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Creating a solid culture
to retain staff in the face of Brexit

With uncertain times ahead, both for care companies and the workforce, there has never been a more important period to focus on recruitment and retention of staff in care. But with funding shortages, high numbers of vacancies and a sector that faces more negative press than positive, where should you start? Sophie Coulthard from Judgement Index shares her best tips.

When thinking about the best ways to retain staff, the solution is almost always company culture. If you have a recruitment issue, then look at the culture. If you have a retention issue, then look at the culture.

Culture is often not considered when addressing these issues, yet it can have the biggest impact on how a care company performs. Perhaps because culture can be a perceived feeling and harder to measure than recruitment stats?

It can feel like an abstract concept to focus on company culture if you’re in a retention crisis, but recent research found that 34% of UK workers leave their jobs due to poor company culture. In comparison, companies with a positive work culture experienced 50% improved morale, 43% improved performance of staff and 35% reduced employee turnover.

It would be counter-productive to share recruitment and retention tips without addressing culture, because if you have a poor culture and recruit good staff then they will leave even quicker as they know they will find employment elsewhere. Whilst a quick-fix approach to recruitment may get people through the door, retention issues will have long-term cost implications and impact on staff morale and care quality.

Developing company culture

Whether you are a single, independently-run home or a large, multi-location care company, to start developing company culture you should begin with the company values.

The acid test is to stop a member of staff in the corridor and ask them if they know what the company values are. If they do, then ask them what the values mean. This is often where people will become unstuck. Many care companies share the same values, so the meaning of them can become lost; they are simply words on a website or on the wall in reception. They are not owned, lived or breathed by the staff.

To have a culture that’s underpinned by the company values, it’s important for the staff to feel a sense of ownership over them. The best way to do this is to run a workshop with the team to discover what they want the values to mean to them and develop what we call culture statements, which are extensions of the values and more about how the team operates rather than for the clients. We suggest this is done using large sheets of paper with a value written in the centre and the team split into groups to brainstorm on each page, rotating until they’ve all completed it.

The staff may decide that the value of ‘respect’ is about respecting each other’s opinions, no matter the position or seniority, and if they all agree this is how they would like to operate and behave within the home, then this becomes the culture statement for the value of respect.
At the end of the workshop you will have a number of new culture statements, which can become a code of conduct for the team, and because they have been created by them, they will now feel ownership of them, and this will help drive the behaviour and culture within the home going forward.

Homes within a group can still do this exercise and may find that despite having the same over-arching values, the culture statements vary from home to home and that’s fine, as long as the staff have chosen them and are committed to operating by them.

Embedding culture throughout the company

Once the culture statements are decided, it’s important to implement them throughout the home or company so that they are at the forefront of people’s minds and brought to life by the team. Many people will have experienced a new initiative that is then forgotten about months later, so you should work to drive the culture statements consistently and with pride.
Visual reminders should be displayed in the home and the culture statements should be communicated out in newsletters and welcome letters to new staff.

The statements can be worked into job descriptions and interview questions, so that any potential new staff have a clear understanding of what it means to work for your company and embody the values. This will also differentiate you from your competition and help to attract staff who are already invested in the values of your company.

Recognition is key to a positive culture and a great example of this is Sonnet Care Homes in Essex, who introduced recognition for anyone shown to be living their values of kindness, care and respect. Once a month, a staff member is chosen and their experience or story is shared in the newsletter and in reception. This is a great way of continuing the momentum and driving home what it means to embody the company values.

You will know that the culture has started to shift when staff begin to self-police the statements and call out behaviour that is not in line with what has been agreed. This will be a magic moment when you first see it and is the beginning of a self-leadership culture, which is what every care company should be aiming for.

When a strong culture has developed within the company, your employees will be more engaged and have better team cohesion. As a result of this, they will naturally start to become brand ambassadors for your company and speak genuinely about why it is a good place to work. They’ll be 78% more likely to refer their friends and you’ll begin to attract more people who fit with the values. Your culture will improve your recruitment rates and standard of new hires.

How leadership affects retention

We can’t think about company culture without considering leadership and its impact on staff retention. Up to 49% of UK workers who leave their job cite their relationship with their manager as the reason, so there is a high chance that the leadership in the company is playing a part in any retention issues.

If you consider yourself to be a strong leader but think the culture in the company is poor, then it may be time for a look in the mirror because, as the leader, you are also responsible for leading the culture.

The main areas to consider are:

  • Your flexibility and style of leadership.
  • How you communicate and motivate.
  • The quality of your key deputies and team leaders.
  • The extent to which you are developing your key people.
  • Your balance and inclusivity of all staff.
  • Your resilience, capacity to cope and ability to get support.

To pick up on just the first few bullet points, it’s worth considering how flexible you are in your style of leadership. We see many leaders in care who default to a commanding style because of the volume of tasks required in any given day but this style of leadership will only resonate with around 20% of a team.

Staff who are experienced and motivated will soon get frustrated if they feel they are constantly being told what to do and are not being empowered by their leader, and this is typically what will cause them to look for another job.

Whilst commanding a team can get work done quickly, a leader who can be flexible in their style and understand that it can be adapted depending on the person or scenario will get much more out of their team and this will contribute to the overall culture.

Hiring when times are tough

Even when there are fewer candidates to choose from, it’s important to keep a robust selection process in place. If you’ve taken steps to improve the culture, you do not want to risk any new hires that would have a negative impact.

Good interview skills are critical, because many candidates who have come from within care will already have been through at least one interview process and will know the right things to say.

Take the time to train managers in values-based recruitment using your new culture statements to create scenario-based questions. Be cautious of being drawn into personality, or a candidate who simply interviews well as this is when confirmation and/or unconscious bias can creep in, and potential red flags can be missed. Look for evidence in their answers and consider using a tool to support a more objective hiring process, such as one that uncovers strengths and risk areas in candidates.

It’s clear that when it comes to recruitment and retention, a band-aid approach isn’t sustainable. A wider look at culture, leadership and selection is critical for long-term success.
The outcome of Brexit may be uncertain for all, but remember that people will be looking for job security during this unstable time, so if the manager and the culture are right, then this will be the key to hiring great staff and retaining them. As Peter Drucker, once said, ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast.’

Sophie Coulthard is Principal Consultant at Judgement Index and Host of The Road To Outstanding. She also co-authored The Care Leader’s Handbook, a practical guide to care leadership, available on Amazon. Email: Twitter: @judgementindex / @CarePodcast

How are you creating a positive culture within your company? What are you doing that others can learn from? Share your experiences in the comments below. 

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