It’s no secret that social care has been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. The sector, already fragile, faced significant challenges around access to PPE, testing and staffing, not to mention the emotional toll of working face-to-face with high-risk vulnerable people.
Despite these hurdles, front-line and office-based staff have stepped up and gone the extra mile to ensure the safety of their clients.
But for how long will the goodwill of care staff last? The UK is entering a second wave of COVID-19, and with seasonal flu making a return, the social care sector faces a tough winter.
So how can care providers re-energise their staff and keep them motivated to continue their heroic work in the months ahead?
Here, HCI speaks to home care employers to find out their plans.
Agincare, which provides home care services in the Midlands and the South of England, continues to adapt to supporting people during COVID-19, helping its care teams stay energised, whatever their local situations are.
Amy Crabb, head of HR at Agincare, says: “Looking after our mental health is critical. We are strongly encouraging colleagues to take annual leave, emphasising that they need breaks to spend time with family and feel rested. Our team members also have access to our employee support programme, giving them advice and practical tips on everything from sleep and healthy eating, to managing finances during the pandemic. And for those who need it, there is free one-to-one counselling.
“Consistent communication with our entire team of more than 3,500 people is so important. Our CEO sends regular emails, keeping colleagues up-to-date with national guidelines and regulations and giving them a chance to ask her questions directly.
“Our managers have a key role to play in keeping their teams informed and feeling part of a bigger family, encouraging them to have their flu jab, and feeding back to us. We are also reducing anxiety about PPE by making sure our branches and sites have the equipment they need.”
Agincare will also soon be launching its Care Heroes campaign, recognising those who go above and beyond.
“We will continue to share feel-good stories, award prizes, reward referrals through the Care & Share app and celebrate ‘Carer of the Month’ and long service. These are the things that keep our great team spirit going and morale strong,” says Crabb.
Similarly, Abbots Care, a provider of home care services in the South East of England, has launched a new campaign to recognise care staff who have gone above and beyond the call of duty.
The Acts of Appreciation campaign aims to support the wellbeing of employees and boost morale throughout the workforce.
Every month, a coordinator from each branch nominates a care worker who has gone above and beyond for their service users or colleagues, and they receive a thank you card, gift, or message of appreciation from everyone at Abbots.
Abbots Care operations director Helen Sinden said: “Abbots Care is built on family values and we want this ethos reflected in the treatment of our staff. We want them to know the positive impact they are making in the community and how they are transforming lives.
“This comes at a time when the wellbeing of care staff is paramount in the industry and, as a care employer, we are committed to ensuring our workforce feels supported, appreciated, with access to the right resources.”
Other recent initiatives launched by Abbots Care to support the workforce include employing a new internal customer service team; sending monthly wellbeing newsletters to all staff with resources and advice lines; running monthly zoom meetings for care workers to check on their wellbeing; and running community hubs each week for care workers to drop in and collect PPE, have a cup of tea with their community manager and raise any issues or difficulties they are having.
At BelleVie, which provides home care services in South Oxfordshire and County Durham, practice coach Gemma Woollard believes it’s important to learn from what worked well to motivate workers at the beginning of the first lockdown, by asking for feedback and adapting its strategy if necessary.
“One thing that worked really well at BelleVie was that each of our Wellbeing Support Workers received a little pamper gift with essential oils, and a reminder that while we’re busy caring for others, we also need to take time to look after ourselves. Gestures such as this as well as handwritten cards or a phone call just to check in, really made us feel valued and appreciated during a difficult time,” she explains.
“We already had a strong working relationship as a team, but we made sure we connected even more often than usual and were more conscious of how team members might be feeling.”
Woollard says there is a high level of anxiety around working during a pandemic, and rather than shying away from it, this should be acknowledged so team members can openly share their concerns.
She adds: “From experience, we know that everyone is going to have good days and bad days at different times. For us, talking as a team meant that those who were having bad days always had someone to motivate them and offer extra support.
“To facilitate this, we created a ‘check in’ channel on our digital communication tool, so everyone has a space to share how they’re feeling each day. We’ve kept this channel open since the first lockdown, and will continue to do so going forward to maintain a focus on the mental wellbeing of our teams.
Bluebird Care also recognises the invaluable services its staff has delivered over the last six months, and will continue to deliver as the UK enters a second wave.
“We see it as our duty to do all we can to ensure our staff continue to feel motivated, valued and energised,” says head of people, Katy Falconer.
“In response, we’ve put together a ‘wellbeing pack’ for our management staff so they can effectively support themselves and their own teams. We have also created two additional wellness packs for our team members, with one focusing on wellbeing for care assistants who work on the ground, and one for staff working as part of our Franchise Support Centre.
“In addition, we are encouraging our employees to create their own Wellness Action Plans. These are available via Mind, the mental health charity, and are a great tool to help our team members stay motivated in
Bluebird Care is also exploring other options to provide wellness to support to directors and franchise owners so that they can support and encourage positive behaviours within their teams.
“For example, we’re currently in conversation with wellness coaches to deliver high-quality one-to-one support sessions with our care leaders,” Falconer explains.
“Bluebird Care is also signing up to the ‘Mindful Employer’ charter and encouraging our franchises to do the same. On World Mental Health Day, team members from our Franchise Support Centre, took part in a 20k step walk to raise money for SANE. Additionally, we are exploring ‘resilience training’ sessions for team members.
“Technology can also play a valuable role in supporting care staff, and we’re encouraging our employees to use the Care Friends app to help them stay motivated by providing them with tangible rewards.”
Meanwhile, Robert Stephenson-Padron, managing director at London-based Penrose Care, says the entire industry must continue to lobby the UK government to provide one-off ‘hazard pay’ bonuses to social care workers and managers, as a testament for risking their lives to support vulnerable people.
“Care staff have gone above and beyond during the global pandemic, putting their lives on the line for little pay to keep the most vulnerable in our society safe. Penrose Care workers are paid the London Living Wage but that isn’t enough,” he says.
“Care workers also need a break to stay energised for the second wave. I believe care providers can partner with holiday providers, such as we have with Mother Ivy’s Bay and Martha’s Orchard in Cornwall, providing our workers free lodging, to give care workers the touch of luxury they deserve.”