The homecare sector is facing huge workforce pressures.
As we move into year three of the pandemic, people are facing a myriad of overwhelming circumstances which is affecting their mental health and ability to continue working in social care.
From inflation driving up the cost of living, to some of the highest covid sickness levels on record, people are reacting to their changing context.
This is affecting homecare provider’s ability to meet soaring demand with safe, high-quality care.
One of the biggest challenges for providers is the retention of their workforce.
People working in homecare are leaving to find better paid work with less responsibility, lower travel costs, more take-home pay, less stress, and less anxiety.
Critically, people working in homecare want to feel valued and experience meaningful lives.
Some providers report significant absence rates due to sickness, forcing them to cancel contracts, leaving vulnerable people without care.
Other homecare agencies forsake making a profit, or even choose to make a loss, by financially incentivising their employees to stay in the sector and provide care.
All these behaviours are responses to the overwhelming circumstances people are facing.
While for many it may feel like the covid emergency is behind us, we are still facing a very real crisis.
How can homecare leaders help their care teams cope with pressure and avoid additional anxiety that could potentially convince them to leave?
Whether you are an owner, registered manager, supervisor, or one of the sector’s many extraordinary people holding the respect of their team, here are 10 ways leaders are successfully driving retention and meeting the expectations and needs of a workforce still adapting to the impact of ongoing global change.
Show positive behaviours
Self-care for leaders is essential. Leaders need to be in the best possible shape for the demands of the role.
As an employee and member of a team, it is almost impossible not to be affected by the behaviour of your fellow team members, supervisor, manager, or owner of the business.
If you are feeling tense, irritable, withdrawn, or volatile, your team may feel the same.
Acting in harmful ways like making rash, inconsistent decisions can erode trust and morale.
Leaders need to take care of themselves, so they don’t affect their team’s morale, well-being, and ability to take effective action.
Outside of work, protect time to look after body and mind. So, at work, be able to be a role model for managing inevitable imperfections with mental flexibility, emotional openness, and healthy responses to difficult situations.
When managing stress, trauma, and fatigue, mental health and well-being is affected, and it is harder to process new information as circumstances constantly change.
Leaders influence the culture through their behaviours and choices. At work, make a regular habit of asking your team for input. Be open if you don’t know something.
Normalise admitting mistakes. Acknowledge competing demands and conflicting values. Show its okay to change your mind when new information comes in. Apologise (without embarrassment and with confidence) should you need to.
At home, practice to help yourself out of mental dips.
You might spend time in nature, journaling, starting a new hobby or meditation – anything that exercises different muscles in your brain and creates an opportunity for reflection.
Acknowledge when you’re having difficulties, or if you’re not performing at your best.
There is a balance to be struck: a leader should avoid sharing every passing doubt and fear. Your employees are not there for emotional reassurance. They look to you for support, inspiration, and direction.
Emotionally aware team members will sense when you’re having a bad day. You may as well admit it, so that they’ll know you know, and everyone can make the appropriate adjustments.
It’s a good idea to have social and emotional support outside of work. A partner, friends, therapist, religious leader, or even a “personal board of directors.” Meet with them when you can.
Look after yourself in all the simple, basic, and easy to avoid ways: sleep, exercise, nutrition, hydration, and mental downtime.
Where practical, give your team the resources they need to do these things for themselves: time, money, equipment, and access.
Make self-care a regular topic of conversation.
Strong characters can unbalance culture at work, so explicitly notice and balance different character types within your team. Training and competing in a sporting event or learning something new is great, and so is taking time out with a book or in front of the TV.
Lighten the load
Stress has a cumulative impact. For the body and brain, there is no difference between pressure that comes in deadlines, an argument with one’s spouse, financial worries or worrying about loved ones.
The patience, self-control, perspective, and attentiveness needed for these situations all come out of the same fund, psychologically speaking.
And for a lot of people, even before the Covid-19 pandemic, that fund is in the red and needs topping up.
As much as possible, minimise stressors for yourself and your employees.
Think of it as psychological energy conservation.
What can be done to conserve cognitive and emotional energy for the most crucial tasks at work or home?
Encourage suggestions from your team – they may come up with improvements on their own or suggest low-cost perks that would help them.
A leader has huge influence over culture at work.
Leaders do their best to avoid perpetuating stress and anxiety in many facets of life.
