Phil Orton, chief people officer with adult health & social care charity Making Space, discusses the importance of rewarding workers in order to keep them in the care sector. 

With thousands of vacancies online everyday, employers have reported that retention is now even more difficult than ever.

For me, the key word here is ‘profession’. Support workers, care assistants and all the members of the teams who keep care homes running and residents happy are professionals.

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Many have clear career progression paths, valuable qualifications, opportunities for personal and professional development and, above all, a great deal of responsibility for the health and wellbeing of vulnerable people. But until we start treating them with the respect they deserve, we won’t begin to tackle the issues with recruitment.

The golden thread

Every successful care home starts with a vision. That vision should travel throughout the organisation and translate into desired outcomes for every single employee. Without this golden thread – the link that connects the purpose of the home with the actions of the employees – we will not achieve our individual or collective goals

And when people don’t have goals, they become demoralised and look elsewhere to fulfil their needs.

Establish a purpose

As a leader, I expect every person in my team to be able to explain the core purpose of their role and what outcomes they strive towards. If they can’t, then the failure lies with me.

It’s up to leaders and managers to ensure that values are signalled throughout the organisation with transparency. Those values need to be translated into very clear tasks for every individual.

And if someone is in a role where they can’t perform their tasks well, it’s also up to us to equip them with the skills and offer the development they need to be successful.

Constant coaching

Managing a residential home is about so much more than regulations and compliance. A good manager leads with a light touch, uses every question as an opportunity for on-the-job coaching and development, listens to the feedback of the people who are doing the work and, importantly, acts on it.

There are no outstanding homes with poor managers. Looking for potential, recognising natural skills and helping people to work in roles where they can excel are more important in achieving positive outcomes than ticking boxes on a checklist.

Be proactive with professional development

There are many opportunities for professional development within the care sector, and we need to shout about them. As well as clearly advertising the training and development available to employees – on noticeboards, in newsletters, during staff meetings – we should always be looking for people with potential.

When people do show promise, ask them about their ambitions. Discuss any support they may need and explain all the opportunities that are available to help them progress. Be available to answer questions and offer encouragement – building trust and self-confidence is the surest way to set someone on the path to attainment.

Celebrate successes

Caring is a rewarding profession, but it’s a challenging one. All our successes should be celebrated and enthusiasm encouraged – not just the big commissions and new projects. Reframe what success looks like and celebrate the small things: a slight shift in attitude can make a big difference to morale.

Start every handover or staff meeting by sharing and celebrating successes, encourage feedback and ensure people feel secure enough to give it without fear of recrimination, and always acknowledge and thank people for their efforts.

If, as a sector, we lead by example – value our teams, help them to develop personally, progress professionally, and achieve the positive outcomes we rely on – we are much less likely to lose them.

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