to call in sick because of the supervisors’ tongue-lashings, among many other issues. The low morale was also denting sales, with Gundersen’s once popular main cafeteria usually deserted.
Clearly, the entire division needed a complete turnaround. But Larson and Ashbeck instead focused on one distinct change. They immediately installed a “culture of kindness,” setting expectations that every staffer would do their best to make their colleagues’ days better—starting by just saying hello, or opening the door for someone pushing a heavy cart.
These seemingly simple changes—coupled with supervisor retraining and employee personal support programs—transformed Gundersen’s foodservice, translating not only to higher staff and patientsatisfaction, but also a 27% increase in sales.
“Kindness might sound fluffy, but honestly, it was really difficult—you’re talking about breaking long-ingrained habits,” says Larson, administrative director of Gundersen’s nutrition and hospitality services. “It sounds like a soft approach, but it led to hard outcomes.”
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