The pandemic has further exhausted and hit the morale of the home care workforce, leading to more employees exiting the sector in search of higher paid jobs with less responsibility.
In response politicians are focussing on the importance of a new workforce strategy, and in particular improving morale and avoiding burnout.
Politicians and sector leaders know that to meet the growing demand for home care services, the workforce must expand, not contract.
In some areas of the UK, up to 75% of home care professionals leave their job within the first year.
Home care providers need to (somehow) slow and reverse high rates of churn and increase their workforce capacity.
While a significant area of focus is also around improving pay (it is crucial that people working in care feel valued by society and can earn a living), another key aspect of growing a home care provision is the ability to grow the team.
One aspect of successfully growing a home care team is to develop and nurture strong team morale.
To try to sum up ‘morale’ in a home care context, the words confidence, enthusiasm, discipline, attitude, job satisfaction, loyalty, and dedication all come to mind.
A team with strong morale has a tangible sense of confidence and enthusiasm about respective roles and functions.
Team member choices, actions and behaviours collectively demonstrate a team’s pursuit of a common purpose: to provide excellence in care.
In observing some of the key differences between high and low performing home care teams, there appears to be a noticeable difference between team morale.
That does not mean that in high performing teams with strong morale everything is ‘rosy’ and easy-going.
Care work can be hugely rewarding and it also can be extremely challenging.
All home care teams face similar challenges and difficulties, yet teams with strong morale often overcome these obstacles together.
Overcoming challenges, protecting people’s lives, and supporting independence, is partly why home care professionals inspire and move us.
Care teams that have strong morale typically overcome their challenges by learning and working together to consistently deliver excellence in care.
Scheduled visits are rarely missed or cancelled (under stable economic conditions), and compliance can be readily evidenced to the regulator.
They support and trust each other and, importantly, they do not feel the need to leave their team to find alternative work.
This positive dynamic not only binds the team together; it also attracts more care professionals who are seeking a like minded team.
Care professionals seek out teams that they anticipate will ‘be’ like them, in other words, they share the same core beliefs and values.
Care professionals working in teams with strong morale often feedback that they are satisfied with their work.
They also feel positive and confident about their role in the team and in the wider business. This encourages engagment and drives reliability.
Their work provides a clear sense of purpose, satisfaction and pride, and they build loyal, emotional yet professional relationships with the people who rely on their care.
Strong team morale is important to growing a home care business.
Developing and nurturing team morale
Building strong morale requires consistent investment of time, energy and curiosity in individuals and in the team.
The availability of support, empathy and kindness from teammates and line managers is a significant indicator of strong team morale.
There is also a mutual respect between team members.
Members are appropriatley skilled, like-minded professionals sharing a strong morality around the quality of care that they provide.
They are highly focussed on maintaining standards, and demonstrate a deep-seated sense of pride in following policies, procedures, and best practices for the benefit of the people who rely on their care.
Investment of resources, such as training, to build strong morale, is not the only consideration.
Leaders personally invest huge amounts of emapthetic and communicative energy.
They are not always defined by job title or role; in teams, leadership can also be established through how much they care, and how well their performance upholds the team’s beliefs.
A leader’s energy drives a curiosity and authentic interest in the performance of individuals and, importantly, spotting deviation from the high standards that they set, actively provide support to enable the team to return to their high standards.
This energy is almost constant and ever-present. It manifests itself in informal conversations and person-to-person interactions.
Teams with strong morale provide and benefit from these support structures daily, enabling the team to communicate, collaborate and succeed.
These support structures present opportunities for the team to recover (when exhausted), realign (with each other) and maintain resilience.
The provision of leadership support in this way is a key aspect of nurturing and maintaining morale.
The link between morale and team performance
Amy Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School, studies human interactions that lead to the creation of successful enterprises that contribute to the betterment of society.
Professor Edmondson’s study of team psychological safety gives insight into how teams build belief systems which become shared beliefs.
Shared beliefs combine with team structures, such as coaching and support, to shape team outcomes.
