Wellbeing and resilience are frequently referred to in the context of employment, however, in reality, it’s not possible to think about either within only one sphere of our lives. This is why, when Skills for Care published its wellbeing guide for registered managers, it was intended as a companion for managers both at and outside of work.
When practised and used deliberately, approaches to improving both wellbeing and resilience can be building blocks to good mental health. Although these approaches don’t replace the role of specialist help or dedicated mental health teams, they do complement this type of support and, for many, they may help to avoid burnout or crisis.
Recent exploratory research by Skills for Care, What do registered managers do, and who are they? didn’t ask the participants directly about their wellbeing, but its findings did offer a timely reminder that, as a sector, we must look after our registered managers.
There are around 20,000 registered managers in England, and the rewards of the role are matched by the responsibility that comes with it. It’s a role characterised by change; almost 80% of those who responded during the research felt the role had changed over time, becoming more varied (71%) but also more pressured (83%).
The overwhelming majority of respondents (87%) were responsible for a dizzying set of tasks, including management of day-to-day operations, involving families and residents, building and maintaining external relationships, leadership and culture, and business strategy and management.
Despite this, respondents who had worked previously in another sector told us that, whilst they viewed their current role as more challenging than their last in another sector (90%), they often felt (43%) that this was not recognised by the public or other professionals.
However, to focus solely on the pressures and status of the registered manager role risks neglecting the other side of this picture, because when we have spoken to managers about their work, they have told us about how rewarding it is.
Some of what we’ve been told includes:
- The best thing about my job is that every day is different, I am very privileged to be in a position to support some amazing people who make me smile every day.’
- ‘I am extremely proud to be a registered manager.’
- ‘I can’t imagine being anything else.’
- ‘This hard work and dedication comes with great rewards, a sense of pride in your home and your team and a feeling of self-satisfaction seeing residents being cared for and happy.’
Five ways to wellbeing
Whilst anyone’s influence over another person’s personal life is (rightly) limited, we have to ask, how can we – as a sector, and as colleagues and peers – help our registered managers? What can we do to ensure they are giving their own wellbeing the attention it deserves in their professional lives?
This is where the Five Ways to Wellbeing, as researched by the New Economics Foundation, can come into play. Supporting registered managers to look after their wellbeing before it becomes an issue can be a huge help. We should support them to:
- Be active.
- Take notice.
- Keep learning.
Time to connect
One of the key findings from our research was that, for many registered managers, their peers are the best source of support.
Remembering that the majority of registered managers are responsible for a single service at a single site, we need to ensure opportunities to engage with peers are available. Having access to peer networks, both face-to-face and virtual, is crucial. Whatever our role or profession, as one registered manager told us, ‘Confidence, reassurance, knowing you’re in the same boat as others, and having someone to share problems with’ is an important part of the support we draw on.
But creating these opportunities isn’t enough by itself. We also need to encourage and support managers to take these opportunities. The ability for a registered manager to step away from their service should not be a luxury, it must be an expectation. This means that managers must be given the time to take the opportunity to make these connections with peers.
It also means thinking about the team around them. We often talk about the importance of succession planning (as many as 10,000 registered managers may retire in the next 15 years), but this shouldn’t just be about filling a gap. For managers, supporting a good deputy is also about supporting themselves. Being able to delegate, take leave and share responsibilities is easier with well-trained and supported staff.
Making small changes
A cynic might look at most managers’ to-do lists and say that they are active enough and a sit down is really what’s required, but being busy and being active are two different things.
Time is a key factor here, but just as important is creativity. The idea of ‘walking meetings’, supervisions or one-to-ones outside the office might sound fanciful, but they’re a way of being active whilst still ticking things off that list.
Most of us will know at least one colleague who, at some point or another, has obsessively checked a pedometer. Walking challenges – the most steps a week or the first to 1,000,000 steps – and bike to work schemes are common in the workplace now and have the added advantage of bringing staff together. These initiatives are cost-effective, positive and bring benefits beyond exercise and activity.
The most important thing we can encourage employees, peers and colleagues to do is make small changes, for example changing how we commute one day per week.
At its most elemental and personal, taking notice should be about enjoyment and personal fulfilment through an appreciation of the people, places or things around you. So how do we address this need with regard to registered managers and their role?
Perhaps the most obvious and crucial reminder here is that we must notice, which is to say celebrate and champion, the great work that managers do. Everyday Excellence, published by the National Skills Academy for Social Care in 2012, found that only 20% of the registered managers who responded felt their role was acknowledged outside of the sector. In our own research, only a small proportion of managers reported that recognition of their role had improved.
This is one of the reasons it’s so important to raise the profile of the registered manager role. We need to increase people’s recognition of its importance and complexity, whilst ensuring registered managers have access to the support that they need.
It’s also worth thinking about the opportunities available to managers that support the concept of ‘taking notice’. If we accept that opportunities to reflect and ‘know yourself’ are important, then we should all be asking how we can support reflective initiatives like mentoring, coaching, buddying and action learning for the managers we’re working with.
These sorts of activities don’t just help a manager solve problems, but encourage a more reflective approach to management as well as wider personal development. It’s also never a one-way street. For instance, most mentors will tell you they gain as much from working with their mentee as their mentee gains from working with them.
Registered managers are usually exceptional at continuing to learn. Just think about the 80% who say that their role has changed; dig deeper and they will tell you that their knowledge has grown and adapted with it.
The call here is a simple one – to remember that sometimes learning for learning’s sake is important. We must never limit ourselves or others to learning only what we need to know. When opportunities come along to pursue a passion or interest, we need to ensure that we support registered managers to take it.
Making a difference
The quotes near the start of this article prove how much giving registered managers do. They are dedicated professionals, working hard to improve people’s lives every day. And they are often just as dedicated to enabling staff to flourish with support, trust and praise.
This might be through providing new opportunities, developing ‘champions’ for specific areas or delegating responsibility, or it can simply be through saying ‘thank you’ for a job well done. What we mustn’t forget is the significance of these actions – sharing trust and recognition gives people the confidence and pride to do a great job.
While we champion the role of registered managers by showing appreciation and supporting them to learn, we must make sure we remind them what they already do. The exceptional is often business as usual in our sector and unless we challenge this, the stories we all hear will continue to be those negative headlines, which don’t do justice to the work being done.
The first steps
Of course, these suggestions themselves won’t relieve the pressure on managers. Not only is wellbeing deeply personal (and certainly not limited to our professional life) but even a brief chat with a registered manager will tell you that there’s a lot for us to get right.
None-the-less, the first step towards supporting registered managers to maintain or improve their mental health is to recognise the contribution they make and put the building blocks in place to support their wellbeing.
CMM is committed to raising the profile of registered managers’ mental health. Keep an eye out for more on the topic in future editions of the magazine.
How are you supporting your registered managers? Have you trialled any successful initiatives to improve wellbeing amongst your staff? Share your experiences below.