Prevention is better than cure – and retention is better than recruitment! Hanging on to your existing, valued staff for longer is the single most effective strategy to ensure you have enough staff to fill your rotas and support high resident occupancy rates. With nearly a third of care-home staff changing jobs each year, what can care home managers and providers do to encourage existing staff to stay?
High care staff turnover rates
Staff levels are one of the key challenges within the care sector, but the problem is not just the 7.4% increase in jobs in the sector across the last year, contributing to 105,000 current vacancies (now above pre-pandemic levels). It’s also the high turnover rates; Skills For Care’s The State of the Adult Social Care Sector and Workforce 2021 reports a 30.3% turnover rate amongst residential care staff, the highest in the sector, with domiciliary care second at 28.8%, day care at 24.3% and community care at 18.3%.
This means that in any one year, care homes can expect, on average, to lose nearly a third of their staff. But these employees are not generally leaving because they have had enough of care; around 63% of care staff are recruited from other roles within the sector. If you lose staff, around two-thirds of them will typically be moving to a competitor.
This provides valuable insights for care home managers, owners and providers. The single most effective strategy to boost staff levels within your care home – and reduce any dependency upon agency workers and the associated impact on the commercials of your care home – is to improve retention rates among your existing employees. Prioritising this could be the difference between commercial success and failure in 2022 – so what can you do to improve staff loyalty? Fortunately, there are many strategies you can consider and not all of them have a price tag attached…
Hold regular staff reviews
Yes, it’s extra paper work, but a structured, formal staff appraisal and career progression framework provides the opportunity for your management team to catch up with staff regularly. Rather than this just being an assessment as to whether they are doing their job well, this should be an opportunity to find out what matters to them:
- Is the job matching their expectations?
- Do they feel confident performing all elements of their duties?
- Would they benefit from training to improve their confidence in some areas of their job?
- Are they bored?
- Would they like new opportunities/responsibilities or would they appreciate more variety? What can you do to help them get ready for a promotion/how can you introduce greater variety into their working week?
- Has anything changed in their personal circumstances which impacts on their relationship with work? Do they need more/fewer hours? Do they need greater flexibility? Do they need to change their hours?
Such regular reviews, if conducted properly, can give you many of the insights required to understand what your staff need to keep them motivated to stay with your care home, rather than looking for the solutions elsewhere.
Talk to your existing staff
This may seem obvious, but it’s too often overlooked. Care homes can be quick to call in consultants, but slow to consult from the ground up. Have honest, open dialogue with your existing staff (in addition to their regular staff reviews) – as well as exit interviews with employees who are leaving – to find out specifically what they like about working in your care home – and what they don’t. Listen objectively to the answers and look for the trends. A singular gripe may not be something you need to address; if lots of your care staff are saying the same thing, this could be a key tipping point motivating some of them to leave.
If you have an effective management structure that encourages communication, these discussions should sit comfortably within your ethos – and hopefully you won’t be in for too many uncomfortable surprises, especially if you have regular, effective staff reviews. But if you think staff are unlikely to tell you what they really think, you could hire a care home consultant, marketing expert or HR professional to conduct these interviews for you. Ideally, they should be held one on one, as group discussions are often dominated by the usual suspects, whose opinions you are more likely to be aware of already, while quieter team members may not feel able to share their views in an open forum.
Boost staff confidence
Confidence is one of the 3 interdependent Cs – compliance, confidence and commercials – that underpin Fulcrum’s approach to managing care homes effectively. A favourable CQC rating has a key role to play in boosting that confidence; it reassures employees that there is effective management, infection control and care for residents, and is often interpreted by staff as a litmus test that your care home has effective strategies in place to ensure its survival in a competitive market.
But compliance is not the only tool for boosting staff confidence in how your care home is run. Positive PR stories in the local media, alongside effective internal communications about strategies, investments and planning for the future can all help assure staff that the organisation is well run with effective strategies to attract new residents to ensure commercial viability.
Consider paying staff more
In an employees’ market, pay matters, and an unambiguous way of showing existing staff that you value them is to pay them more. However, no care home is able to write blank cheques, so you will need to drill down into your numbers to understand whether you can afford to pay your care workers more, and by how much. However, this is not a simple equation; against the increased costs of a bigger wage bill, you need to offset:
- Recruitment costs
- Training costs of new staff
- The costs of an unsuccessful hire
- Additional agency costs
A small increase in hourly pay rates may be a far more cost-effective strategy, once these other costs have been factored in, than losing experienced staff who know your residents, systems and culture.
Zero-cost and low-cost staff retention strategies
Not all strategies that can help increase staff satisfaction and loyalty have a direct financial cost. Depending on the feedback you receive from staff through explicit dialogue and regular reviews, you could consider the following options to meet their needs and wants to encourage them to stay with your care home:
- Career progression – supported by appropriate, recognised training and/or mentoring internally, giving both the mentor and the mentee new opportunities
- Shift flexibility – to help them balance work with their other commitments
- Increased job variety – this might be as simple as creating a rota for activities so that all those carers who want it, get the opportunity for more creative interaction with residents or organising more trips out for residents, so that both the residents and their care staff get a change of scenery
- Public recognition – this can be as simple as a ‘Carer of the month’, promoted both internally and also through your social channels to recognise staff who go above and beyond, who have shown greatest growth in their job or who have overcome particular hurdles. You may like to supplement this with a reward, such as a meal for two or cinema tickets.
Supporting care workers’ mental health and wellbeing
The pandemic has placed an unprecedented strain on care staff; around a third of employees who handed in their notice last year left the sector altogether. Supporting care workers’ wider holistic needs, showing empathy and understanding of the strains they have been through since March 2020 and providing support to help them build the resilience and reserves they need to continue delivering exceptional care in difficult circumstances will help your care home – and the sector – retain more experienced staff. Solutions could include counselling, mental health awareness training and/or mental health first aiders, health and nutrition training or access to wider support programmes through an employee assistance scheme.
Creating an engaged, motivated, loyal workforce reduces staff turnover, which is the most cost-effective way of ensuring you have the staff you need to look after your residents effectively. Getting this right will be crucial for commercial success in the care sector in 2022.