Attrition of care workers has long been an industry challenge and can result in huge agency spend for many as well as time spent recruiting and can even lead to reputational damage. However, the biggest ‘cost’ has to be that of disruption of continuity of care and the subsequent pressure that existing staff are put under whilst awaiting replacement staff, which in turn can result in low morale.
As our nation continues to house an aging population, the demand for adult social care services is projected to increase significantly as well as having to manage more complex care and support needs, such as dementia.
There is very little statistical evidence as to the true extent of attrition levels, but it is understood to be in the range of 19-30% UK wide. So why is this happening and how can care workers be retained more successfully?
There are a number of corporate strategies that are used to tackle retention which include:
- effective recruitment of a diverse workforce (to include those from groups who are currently under-represented in the workforce);
- ensuring the workforce has access to career and progression opportunities;
- altering sector perceptions as it remains misunderstood; and
- improving rewards and incentives.
It is this last bullet point which I would like to focus on. A recent study undertaken by a private care home operator, who believed they were offering appropriate incentives, was taken aback by their findings. What they discovered was their care workers’ needs were in fact much more basic than they anticipated - akin to the first two levels of need in Maslow’s Hierarchy. So instead of gym memberships, a shopping voucher or private health insurance, what their workers required was around physiological needs, safety and security.
For example, being able to get home safely after finishing late was a priority, personal financial management skills and assistance was a must as many workers borrow from loan sharks and when this fails, the only option is to move location which inevitably also means moving job. On some level the introduction of the national living wage should assist with the mitigation of this issue, but is a 50p increase on hourly pay for those over 25’s sufficient? They asked for a quiet space for their breaks away from the noises of the home environment and they wanted healthy meals and snacks provided for them during their shift. Some workers held more than one job so being able to leave on time was essential.
Communication and understanding as opposed to assumption and acceptance of what has gone before is needed in our care leaders today, without which the industry will continue to struggle. The Cavendish review should have inspired change but still the phrase ‘I’m only a carer’ is too commonplace. So I would urge employers to listen to your carers and to respond differently for how can we expect loyalty from those who are not respected, treated well and valued?