Create an environment that fosters safety for employees and helps ease fears through more than just providing jobs, but with recognition as well.
Help team members feel comfortable asking questions without pressure or fear of consequences.
To enable employees to operate at their best and enjoy their work, it’s important that leaders show understanding when it comes to helping the team feel supported at work while offering help or clarification on things they may not understand, such as when communicating digitally like video meetings.
By taking notice of when employees need direction or support, leaders can take steps to help identify and address the cause of the issue.
For instance, supporting employees experiencing health-related symptoms that in some way impact on their performance, like menopause related symptoms or mental health problems, could significantly help employees that would otherwise focus their personal resources on coping with the challenges they face, rather than feeling supported to transition through to feeling fully comfortable at work.
Employees that feel less anxious about their symptoms impacting on their job consequently feel that they are able to give their best to their employer.
This is important as many employees experience guilt around not being able to give their best when health-related symptoms impact on their performance.
Covid-19 brought significant changes and difficult experiences to our lives that impacted on the things we were used to. Suddenly wearing PPE, washing hands, isolating or providing care online and not in person became the new normal.
The pandemic also brought trauma to our way of living. Many carers lost their lives. Many carers lost the people they cared for.
Protect yourself and your team from experiencing cognitive overload. This is something that will provide support and stability the mind needs when it is being overloaded with grief, trauma, or anxiety among other things.
Losing typical routines and environmental cues makes this even worse, as does having to adapt to a set of changing behaviours in the rest of life.
All these factors affect how well our mind can process information without becoming overwhelmed.
People are under a lot of strain, and sometimes they make mistakes.
Acknowledge that and create strategies to avoid these errors. Implement checklists, cross-checking protocols or backup plans if needed for your business – whatever is appropriate for what you do – will help prevent serious errors from happening.
If this represents an adjustment in how things have been done up until now, be clear that the new measures represent not a lack of trust or confidence in your team; this is trying something different to further support the team.
At times like these it’s also important to amplify communication on organisational culture and values.
Having a shared understanding of purpose and mission can decrease pressure on those who may otherwise feel too much responsibility themselves by increasing the number of people making good decisions and decreasing individual judgment calls being made at any given time.
Reduce tunnel vision
When people are under stress, they tend to focus on only one side of an issue or centre their opinions around their own personal concerns.
Ask employees to examine all aspects of a situation to manage it better together. Use role play and mental exercises like discussing hypothetical points of view.
Allowing them a safe space for vulnerability and to explore confusion or challenging issues can be helpful if they don’t attribute it solely with themselves or others.
Even if you have members who are psychologically safe in your team, there may still be people who are self-protective by nature.
Getting employees to talk about their children or their pets, for example, might help to unpack and discuss any anxieties around returning to work and how this may be affecting things at home.
Learn from failure
Mistakes and failures are inevitable, especially as an overextended and exhausted workforce tries to continue working and adapting to a constantly changing environment.
Teams that successfully remove associations of shame or disgrace to failure are better at learning from past mistakes and better experiment with new ways of solving problems or conducting routine business.
By rewarding the ‘messengers of bad news’, employees learn to be unafraid to admit mistakes or bring problems or unknowns to your attention.
This allows the team the opportunity to analyse failures together and figure out ways to improve and prevent the same mistake happening again.
Make it Meaningful
Meaning is far more important than happiness, especially when it comes to surviving difficult circumstances.
Biologically, a person being devoid of meaning might be considered a difficult circumstance.
Research finds that people who have little sense of meaning in their lives – even if they are happy – have immune response patterns similar to people facing challenging circumstances.
Encourage team members to participate in meaningful activities inside and outside of work.
Foster friendships at work as well as chances for connection with your teammates through events or just a space to chat together over lunch.
Draw a clear picture out how specific tasks fit into the organisational mission while also illustrating how the organisation fits into society at large, through supporting charity organisations or volunteer opportunities you partner with locally or globally.
Talk about what matters most to you personally and make sure you have time and energy left over each day so that you can do these things too!
Acknowledge that not everyone will find their own personal definition of what matters most by looking at work alone. Be curious, ask about non-work related hobbies/activities which matter.
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Key to driving retention is the direct support of your team’s meaningful lives.
As a leader crafting your approach to the best possible management of people, building a team of well-rounded, well-rested, calm, and engaged employees goes some way to meeting the expectations of people working in homecare in a post-pandemic world.