Staff loyalty in the Care Home Sector – is it all about money?

With us all living longer and the decline in the extended family, it is not surprising that the number of Care Homes across the UK is burgeoning. Care Home staff have demanding and difficult jobs, albeit ones that can be incredibly rewarding. It takes a special type of person to look after those in need and with demand set to increase, more and more staff will be required. Yet there is something of a crisis in the sector.

Talking to those working in the Care Sector up and down the UK, there appears to be one overriding problem they are wrestling with, that of recruitment and retention. Recruiting the right staff is often difficult but perhaps even more worrying is the issue of keeping many of them long enough to make the cost of their training worthwhile. As staff turnover has a direct affect on the bottom line, it is something that the industry needs to address.

Pay isn’t the only factor

‘It’s because of the low pay’, I hear you bellowing. Well certainly for many people doing such demanding, sometimes dirty jobs for a low wage is not appealing. But pay isn’t the only factor; there are plenty of professions filled with committed individuals where the appeal is clearly about more than money. Take nursing and teaching for example: most teachers don’t enter the profession for the pay alone but because many feel inspired by their desire to educate the next generation and see their charges fulfil their potential. Similarly, with nursing, empathy and a desire to help are often as important as the pay.

In reality some people are immensely happy being care workers. They are very good at it and it gives them immense satisfaction. Of course, they need to be paid for what they do but ultimately it is about something more than pay.

The most important brand touchpoint

A few years ago, we worked with a very well-known and acclaimed global brand. They came to us because they had a problem with their call centre staff, who appeared demoralised and lacking in commitment. As the most important touchpoint with the customer, call centre staff were crucial to the well-being of the brand. They were the face of the brand and their low levels of engagement and the corresponding decline in customer satisfaction was extremely worrying. Our client believed that the problem lay in the fact that their staff were not as well paid as those of the competitors but with a staff of thousands, increasing pay across the board was not a viable option.

We realised that we needed to hear what the issues were directly from staff, so we began with a comprehensive research programme. The findings were illuminating. Whilst pay is always an area of contention, in reality the issues ran much deeper. Staff felt under-valued and disengaged. Whilst management realised their prime importance, staff saw themselves as very small cogs in a very big wheel. They felt isolated and remote and ultimately powerless. For them the opportunities and benefits of belonging to a global market leader were largely invisible.

Our solution was to develop a campaign which focused on career development, allowing staff to find career opportunities and record their own personal achievements. Branded ‘You’, the campaign included an online career portal. Initially launched in the UK, it was deemed so successful that it was rolled out across the globe within just a few months – a corporate record. Proof of its success came with significantly increased staff retention figures and positive brand loyalty scores on the subsequent staff survey.

The ‘top’ does not always know what staff are really thinking

One of the striking implications of this case-study is the importance of genuine dialogue with staff – a ‘bottom up’ rather than a ‘top down’ approach to internal communications and staff engagement. The ‘top’ does not always know what staff are really thinking. In this case management was convinced that the problem was about pay, whereas in fact it was about something else altogether. Without talking to the staff concerned, none of us would have been any the wiser.

At Housebrands we call this ‘Talk to Bob’. Bob stands for your staff and represents the lynchpin of the whole company. He is your brand and unless you get your brand right on the inside, you will never get it right externally. As outlined in the example above, dissatisfied customer-facing staff can cause disaffected customers. And disaffected customers vote with their feet. Is it worth the risk?

There is a strong parallel with the Care Home Sector. The mantra is always, ‘we can’t keep staff because we don’t pay enough’. But pay alone is unlikely to be the reason. Working with a client recently who runs a number of Care Homes, we went in and talked to staff. Whilst nobody was going to say, ‘they pay me too much’, the challenges were about more than just pay. One of the issues that emerged was that working with one or two individuals in a Care Home every day can make you feel cut off from the rest of the company. Your loyalty is to the person you are caring for; that is your role – to look after them. It became clear that the role of carer can be an isolated one. Staff were so focused on their own role and specific Care Home that they did not feel part of the bigger organisation, which was across several sites, many miles apart.

The staff needed to feel part of the whole organisation. They needed to feel valued and involved. Our recommendation, and subsequent implementation, was to run an internal programme of both communications and activities which would bring the organisation’s Mission, Vision and Values to life in a meaningful way for all staff and foster a greater sense of unity across the whole organisation. Staff needed to feel part of a bigger unit and understand the benefits of that in terms of both support and opportunities, including a more obvious career path.

Ultimately it is as simple as this – staff who understand and support the aims and ambitions of the organisation they work for are far more likely to remain loyal and less likely to leave. Getting that right will have a positive effect on the ultimate efficiency of any organisation. So, don’t you think it’s about time you started talking to Bob, or Sheila or Ravi or Jasminder?

January 2020

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