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Creating an engaging care workforce

Adam Carter sets out the reasons why you should engage with your staff, and how you can go about it.

The UK care sector is, quite simply, huge. At present there are around 17,300 organisations providing social care services across some 39,000 establishments in England alone, employing an estimated 1.45 million people – an increase of 15% (200,000 jobs) since 2009. Of these jobs, more than two-thirds (900,000) are employed by the private sector according to Skills for Care.

As the country’s population continues to rise, estimates suggest that by 2025, there will be an additional 1.5 million people aged over 65 or over. While this is good news in terms of living longer being indicative of us all living healthier lives, it raises one very important question: How can care providers meet this growing demand and ensure they have a workforce with the right skills in the right roles?

The first thing organisations need to focus on is not how to find the talent they need, but how to retain that which they already have.

Indeed, staff turnover within social care remains one of the highest of all industry sectors, with as many as one in four of all workers leaving their role each year – three-quarters of whom had been in their present role for 12 months or more. This suggests that while workers remain in their current position for a year or more, there is a point whereby they feel compelled to actively seek a new role elsewhere.

What makes a worker jump ship in search of their perceived career nirvana with another employer? What are employers not doing, which is seeing them lose the talent they sorely need – often to a competitor?

It is a question of engagement. Rather, the lack of.

Reasons why people leave

Open the pages of most business magazines and it is almost certain that there will be the results of a recent survey that aims to shine light on the reasons why staff decide to leave their employer. Pay rates, working hours, increased pressure, lack of career progression and training, too much of a top-down management style or simply not getting on with their boss are just some of the multitude of cited rationale.

But while some of these things may be valid, more often than not they are objections that could very easily be overcome, providing the organisation has an effective employee engagement programme in place.

Some people reading this and recognising that we are a specialist recruitment firm for the care sector may be wondering why we would be advocating various methodologies on how employers can retain staff, rather than recruit for those who are leaving or have already left. After all, that’s how we recruiters make our money, right?

Unless organisations invest in engaging their workforce, they run a very real risk of losing out in the war for talent.

Indeed it is, but we wouldn’t be very good at our jobs if the talent we searched, found and placed with our clients decided to up-sticks in search of their next opportunity within a few short months or a year. That’s not in our interests nor those of the clients that we support. We want to find the right people for the right roles, roles they intend to remain in so they can realise their own personal career ambitions as much as the employers hiring them can gain a greater return on their recruitment investment. Which is why retention of that top talent is not just a nice-to-have, it is essential to ensuring longer-term business success for care providers.

Retention

Research has shown many times that care providers can make significant improvements to their staff retention levels through enhanced lines of communication and engagement throughout the organisations. Yet despite this, many employers remain resistant to introducing any form of engagement programme. A factor that sees the UK currently languishing in 18th place out of the top 20 leading industrial nations.

According to Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, employee engagement levels throughout the UK, currently stand at just 35%, with HR Magazine putting this figure marginally better at 37%.

The reason for this would appear to be born out of financial considerations. In a 2013 report, Towers Watson found that a perceived lack of evidence over the potential financial returns to be gained from having an employee engagement programme in place was the primary reason why organisations hadn’t introduced one. However, there is a wealth of evidence to the contrary, including that from Towers Watson themselves.

Internal communications

They found that where there was an internal communications strategy in place, care providers reported having a more engaged workforce that results in greater patient outcomes and higher levels of recorded patient satisfaction. This, in turn, leads to improved organisational and financial performance.

These reflect the findings of the MacLeod Review (2009). It found that organisations with an employee engagement programme in place reported:

  1. Improved productivity of individual employees and better overall organisational performance.
  2. Engaged employees demonstrated greater levels of innovation.
  3. Engaged employees are significantly more loyal to their employer.

But that isn’t all. The MacLeod Review also revealed that such a programme resulted in fewer cases of lost days caused by sickness and absenteeism, higher levels of productivity and performance, and improved employer attitudes.

This, by default, then raised the perception of the organisation itself as an employer of choice, which made recruiting staff in the first place even easier. In today’s climate, this can make the difference between your organisation attracting the best talent or falling behind as the ‘also-rans’ for your sector.

Having an internal communications strategy isn’t simply a nice-to-have, it just makes good business sense. Unless organisations invest in engaging their workforce, they run a very real risk of losing out in the war for talent.

The Institute of Employment Studies defines ‘employee engagement’ as

…a positive attitude held by the employee towards the organisation and its values [whereby] an engaged employee is aware of business context, and works with colleagues to improve performance within the job for the benefit of the organisation. The organisation must work to develop and nurture engagement, which requires a two-way relationship between employer and employee.’

The question now becomes one of – how can organisations go about implementing an employee engagement programme?

Implementing employee engagement

At its most basic, employee engagement is about creating a two-way channel of communication that, in practice, can be achieved in a number of ways. Some will require employers to become more tech-savvy, whilst for others it will be the need to adapt their leadership style from being less top-down to one that is more of a level playing field.

Here are some examples:

  1. Get your staff to buy-in to the company vision and mission. Share your goals and objectives for the year ahead, so that your employees understand where the business is heading and the contribution they will make to achieve these plans.
  1. Engage with your teams. Create collaboration tools, such as focus groups, town hall meetings or in-house forums that encourage employees to openly share ideas and best practice.
  1. Empower employees by giving them a voice. Giving employees an opportunity to contribute and have their voices heard on the future direction of the organisation is a strong driver of engagement.
  1. Ensure clear lines of communication and communicate often. Keep staff updated with the latest news and developments not just within the organisation itself, but also across the sector. Newsletters, regular all-staff emails, intranet sites and monthly meetings can all prove an invaluable tool in maintaining staff engagement.
  1. Demonstrate your support for their career aspirations. Evaluate staff development on a regular basis, with a focus on supporting staff training needs, whilst keeping an eye on the long-term development of managers and potential new managers, as part of your overall succession planning strategy.
  1. Be accessible: Research show that those born in the 1980s and 1990s, the so-called ‘millennials’, are more likely to read their social media feeds than a company email. So, if that’s where that particular demographic ‘hangs out’, shouldn’t you be also? Be accessible to staff on social media and be prepared to enter into conversations with them via whatever channel they use most.

Silicon Valley technology companies dominate the top ‘employers-to-work-for’ lists, when it comes to employee satisfaction. This is because they recognise and place enormous value on the importance of having a strong workplace culture that their employees can identify with, and do so with a sense of pride. To quote business analyst Simon Sinek, organisations should focus on ‘why they exist, not what they do’.

Engagement is critical

Of course, not even the most optimistic of industry observers would ever go so far as to suggest that staff attrition rates will be eradicated altogether, simply by improving existing lines of communication.

However, regardless of how many people you employ, ensuring that your employees remain actively engaged with the business is critical to the long-term competitiveness of your organisation.

Senior management can no longer shy away from sharing unpalatable truths through internal memos or the occasional town hall meeting. They have to get ‘out there’, speak to people, encourage two-way communication at all levels of the organisation and lead by example.

To make it work, effective internal communication needs genuine commitment. You can’t deliver on your organisational goals unless your people feel committed, listened to and valued. It is not about finding gimmicky ways to motivate your staff in the short-term; it’s about getting their full ‘buy-in’ and having them on board for the journey.

Adam Carter is the Managing Director of Carter Schwartz. Email: adam@carterschwartz.co.uk Twitter: @carter_schwartz

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