Straight Talk
Richard Muncaster • CEO • Care Workers’ Charity

Richard Muncaster of Care Workers’ Charity explains why the mental health and wellbeing of registered managers and frontline staff should be made an organisational priority.

The fact that mental wellbeing is a key issue for the care sector shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. The work is emotionally demanding, the shifts are long and those performing the work are often juggling a host of additional pressures from outside the workplace.

This is echoed in the Care Workers’ Charity’s recent report The Beating Heart of Care – supporting care workers better.

The following is just a quick snapshot of the report’s findings:

  • 51% of care workers considered leaving their role in the past three years due to work related stress or poor mental health.
  • 42% of care workers said they experienced stress and 27% said they experienced anxiety ‘often’ or ‘most of the time’ as a direct result of their care work.
  • 37% of survey participants took time off work due to stress or poor mental health caused by their care work.
  • The average number of sick days taken in our sector is 25% higher than the national average.
  • 23% of survey participants said they experienced low mood ‘often’ or ‘most of the time’ as a result of their care work, which inadvertently impacts those being cared for.

Now these might not be surprising statistics, but that shouldn’t make them any less worrying. And to illustrate that, instead of using words like ‘mental health’, ‘anxiety’ or ‘stress’; I’m going to use the word ‘ill’, because when you are experiencing anxiety, stress or poor mental health you do feel ill.

So, to put it another way, 42% of care workers (that’s around 800,000 people across the UK) have jobs that are making them feel ill and around 750,000 are being forced to take time off as a result. Equally concerning is that just over half of the workforce (almost 1 million people), have considered leaving their role because the job is making them ill. Given the challenges that our sector faces in terms of recruitment and retention of good staff, these are certainly statistics that should make us sit up and take notice.

There is undoubtedly a growing awareness across the sector that mental wellbeing is an issue that needs to be addressed; and during the course of our research we found many examples of excellent employers who were doing just that, and we are certainly seeing the subject of ‘wellbeing’ feature on conference agendas. But my question is, as a sector, are we really taking this seriously enough?

If you ran a restaurant where 42% of your customers were falling ill (often or most of the time), it would not take you long to realise that there was something seriously wrong with the food. Furthermore, you would clear every meeting in your diary, and you would work night and day to fix whatever was wrong with the food. It would take priority over everything else. And why? Because everybody knows that it is business critical that a restaurant doesn’t serve food that makes its customers ill.

I’m sure you get where I’m going with this, so I won’t labour it; I also realise that the analogy is far from perfect, but it does still serve to make the point that we should be taking this far more seriously than we are.

The quality of care that our sector delivers is mainly determined by the quality of the care workers providing the care. It is they who are the critical factor in providing good or outstanding care, just as food is the critical factor for a restaurant. If 42% of those care workers are feeling ill often or most of the time, and if 37% are taking time off because of poor mental health, it stands to reason that the quality of the care being provided will fall.

There is no magic wand that we can wave to fix the mental health challenges that the sector faces. Being a care worker is hard work and those that take it on are always going to be vulnerable to stress, anxiety and depression. But that doesn’t mean that it should just be tolerated.

Ensuring the wellbeing of care managers and frontline staff needs to be given the same level of organisational priority as ensuring the wellbeing of the people our sector cares for, as the two things are inextricably linked. This requires a determined and sustained effort from the whole sector to embed staff wellbeing into the DNA of our organisations.

Richard Muncaster is CEO of the Care Workers’ Charity. Email: Twitter: @richmunc

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