• Cath Dixon

The Care Recruitment Crisis

Along with all the posts about a non-existent fuel crisis, a shortage of HGV drivers and an awful lot of self-induced panic; I also saw quite a few posts about the lack of panic around the care sector recruitment crisis; these posts were a cry for help from the Government from care providers who are struggling to fill vacant posts.

Yes the average care assistant wage should better reflect their skill and value; yes the amount paid for Local Authority funded care needs to reflect the real costs of care provision and yes the Government need to have a decent plan for social care reform but none of that is going to happen any time soon and when it does, the chances are it won’t impact on your ability to recruit. Care leaders need to take matters into their own hands to resolve the recruitment crisis.

The crisis is being caused by a perfect storm (or a cyclone which flows seamlessly into my Care Culture Spiral theory), but it’s not a recruitment crisis, it’s a retention crisis. And because of where we are in the cyclone, we can’t fix that crisis by just recruiting more staff – even if we did have a secret, never-ending supply of new care workers.

The last 19 months have been hell, particularly in care homes and has sped up the descent into a toxic culture that, even at the best of times, most care homes have a propensity for. It’s time to stop and take a fresh look at where we are and where we need to be.

Many staff have had enough and left the sector with another cohort due to leave on 11 November, whether they want to or not. Unless the Government do a last-minute U-turn on mandatory vaccination (I wouldn’t put it past them), those leaving or being asked to leave on 11 November are likely to bounce around other health and social care services until such time as the vaccine is mandated across the board.

Those that have left or are thinking of leaving the sector for an easier life in retail or manufacturing will start to realise that something is missing in their new job, after all care work is a calling and they will find themselves called back. However, when they do, they will have a plethora of choice and they won’t settle for any old employer – you’ll need to stand out.

The response to the pandemic has resulted in just about every other sector having a bit of a wake-up-call in relation to work life balance, mental health awareness, the importance of self-care and what a good employer looks like; anyone new to the care sector will have greater expectations than what the care sector has traditionally been prepared to deliver – you’ll need to put staff first.

The staff that you currently have remaining are your very best and the very worst.

Your best staff have stayed because of their relationships with the residents that they care for, they may be approaching burnout but will keep finding the strength to keep working for [insert resident(s) name here] until such time as they physically can’t anymore. You don’t need to worry about these staff leaving – you need to care for them.

The worst staff have stayed because its easier than trying to find another job where they might be expected to pull their weight. They are willing to shout about how hard the work is, how little they get paid and how s*** it is to work here to anyone who will listen. They also have exceptionally high standards of new staff, expecting them to work at the pace of an experienced carer after two weeks of shadow shifts; until it comes to moving and positioning when they’ll proudly tell a newly trained colleague “that’s how they train you but we don’t do it like that” – you need to get them to shape up or ship out.

When you’re down to your very best and very worst staff, new staff won’t stay.

Why would they? They’re working with grumpy, cliquey staff who don’t think they’re good enough yet at the same time are teaching them bad habits and poor standards. If they are brave, they might blow the whistle before they go, but many will just slip away to another employer, after-all they can have the pick of the bunch.

New staff won’t stay for the residents because chances are they’ve been pushed from pillar to post during allocation and have had to bend to the will of your worst staff who “don’t work on that [household][with that staff member][resident]” and consequently have not had the opportunity to form the relationships with residents and colleagues. These relationships are the only reason your best staff are staying, without them your new staff have no motivation to put up with the hassle.

Alternatively, your new staff will succumb to peer pressure and fall quickly and angrily into your worst staff category.

All this effort you are currently putting into recruitment - you’re trying to fill a leaky bucket, first you need to STOP and fix the hole.

As the old song featuring Liza and Henry will tell you, its not easy to fix a leaky bucket; here a few things that you can do to stem the flow:

  1. Prioritise supervisions and make them as positive as possible. Find something positive to say to each team member and thank them for their contribution (however small). Then ask them these three questions: a. How are you? b. No really, how are you? c. What one thing could we do that would really make a difference for you at work right now?

  2. Fix the little things that make a big difference – whether it’s the broken coffee machine in the staff room, the pile of leave requests that have not been approved or the roster for next week that’s not up yet. Leaving these types of issues to go unfixed will demotivate your team and make them start to question how much you value them.

  3. Invest in some face-to-face staff development activities – preferably something from my Refresh and Revive Programme but any investment in face-to-face training that allows staff off of the floor for a few hours, to share experiences and reflect on their own development demonstrates that you value them.

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