Lift Them Up

A passion for work and supporting each other makes a great workplace

At Austin, Texas-based Aequor Healthcare Services – Travel Nursing, culture is about supporting employees with dignity and concern and community. The leadership sees a strong company culture as more than a tool for attracting talent and boosting productivity. For Aequor leaders, it’s a core value that makes its employees feel valued, supported and trusted.

The Aequor Healthcare Services subsidiary recruits medical professionals for positions in hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, school systems, laboratories and pharmaceutical organizations nationwide. The worldwide pandemic caused travel nursing to grow faster than ever. With internal staff of 16, Aequor is committed to maintaining the strong culture it has worked so hard to build. It leans on its parent company for some employee development and recognition.

A Culture of Support

Among many companies, “culture” is a buzzword used when competing for talent, often implying such amenities as an on-site chef, napping pods, a pool table or a free smoothie bar.

But at Aequor, “It’s how you treat people, how you reward them and build a community,” says Emily Matteson, VP of travel nursing. Matteson has worked at places that rely on shame and glory to get results. “At Aequor, we’re just ‘glory.’ We lift people up, we give public recognition, and that’s how we keep employees engaged.”

Amanda Belloff, a senior recruitment specialist who started last July, has never before experienced the support she feels at Aequor. “The pure team camaraderie that each individual has for one another is like nothing I’ve experienced. I wished I’d started here sooner.”

This culture is not achieved easily, however. “If you don’t put effort into culture, then it doesn’t happen,” Matteson says. “You have to think about it and talk about it every day. Just like you meet on your projects each day, you have to take culture seriously or else it falls by the wayside.”

Aequor leaders are allotted a budget to invest in recognition, motivation, engagement and teamwork. “We really strive to achieve a community that roots for each other. We win as a team, we lose as a team,” Matteson says. If a team member is falling short, the result is to offer support, training, a different strategy or a listening ear. “If you don’t succeed, we haven’t done something. We need to fi gure out how to surround you with a success story. We motivate with positivity rather than fear or shame,” Matteson explains.

And when they succeed, everyone celebrates it. “Management is all about recognition, from managers to vice presidents to presidents to owners — all the way up. You’ll see emails from those at the top commending people at the desk level,” Belloff says. And awards are not limited to productivity, she explains; they are also given to those who go above and beyond to help colleagues.

Esmeralda Valles, senior recruitment manager of travel nursing, explains that Aequor leaders are “really involved, but in the best way. … our VP is the fi rst to give a shout-out for handling problems well.”

Leaders also leave their doors open for feedback or suggestions. “I would not feel uncomfortable going to my director or even our VP with an idea and feel I’d be heard. They always welcome feedback. It’s how we can improve ourselves,” Valles explains.

Because Aequor is a smaller company, it has the nimbleness to try new ideas. “When you have an idea, it doesn’t have to go up 20 levels to get implemented,” Matteson says. “We’re always looking for more ways to invest, have fun, be engaged and strengthen the community that we’ve worked hard to build.”

Encouraging Growth

Believing employees should grow and have the opportunity to pursue their passion, Aequor encourages people to take advantage of training and development. “The best employee is someone who comes to us with a good work ethic and positive attitude. The rest is up to us,” Matteson says. “We can train and develop in areas they show a passion for so they can continue to see a future here. Whether they’re knocking it out of the park with numbers or not.”

Upper management listens to people’s goals and aspirations and steers them in the right direction to get to higher levels, Valles says. She’s seen people get promoted as soon as they achieve their expectations. “Management follows through with their promises. It’s something I love and value about this company.”

Aequor’s leaders know the path to growth because they’ve lived it. Everyone at Aequor works their way up to management rather than being hired as a manager. They understand the work and the challenges of the recruiter job, which earns respect from their teams. “Knowing that they have done it before and been successful is inspiring because they know what they are talking about. If you have a leader who doesn’t get it, it’s hard for them to manage effectively,” Belloff says.

Building Connection Remotely

Pre-pandemic, the Aequor team would have weekly outings, Friday breakfasts, parking-lot cornhole tournaments and join the parent company for a big holiday party in New York.

With the entire workforce working from home, managers have gotten creative to maintain the same feeling of connection and engagement. Online happy hours were commonplace among companies early on but fell by the wayside for many — but Aequor has kept them going. And new hires have a special happy hour “when we can meet them and ask them questions to get to know them. So we feel connected to our coworkers who we don’t talk to every day,” Valles says.

It seems like you’d feel isolated with everyone being remote, Belloff explains, but “we do … team calls, contests, ugly-sweater parties, games like Family Feud, charades — all over video. You’re at home but have that sense that you have your colleagues next to you.”

Matteson says that management makes sure that everyone has smaller teams to which they can feel connected. “We mix those teams (for trainings). We’re intentional with who has met and who hasn’t. We have the technology, it’s a matter of being creative with how we use it.”

She says they have a rule that cameras must be on because it improves engagement. And if they notice someone isn’t engaging, they make a point of checking in on them.

They’ve learned that during this difficult time, connection can be a lifeline. “We went through some training with how to deal with stress and how to communicate with upper management and corporate,” Valles says. “As soon as one of our coworkers said she was having a hard time with anxiety and depression, the next day management had set up a seminar open to everyone. It let everyone talk about stress, worries, anxiety. It was really nice.”

The nature of their work also keeps their spirits up. Being in healthcare, the team feels passionate about what they are doing. “We were sending nurses where they were needed,” Matteson says. “We had passion in our mission and pride in who we were helping.”

Through their strong connections with one another, Aequor employees share their passion for helping others. “The support and overall teamwork are the No. 1 reason I like to work here,” Belloff says. “Everyone is so great to work with. I can’t wait until we can see each other in person again.”