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Improving the employee experience for care workers

First published in ‘The Carer’ – Read the full article here.

Recruitment and retention are huge challenges in the care industry right now with research highlighting how employee engagement among frontline staff has declined sharply over the past 18 months. And as the promise of a large pay rise or hybrid working just aren’t possible, care industry leaders need to find other ways to prevent their best people from walking out the door. The employee experience is therefore key, with a focus on making care workers feel valued, appreciated, and supported. Steven Frost, Founder and CEO of employee engagement expert WorkBuzz explains how this can be achieved.

The state of engagement

Care workers have experienced the full brunt of the pandemic, forced to cope with health and wellbeing concerns, including burnout. It’s therefore unsurprising that 49 per cent of organisations with mostly frontline workers have seen engagement decline dramatically over the past year. This is in sharp contrast to engagement levels in office-based companies (that have had remote working as an option) in which most organisations have reported that employee engagement has increased. Many care workers are disengaged, demotivated, and exhausted, and they’re heading straight for the door!

Creating a world-class employee experience

There’s an urgent need to improve the employee experience, with an emphasis on making every care worker feel valued and appreciated. Here’s how:

Have an onboarding plan – The reason most care workers will leave their job in the first 90 days (and often the first few days) is because they feel lonely, isolated, and unsupported. There needs to be a clear onboarding plan which makes new recruits feel welcome, starting with a handwritten welcome note from the employee’s manager and colleagues to show that extra level of effort. Providing every new starter with a buddy/mentor for support must also become standard.

Give employees a ‘voice’ – Decisions are often made far away from the frontline and yet care staff can contribute a lot to decision making. Interestingly, Germany has it written into law that when companies have more than five employees, a works council can be elected by the employees, thereby providing them with a voice. Many German care providers therefore consult with their workers on various matters, and this is an important lesson for the UK care market. By continually requesting feedback from employees and then using these insights to inform decision-making, care workers feel valued and heard. This approach also delivers a number of business benefits, such as improved service levels.

Prioritise appreciation – Employees are unlikely to stick around if they feel taken for granted. It’s therefore vital for leaders to get to know their teams on a personal level and be quick to give genuine appreciation. A personalised thank you note from a manager to an employee can have a huge impact, for example, helping to build engagement and loyalty.

Develop your people – What are your employees’ career aspirations and developmental goals? By providing opportunities to learn and grow, care workers are more likely to remain loyal. This could include providing workers with the opportunity to be mentors and/or involving them in the recruitment of new staff. Offering courses/training would also be well received.

Provide wellbeing support – What’s in place to look after care workers’ health and wellbeing? Leaders must regularly check-in with their people to see how they’re coping physically and emotionally, while watching for signs of burnout such as loss of motivation, fatigue, and work avoidance. Providing or signposting staff to mental health support services is also important.

Train managers – Most managers will never have been trained on how to be a leader. Spend time on training ‘soft’ skills, such as active listening, how to use blame-free language and effective recognition giving.

Put the right technology in place – Lack of ‘mobile first’ technologies can mean care workers just don’t have the means to effectively engage with their leaders, colleagues, and the organisation, heightening their isolation. By using technology and apps that streamline communications and allow ongoing employee feedback, care workers will feel a greater sense of belonging and believe that their opinion matters.

A final word

In the face of ‘The Great Resignation’, it’s time to rethink care worker recruitment and retention. By continuing along the same path, staff attrition will only continue, and so it’s vital for the employee experience to become king.