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From the ground up
How staff engagement can improve outcomes

In an industry like social care, where priorities are conflicting and changing, maintaining engagement with your team doesn’t always come at the top of the list. But what if involving and motivating your workforce led to overall improvements in care? Having worked across different industries and cultures, in organisations big and small, Kevin Ashley of myAko shares some of his best tips for keeping your staff happy.

Looking at successful organisations across the world, there is a passionate belief that engaged teams are essential to growth. Numerous studies from the Corporate Executive Board, Gallup Research and Gartner have all shown that employee engagement strategies reduce staff turnover and improve productivity and customer satisfaction, which can ultimately lead to the delivery of higher-quality care. But with the fast-paced work environment of the health and social care sector, managers often struggle to find the time to engage their staff.

Frequently communicating and engaging with your teams is essential in keeping them motivated and enthused – not forgetting that communication is a two-way process; it’s just as important to listen to your teams and address any of their concerns as it is to provide them with regular updates.

Areas for focus

Back in 1990, Professor William Kahn held in-depth interviews with employees and found that, for an employee to feel engaged, they had to:

  • Feel that their work was meaningful and made a difference.
  • Feel valued, trusted and respected.
  • Feel secure and self-confident.

In other words, he found that the more an employee feels part of a community, the more likely it is that they are engaged with what they do. To ensure your organisation develops and grows whilst continuing to provide the best possible care, it’s vital to create this sense of community and joint purpose. Here are some ways you might be able to do this in your service, but please note that these are not meant to be prescriptive – they are just to help as a guide, as it’s important you develop your own approach, based on your organisation’s objectives and your current challenges.

Making a difference

This starts as early as the point of recruitment, when you’re discussing the role and responsibilities of a job with your potential new team member. Expand this discussion to include what would they like to achieve in the role and what positive difference would they like to make as a new member of your team before explaining your views on how they can make a positive difference.

For staff already in your employment, try discussing their aspirations for their role with them. A simple technique is to ask questions, like ‘What do you believe you do well and what do you believe you can do better?’ Ask them to consider what difference making these changes will bring to their role and the residents or clients they support.

Give examples of what good care looks like to you, so that they know why their role is important, and don’t wait until formal reviews to see if they are settling into the role. Check in with them occasionally to ask if they are making the difference they hoped. Acknowledge their achievements, no matter how big or small, with a ‘thank you’ – this goes a long way towards staff feeling appreciated and noticed.

Value, trust and respect

Even if you know you value, trust and respect your team, it’s important to show them this so that they don’t begin to feel disenchanted. Try holding regular team meetings to share good practice – talk about recent challenges and see if your team has any ideas for overcoming them; this will give your team a voice and show that their input is valuable to you.

When preparing any company updates, put yourself in your employees’ shoes: what would you want to know in their position? What is the best way for them to receive this information? Think about things like how they communicate and learn and adapt your approach to meet their needs as well as your own.

It is important to let your team voice their concerns during these meetings and to work with them to find a solution during the sessions rather than later. Encouraging this open dialogue and actively listening to and addressing concerns demonstrates that you care, which will build trust and respect. Initially, this may feel time-consuming, but the rewards far outweigh your investment of time.

If you are going to reward a member of your team with a gift for doing a good job, give them something that is meaningful to them. A £10 voucher may initially feel like an obvious choice but giving something a little more personal makes the team member feel more appreciated. A keen gardener may like a voucher for the local garden centre, rather than a bottle of wine. Include a personal note to say thank you and to show your appreciation.

Security and confidence

Whilst work is important and it’s essential that you meet your organisation’s objectives, you have more chance of achieving these with everyone motivated and taking an active role. Create an open and transparent culture by being open about yourself; talk about your life outside of work, share a hobby or talk about fun things happening in your family life. Encourage your team to do the same and let them know they can bring their personalities to work.

Give your team regular updates on the progress of your organisation to ensure they know their jobs are secure. Ask them for ideas on how you can improve, for example how would they go about acquiring new residents or clients? Seek their feedback on improving the quality of your service or what marketing they think will help improve your reputation. Staff will being to feel that they can have a direct impact on the success of the organisation and that their jobs are safe. If you think staff might be concerned about their job security, encourage them to talk about these worries, either in your team meetings or directly with you, so you can alleviate any fears or concerns.

Challenge your top performers (within their capabilities) to achieve more, so that they can be role models for other team members and improve their own self-confidence. Speak to those who seem like they are disengaged. Are they unhappy at work, or is there something outside of work impacting their behaviour? It may feel easier to hope this will resolve itself, but often honest conversations, that address the facts rather than just the emotion, and a listening ear can help you understand why a member of staff might be feeling and behaving this way. They may not realise the impact they could be having on others.

If it’s a serious concern, such as a member of staff facing a mental health issue, you may be able to provide support and advice so they can seek more qualified assistance. If they are simply bored or can no longer be bothered in their role, I’d encourage you to be bold and address these issues. Ignore this behaviour at your peril as, eventually, it will impact even the most positive members of your team.

Supporting development

In a 2018 report published by Skills for Care, it was found that around 11% of care sector workers voluntarily left their role due to a lack of development, in particular with regard to their career. In an industry where compliance training is essential, it’s often easy to neglect our team’s personal development. Providing training, coaching and mentoring for your team to grow will create the space for your staff to gain the skills and knowledge they need to support improvements within your organisation.

Neil Eastwood, author of Saving Social Care, recommends implementing ‘peer mentoring’ or a buddy programme to provide support for new starters. This not only reduces unnecessary early staff loss, but also provides professional development for your experienced staff members. This can also help with, for example, your team getting to know one another, and encouraging them to speak up and feel confident in doing so, supporting them to feel part of a wider cause.

Successful engagement

If you’re implementing new engagement initiatives, you’ll likely want to monitor the impact they’re having. Some key measures of good employee engagement include satisfaction scores from staff, families and residents, turnover rate, sickness and absenteeism. The approach you take to gathering feedback will depend on the size of your organisation and your locations, but using surveys, one-to-ones, group meetings and exit interviews will all support in gaining anecdotal knowledge of any issues and concerns.

Combining a mixture of the above will give you a broad view of employee engagement within your company, and you will be able to use this to measure any fluctuations in engagement over time.

Creating a positive work environment

Fostering a workplace environment that promotes employee health and wellbeing – in an organisation that takes care of its employees – can help reduce unauthorised absence, sickness and turnover. We know of organisations that provide a healthy meal alongside their weekly team updates to encourage healthy eating. Others provide fruit and healthy food options, rather than cakes, burgers and pizza.

To be successful, employee engagement must be seen as an evolving and ongoing process. Treat it as one of your organisation goals. Don’t bring in new initiatives and let them slip after a few weeks, once the excitement has died down.

I would suggest starting with between one and three initiatives to ensure focus – it’s far better to implement one initiative well than dilute your efforts and not achieve your goal. A successful implementation will lead to your team feeling engaged, being happier around your residents and clients, and they will feel motivated to do the best they can for your service. This, ultimately, leads to better outcomes and a higher quality of care.

The question is not ‘Why should I engage my team?’, it should be ‘Can I afford not to?’.

Kevin Ashley is Managing Director of myAko. Email: kevin@myako.com Twitter: @myakotweets

What have you tried to improve staff engagement? What effect has it had on your business? Share your experiences and knowledge by leaving a comment below.

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