As populations age around the world, the demand for aged care workers is intensifying, and the ability to attract and retain good staff is becoming increasingly important to providers of aged care services.

Quality aged care services depend on the face-to-face care staff provide to residents. Aged care is about empathy, care, and compassion so much more than it is about technology and buildings, or systems and procedures. We often hear it said that it takes a special type of person to work in aged care – and it is these people who are increasingly sought after as demand for their services increases.

Staff with the right attitude, experience and skills are absolutely vital to the sector: without them, the aged care system simply will not be able to provide the standard of care we expect for older adults.

In Australia, the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety has recognised staffing issues as among the most intractable problems facing aged care. After two weeks of hearings dedicated to the topic, the royal commission has gone back to the public asking for more submissions. We will, no doubt, be hearing more from the Royal Commission on the matter of staffing.

Attracting and retaining care staff

So, what can aged care employers do to attract staff to want to work in their organisations, and to ensure they are developing cultures and working conditions that encourage staff to stay?

Anchor Hanover, England’s largest not-for-profit provider of housing and care for older people, has built a reputation for its strong staff culture and appealing work conditions.

Despite its 54,000 homes in 1,700 locations, it’s the care the staff “at the front line” that provide the most “valuable” service the organisation delivers, says Anchor Hanover CEO, Jane Ashcroft.

The vacancy rates and turnover of care staff in England are worryingly high. According to Anchor Hanover’s latest annual report, the vacancy rate for social care staff has risen to 8.0 per cent, while the turnover rate for care staff in England is as high as 31 per cent.

“Colleague retention and recruitment is a key priority in our business plan,” Mr Ashcroft said of Anchor Hanover, which employees 9,000 ‘colleagues’. 

Key to their retention and recruitment policies are a “focus on ensuring that there are great training and career development opportunities, a strong pay and reward policy, recognition of the conditions people make to the lives of our customers, and tools to support communication and feedback,” Ms Ashcroft said.

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The importance of listening

Anchor Hanover has also developed a range of communication channels to facilitate discussion between staff and the organisation. 

“Our ‘Listening and acting’ survey gives colleagues the opportunity to tell me what they value, and what they don’t like, and we use the feedback from this to shape our annual ‘People Plan’,” Ms Ashcroft said.

An in-house Facebook platform, called ‘Workplace’, provides a platform where staff can share ideas, ask questions, discuss experiences, and air concerns.  

Communication from senior management broadly through the organisation also helps foster a culture of openness and inclusiveness.

“I produce a weekly blog, often by video, to share updates and views, and we also broadcast our executive team meetings several times a year, with live questions,” explained Ms Ashcroft.

Language matters

The language used within Anchor Hanover is also important, with care staff referred to as ‘colleagues’. 

“The people who use our services tell me that the support provided by my front-line colleagues is the most valuable thing we do, so they are very important in our organisation,” Ms Ashcroft said. 

“I believe that the word “colleague” properly reflects that (importance).” 

Ms Ashcroft says she always reflects on the individual skills each person brings to their work at Anchor Hanover, and that creating an “inclusive environment in which everyone is welcome” is vital.

Data helps with monitoring

A range of Key Performance Indicators allows the organisation to assess how it’s tracking. 

“On care quality, we have identified a range of indicators which are helpful in flagging potential problems at an early stage – for example numbers of falls, colleague training, colleague turnover,” Ms Ashcroft said. 

“Using external benchmarks and internal comparisons, we can see ‘outlier’ services and investigate these in more detail.” 

The company also employs specialist teams to provide support in areas such as nutrition and dining, continence care, pressure area care, community engagement, and housekeeping. 

“We a large organisation, sharing best practice enables us to ensure we are continuously improving,” Ms Ashcroft said, adding that Anchor Hanover has a collegiate approach with other providers that encourages them to learn from and share with each other.

Keeping close to the front line

KPIs are important, Ms Ashcroft said, but nothing beats walking the floor to get a gauge on how things are going.

“KPIs and data are important, but being ‘out and about’ is essential. Hearing directly from customers and colleagues and experiencing our services first hand is a priority for me,” she said. 

“I consider talking to people, and listening effectively to be major skills in this role.”

Join Jane Ashcroft and AgeingAsia as they explore leadership approaches for innovation and quality at the ‘Quality Excellence Masterclass‘ in Sydney on 18 -19 February 2020.

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