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Finding and keeping high-quality frontline staff is now a key challenge cited by care providers from across the UK and, indeed, in most developed social care markets across the world.
What perhaps many providers don’t realise is that this challenge is set to get worse in the coming years. Employers must act now to maximise the efficiency and effectiveness of their recruitment and retention activity or face an existential threat.
What employers do themselves is doubly important since our fragmented and under-funded sector suffers from many headwinds, not least of which in the UK, by being in the perpetual shadow of the NHS, its more glamorous and privileged sibling.
I, like many others with an interest in and commitment to Social Care, have strong opinions as to how to shape a market that shows frontline care staff the respect they deserve and change perceptions amongst policymakers that still don’t make a connection between a struggling social care infrastructure and rising bills in the NHS.
One example of such an improvement would be the introduction of a registration scheme, much like other allied health professions, to give frontline care the respect and image they deserve. Another would be to wrap the NHS brand around care providers, so they became NHS partners and therefore recognisable to the public as a valuable and coherent entity. Or that a new social care brand was created to do the same job.
But structural transformations are inexorably slow to arrive if they do so at all, and that brings us back to what is in the control of individual providers, and that is to get their approach to finding and keeping staff match-fit as a priority.
There are two encouraging messages I can impart based on the extensive work I have undertaken into this area. Firstly, there are many proven methods an employer can implement at little or no cost to significantly improve things, and secondly, almost every provider has a lot of scope to make things better.
Let’s use recruitment as an example. Many recruitment operations I come across are run much as they were 10 or 15 years ago whilst the world has moved on. Applicants are dropping out before the recruiter is ever aware they were interested, due to clumsy application processes or a lack of options to get in touch at times to suit them.
We can see large increases in applications simply but searching for these hidden handbrakes and releasing them. The quality of new starters can also be improved by weaning ourselves off internet job boards and using better ways of screening and selection.
Minimising unnecessary staff loss is another area where there is much to be gained at little cost or effort. Let’s assume a conservative annual turnover rate across the sector of 30%. At that level, almost half a million frontline workers quit their jobs last year. Although not all are so-called ‘regrettable’ turnover, the impact on those being supported, their families and the workers themselves is huge. The reasons why care workers leave are many and often intertwined. In a lot of cases, they were pre-destined to leave because they were unsuitable in the first place. Too often we recruit out of desperation and ignore the warning signs.
There are many practical and very simple interventions to reverse staff loss. One of the most effective is obvious but so often forgotten. The best care staff have made a choice to work in this field. They have not done it for the money. They are giving emotionally – and physically – to others. What these care workers tell us they crave most is appreciation. The simple recognition from their supervisor that they are doing a valuable job. All too often that quiet word of thanks never comes due to stresses and pressures further up the chain of command. Yet it is the most powerful retention device we have and it costs nothing. If this simple fact pinged up as a daily reminder on the phones of every line manager in social care we would likely see a marked improvement in retention.
Good managers and leaders in social care will always be seeking to improve efficiency and embrace new ways of making their frontline staff feel more useful and valued. I urge you to also focus on new methods of finding and keeping your workforce as this is without a doubt the defining issue of the next 10 years in social care. Master this and you can be assured of a bright future.