“…team psychological safety – a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking – and models the effects of team psychological safety and team efficacy together on learning and performance in organizational work teams.” Administrative Science Quarterly, June 1999
The ability to take risks, make mistakes, and learn is an important aspect of developing team performance.
To build and maintain morale in this context, the nature of the environment in which teams operate is critical.
If a team member does not feel safe to take personal risks, this might impact negatively on team performance and learning and, in turn, team morale.
Taking personal risks often means home care professionals feeling safe to suggest innovative ideas or new ways of doing things, to challenge a leader or the status quo, flag a potential problem or concern, or question an accepted policy, procedure, or prescribed best practice.
There is a positive relationship between learning behaviour, team psychological safety and team performance.
In other words, enabling and materially investing in team psychological safety can help drive learning and performance.
Not only will this support team morale, it will also help ensure a home care team thrives.
Technology can help providers to support team psychological safety and morale
Advanced technology capable of solving complex tasks, capturing important data and providing seamless communications capabilities, can provide care teams with transparency and control over important aspects of their jobs: pay, timesheets, mileage, leave and rota.
The most important variables that improve team performance include clearly understood roles and specific tasks, appropriate team composition, the availability of information, support, and resources including training, mentoring, equipment such as PPE, role-specific apps, rewards and pay systems.
These are the variables that technology can help support and improve.
By using technology to decrease human error in the collection, calculation, and communication of employee data, and by being easy to access and use, technology can help to engage teams and support morale.
Given the challenges care professionals face, technology can reduce or remove aspects of working in a home care operation that cause worry and stress, such as being paid the amount expected and on time, or taking home more money than their cost of travel.
To support morale, shared beliefs need to be upheld, and expectations, often set at the interview stage and on early entry into the care team, need to be met.
Technology can capture and share care professional-specific data, such as mileage, travel time, contact time, waiting or resting time, and with this data, accurately calculate pay in all aspects and variations of a contract, such as enhanced pay periods for work during public holidays.
The contract is agreed at the very beginning of the relationship and this should set expectations around key aspects of the role that will impact on engagement, morale, and retention
These include the rate(s) of pay, travel and waiting time, training, career development opportunities, and career pathways.
Expectations should be set around flexibility (of work hours and type available) and the support available from the wider care team, for example if a care professional needs to change their availability and request cover support from the team to ensure care delivery.
There needs to be clear alignment around what hours care professionals need to work and the type of work they need to perform.
Technology needs to protect these expectations as a matter of critical importance, while ensuring that vulnerable people receive high quality care.
Advanced scheduling technology can empower teams to update their availability in real-time, and where appropriate use an app to exchange scheduled visits with other appropriately qualified members of the care team.
Apps downloaded to care professionals’ mobile devices need to be exceptionally effective communication tools, linking the leadership of the care provision with the operational care team.
Effective communication and using functionality like read receipts creates a clear record of day-to-day operational communications.
By calculating and suggesting care professionals take on the most cost-effective rounds, technology can help save money and keep employees away from being out of pocket.
These are only a small number of ways that technology can play helpful roles supporting workforce morale in domiciliary care settings.
Technology cannot replace people
Using technology to further support, develop and value the current workforce can help home care be a better place to work. If successful, this could also help improve morale.
By being a better place to work, the sector will become more attractive to new care professionals.
To help make home care an attractive career oportunity, more work needs to be done to break down the sector’s stigma and poor reputation.
For many years the media have published stories on the crises in care, not the millions of examples of extraordinary human kindness and professional complex care delivered across the UK every day.
Similarly, funding for the sector has been reduced impacting on pay, while legislation has bolstered employment terms that, together with low pay, make many care profressionals feel that their job is “degrading“.
Morale is an important ingredient for team efficacy, growth, and performance, yet even with the most advanced technology, it is people, particularly leaders, who are key to developing and maintaining strong morale.
Technology can augment and support people in their roles, it can help remove anxiety, frustration and stress. It can’t replace people.
Home care providers choosing to invest in morale, people and technology build foundations for the best possible chance of growth and success.
Alex Cavell, CCO & Co-Founder of MyHelpa
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