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Values Based Recruitment in social care

Harriet Phillips explores values based recruitment and why the care sector needs it.

It has been over three years since the Cavendish Review was published, following the Francis Inquiry into Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust. Included in its ‘Recruitment, Training and Education’ recommendations for the NHS and social care, the Review stated that, ‘Employers should be supported to test values, attitudes and aptitude for caring at the recruitment stage.’

Values based recruitment immediately became an industry buzzword with substantial resources thrown behind it. Campaigns and pilot projects to develop best practice were instigated across the country. Having been at the vanguard of the Department of Health and Skills for Care’s work on this since 2013, we have witnessed some remarkable successes, but also how the sector can get it wrong.

What is values based recruitment?

Values based recruitment looks at all aspects of the recruitment process. To start with, you look at your own organisation to understand how your applicant pool sees you. Consider:

  • What image are you presenting to the community?
  • Are you offering open days?
  • How is social media and local media used for recruitment?
  • Do you take part in local events?
  • How familiar is your brand?

Then consider how, where and when you advertise roles:

  • How are you describing social care as a career?
  • How much are you sharing about the culture of your organisation?
  • What mediums are you using to advertise care roles?
  • If you are continually advertising for staff, what signal is this giving out?

These two stages take place before you even have a direct interaction with your candidates and there is no way of measuring who is ‘lost’ here or who could be self-selected out of the process but isn’t.

One of the key issues in the sector and reasons for high turnover is panic recruitment to fill a vacancy. Nothing is gained from recruiting someone who (a) does not understand the role or (b) does not share the values of the organisation. A lot is actually lost, including time and money.

Moving onto the application stage, consider how user-friendly the process is:

  • Do candidates get to meet current post holders/tour the home?
  • What process do applicants follow, i.e. online/paper based testing?
  • What language is being used through the process?
  • How is contact maintained with applicants?

These considerations will help you to understand how your organisation is viewed by candidates that want to work for a quality, caring provider.

What do values in social care staff look like?

Now it is time to move onto assessment, which is where values come to the fore. Values based recruitment may appear startlingly obvious and even straightforward to achieve, but the most common error is choosing the wrong values to assess for. What does an ideal care worker look like? Who should you recruit to your senior roles? There is no blanket answer when it comes to values profiles. It needs to be set at an organisational and a local level.

Ask three different managers to provide a list of desired traits and you’ll end up with a very long list describing someone that doesn’t exist. We call it the tall-short person job specification. Many employers pad out the specification to find, not just a new member of staff, but a superhuman placement who can be all things, to all people, all of the time. This issue grows exponentially when it’s a committee decision.

For most organisations, the answer is right under their noses. Benchmarking against the people who are already doing the job well is simple, fast and effective. It’s important to note that values should be set specifically to the role. Those that are a ‘must have’ are the priority, such as being naturally empathetic, thoughtful and supportive. For those, you may have to forego the ‘nice to haves’ like dynamic or innovative.

Values required for care workers are not applicable across the entire workforce. It seems obvious, but when setting the benchmark for values, the accountant should not share the same values as frontline care staff. These are completely different roles requiring, not simply a different skillset and aptitude, but attitude too. A corporate-wide approach to setting values (like most mission statements) makes them more akin to a marketing slogan than an actual reflection of how the company would work, especially when under pressure. Also, consider that individual care roles in different environments often require different values, so copying from the internet probably won’t work.

Assessing a care worker’s values

Values based recruitment needs to run through the organisation, picking certain elements but not fully committing to it rarely works. The Cavendish Review did not clearly state when in the recruitment process candidates should be assessed for values, so many employers slot it in at the end, usually at the interview stage.

It is a truism that people are generally hired on aptitude and fired on attitude. Yet most of the focus on recruitment remains on aptitude and qualifications. As these are the easiest to check and tick off against requirement lists, it is understandable that they are the first port of call. Plus, once having invested the time and effort into getting them to the interview stage, there’s a common mistake that if their values aren’t up to scratch, maybe that can be fixed on the job. Social care is populated with many people who have the necessary skills and aptitude, but an individual’s core values and attitude must come first, they are the only things that can’t be taught or upskilled.

Assessing values should include values based interviewing, probing questions designed to draw out evidence around the candidates’ natural responses, learning and reflection. All of these give you a manual on how that person operates, what their priorities are, how they are likely to react under pressure and what motivates and demotivates them.

The values of a successful care worker

From an insider’s perspective, having assessed tens of thousands of care workers in the last four years we identify the typical person who is successful as a frontline care worker as having the following traits:

  • They take pride in being seen as reliable, consistent, loyal and knowledgeable.
  • They will strive for competence and then perfection in everything they do.
  • They prefer stability, predictability and regularity, they will likely not respond well to last minute decisions or work being allocated to them unexpectedly.
  • They will not react well to feedback or criticism that is knee-jerk or emotionally charged, and this type of feedback will likely cause damage to their confidence and to the relationship.
  • They are happiest when they know what’s happening and when they feel valued and safe.

They are likely to become anxious and stressed if the organisation is chaotic, if they feel they are prevented from doing a good-quality job, or if the threat of redundancy or substantial changes arise.

These staff want job security and are not likely to change jobs unless they are really uncomfortable and are sure it’s for the best.

Money does not primarily motivate them in their work. They are motivated by doing the best job they can and if they are prevented from doing this they will walk. The main driver for them to consider leaving a job is likely to be if they feel their employer is out of tune with their own values of reliable, consistent delivery of good quality services. For example, if they are not given the opportunity to improve and develop their skills on an ongoing basis.

It doesn’t stop with recruitment

It’s important to realise that recruiting for values is a cycle and doesn’t stop once you’ve recruited. To keep valuable staff, you must treat them in a way that they will respond to positively. For people who prefer to work in a stable, organised fashion, endless interruptions and frequent uncertainty will do little other than drive them out of the door.

This may require changes to work practices, rotas, responsibilities, but unless employers understand and meet the work-related needs of their team, all the effort, investment and training will simply walk away, values in hand. This puts employers back in the situation they were trying to value engineer themselves out of in the first place.

The values based recruitment cycle is simply best practice but with a solid foundation to operate in the same way as you wish your employees to; intelligently, considerately and with empathy.

Harriet Phillips is Employer Engagement Manager at Profiles4Care. Email: Twitter: @Profiles4Care

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