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EXPERT COLUMN: Top techniques for improving care worker retention

Neil Eastwood

Neil Eastwood, CEO of social care recruitment specialist Sticky People and founder of employee referral app Care Friends, discusses the importance of understanding the three stages of turnover in order to improve retention.

The longer you retain staff, the less re-recruitment you do, the better continuity and quality of care you’re known for, and the better your bottom line.

So far so obvious, but as we all know, reducing staff turnover is not straightforward, especially in home care, which is perennially at the bottom of the charts for adult social care staff renewal rates.

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There are many reasons why a care worker quits, and mostly you’ll never know exactly why. But most recently, with the backdrop of COVID-19, exhausted care teams and the challenges of onboarding displaced new starters whose commitment you’re not 100% certain of – the urgency to improve retention is more prevalent.

But how? Splitting turnover into three stages, where each have common drivers for staff leaving, and then applying highly-successful targeted remedies to each, is a good start. First it’s important to address the macro-drivers of turnover, where possible, and Skills for Care gives an excellent summary in their annual ‘State Of’ report on its website. My favourites from them, plus a few of my own, are below:

PAY – we know higher pay equals lower turnover (although sometimes it means staff reducing their hours to improve a work-life balance), the question here is: how much more you can afford?

ZERO HOURS – people on contracted hours are less likely to leave their post. Although a surprisingly small number of homecare staff take up the offer, it’s still worth considering.

AGE – I have discovered the optimum age for home care retention is: early to mid-fifties, but we desperately need younger workers too, it’s just they often don’t stay.

RECRUITMENT SOURCE – this hugely influences retention – employee referrals are the longest stayers, those from internet job boards are generally the shortest.

TRIGGER FOR JOINING – my work has revealed that highest performing care workers have previous experience caring for a loved one. So, the more family carers you can recruit, the more likely you are to have a high-performing team.

Let’s move on to my three stages of turnover:

  1. The Chasm of Doom

The period between offer acceptance and starting – we can lose 40% of starters whilst police checks and references happen. First, try to shorten the time. The fast track DBS, Disclosure Scotland and AccessNI Check during COVID-19 has been a great help here, but make sure your internal processes are slick.

Secondly, communicate frequently and keep people involved. Why not enrol them in your employee referral scheme? This means you access their friendship groups, helping you find more staff, quickly.

Finally, post a welcome card as soon as they accept the job, letting them know they are valued (it’ll also be noted by their family and friends too). Plus, if they have several offers, yours is likely to be the winner.

2. The first 90 days

The worst turnover is here – you can expect to lose almost half of homecare new starters in this period. Some of the reasons are caused by one or more of the macro factors above, and there’s not much you can do about someone who isn’t motivated to care, but don’t give up yet.

Firstly, ensure you have a proper welcome programme organised, specifically assigning a peer mentor or buddy. Peer mentoring is transformative in homecare retention during the first three months.

Secondly, if you are the boss, welcome every new starter personally on day one. Preferably face-to-face, but on a video or phone call if not. Nothing makes a nervous new starter feel more special like the owner or director greeting them personally and thanking them for joining.

3. The future and beyond

Congratulations, you’ve passed the high risk zone! But, as home care workers reach their first or second anniversary, thoughts can turn to personal and professional development. Contrary to assumption, this doesn’t always mean a promotion – not everyone wants to progress into a supervisory or management role. Many will want to remain directly connected to their clients, so have a chat with them about their development goals. Perhaps becoming a specialist in dementia care, or taking on a role as a part-time trainer or peer mentor, is exactly what they need.

I want to leave you with the most powerful retention technique of them all, which is also the simplest, cheapest and most effective: appreciation. Regular acknowledgement of a job well done is kryptonite to staff turnover in social care. Send a personal note to their home now and again, pass on a quiet ‘well done’ here and there – keep thanking your staff. This is, without a doubt, the way to a motivated and stable home care workforce.

Tags : Neil EastwoodRecruitmentretention
Sarah Clarke

The author Sarah Clarke

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