The workforce crisis in social care is putting huge pressure on the delivery of life-changing provision nationally – but through employers taking a positive approach to recruitment and retention, the foundations of change can be laid.
Cecily Lalloo, MD of Embrace HR, independent HR specialists in private care sector support, discusses some steps organisations can take to address this
The challenges facing social care and its workforce are well-documented, but sadly they continue to grow.
We are now at a stage where, in a sector which employs around 1.4million people, we are seeing a staff turnover rate of around 30 per cent.
Currently, there are at least 150,000 vacancies. That is very troubling, and cannot ensure the quality or indeed quantity of care that so many people depend on across the country for the long-term.
Yet against the backdrop of this workforce crisis, we do see many examples of very good practice by care operators, who are supporting their staff in their development and are investing in their wellbeing in what is a role very prone to burnout.
As the sponsor of the Care Provider of the Year category of the NR Times Awards, I was privileged to judge entries from care operators nationally – and I was greatly encouraged by the many examples of employers delivering the support their workers need and deserve.
To see organisations taking a stand against the recruitment crisis, and helping to deliver solutions, is excellent.
But for so many others, this appears a monumental task, and one where they are struggling to deliver the service clients need amidst the pressure on their resources.
While by no means definitive measures, there are a number of areas employers can consider as they look at their staff recruitment, and particularly retention, in ensuring they are building careers for people for the long-term, and making working in social care a role they want to remain in.
Here are some points for employers to consider:
Create a positive recruitment process
Bringing new people into your organisation, whether large or small, is a huge step to take, so decide what matters to you.
Most likely their values and behaviours are very important, and must align with those you have as an organisation or even as a family for those who employ in their homes.
Offer the opportunity to learn more about the role, perhaps by offering taster sessions or assessment days. Show that care presents an opportunity to develop social skills and positive interaction with clients and families, while benefitting from good working conditions.
Show the ethos of your operation from their first interaction with you, with visible leadership and structures in place for them to see the support that will be in place, alongside a path of development should they choose to pursue it.
Communicate with applicants throughout the recruitment process, to build a positive relationship from the earliest stages and give information on timeframes and what they can expect.
This will help to build a good impression of you as an employer and that each employee matters.
Understand your workforce
By getting to know your team and their needs, you are helping to foster a positive workplace culture, geared around those on the frontline whose roles are often very challenging.
Encourage honest and open dialogue to get to the root of what staff want or need, as individuals and as teams. By developing this trust with workers, and offering opportunities to develop skills and interests, this can help to build loyalty.
By getting to know individual employees and demonstrating they are important to you, this can help identify when they are feeling unsettled or unhappy.
Consider holding feedback sessions or opportunities where staff can share their thoughts – it is important these are listened to and given due consideration.
Of course people do leave and move on, but it can greatly help future recruitment and retention efforts if you can understand why that is.
A leaver survey or exit interview can be important and can help to inform future approaches.
Make wellbeing a priority
A career in social care, while undoubtedly rewarding, can come with huge demands and challenges for an individual.
Burnout is very common and support can be all too often absent.
By creating a culture of wellbeing within your organisation, this can help prevent sickness absence and improve retention rates significantly.
The mental and physical health of staff being tasked with delivering often life-changing care is paramount to them being able to do these vital roles effectively.
Developing policies covering stress, burnout, workload and sickness – which are the shared responsibility of HR, senior leaders and line managers – can be transformational for an organisation.
It is very important that leaders in an organisation are visible, and there are clear lines of communication for an employee if they face challenges.
By making time and space for them to talk and share what they face – whether personal or professional problems – this can benefit their wellbeing enormously.
By showing concern for your staff and the inevitably long hours they are facing, this will also help to demonstrate positive practices.
Encourage employees to use benefits and entitlements like annual leave for rest and recuperation, and help guard against potential issues before they arise.
Offer careers rather than jobs
Often, care is not regarded as a professional role, and as a job rather than a career.
But this is entirely wrong, and care can be a very fulfilling, long-term career – indeed it is for many people across the country.
Perceptions, however, are frequently rather more negative.
By investing in staff training and development, this can help to lay the foundations for longevity.
By giving the opportunity for employees to gain qualifications and accreditations, embarking on training to continually upskill them in the delivery of their role, this will create an ongoing desire to learn.
Often, funding can be available for such opportunities. Development of clear career pathways are also vital to this.
By demonstrating a route for progression and the setting of goals, employees will feel part of the organisation and invested in its future.
While progression may look different for each person, the offer of flexible learning and development opportunities means they can get involved whatever their circumstances.
Offering staff the opportunity to develop into other roles will assist retention – perhaps they are a care worker and may be interested in a team leader role or a role within a therapy team.
Developing staff will also help to establish a long- term plan for individual people and teams, giving more certainty to your future planning and provision.
Recognise and reward
Showing staff they are appreciated is crucial in retention.
Care can be a difficult sector to work in, without question; but celebrating and recognising the achievement of those working within it can make a huge difference.
Whether that takes the form of verbal or written praise, awards, bonus or financial or gift incentives, will depend on the organisation – but to have channels of appreciation in place is very important, for those working throughout the business.
Sharing stories of excellent work or outstanding commitment with the wider world can also be important.
Whether that is on social media or your own website, or through an external forum such as NR Times, publicly showing appreciation can be very important for the individuals involved, but can also reflect well on you as an organisation.
Remember to ensure that people are comfortable with their stories or photos being shared.
While the problems in recruitment and retention will not be solved overnight, and there is a long road ahead, by making positive steps to make workers feel valued in careers where they can develop and progress, we can make change that will benefit the sector today and into the years ahead.
To discuss recruitment and retention policies and approaches in greater detail, contact the team at Embrace HR via www.embracehr.co.uk