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31st March 2016

Waiting for the Paragons

In our recent article we talked about direct support staff being at the centre of successfully delivering the outcomes of the Social Service and Wellbeing Act 2014. This raised a number of issues which we will be examining in a series of blogs over the next few weeks.

Those of us who have worked at a supervisory level within a care setting will know that consistency is one of the main keys for achieving positive outcomes. We are frequently told that the achievement of consistency comes through communication, teamwork, flattening hierarchies and good multi-disciplinary and inter-agency links. All of this is perfectly valid – but is it possible we are missing perhaps the most important element of a consistent service, which is the frontline workforce? This is obviously an arguable point, but if we consider the concepts of person-centredness and wellbeing, which are at the core of the new legislation, then there is little doubt that knowledge of an individual, as a person, is a huge factor when meeting outcomes. Basic examples include a familiar support worker recognising subtle changes in a person’s mood or behaviour in response to clinical conditions or interventions, or being the team member who instinctively understands the communication style of a service user. The list of essential and special functions carried out by a frontline worker could fill several blogs.

As an experienced manager and trainer, however, I have seen two distinct approaches to this resource. Firstly, services who value their staff and invest in them both financially and supportively. These services tend to develop a reputation as being a safe pair of hands, who grow organically, and who are able to promote from within, thus ensuring continuity and a core ethos.

All too frequently, however, services treat their staff as an infinitely replaceable commodity from an inexhaustible supply. This attitude tends to take two forms:

  • There are “better people” waiting in the wings, so if our current staff leave it will make room for these paragons of virtue who will undoubtedly be less problematic than our current workforce;
  • That if a person leaves, then “we can just get another one from the job centre”.

These attitudes actually make little economic sense due to the increased need for advertising, recruiting and inducting. In terms of actual service delivery, however, the effect is far greater. Core person-centred knowledge, such as a person’s preferences or behavioural triggers, are unlikely to be absorbed and utilised by an ever-changing workforce, resulting in a de facto return to institutional practices.

Within a short blog, it is not possible to discuss all of the answers to staff retention – but senior managers could do worse than look at Validation and Affirmation when interacting with junior staff. The nature of working with people who have changing needs can be both a blessing and a curse for front-line staff, who often find it difficult to recognise when they are doing a good job due to the lack of instant results common to other professionals. So a positive word about an observed piece of practice, or taking a few minutes to listen to a staff member’s opinion can go a very long way. We may, of course, feel that we do not have the time for this…but if this helps to retain the services of a person who has built up knowledgeable relationships with users of our services, then it undoubtedly saves time on “fire-fighting” in the areas of recruitment and induction. Is it time for us to value our workforce more – as it is unlikely that “better staff” are waiting just over the horizon.

*All information is correct at the time of publishing. Use of this material is subject to your acceptance of our terms and conditions.

Nic Bowler

Welsh Care and Social Services Inspectorate Specialist

Dr Nicholas Bowler is a researcher and consultant to government-level [Welsh Government Review of Secure Services, 2009] – specialising in QA/compliance focused projects. He has interests in clinically relevant training, service development and research. He enjoys working with clients to support them in identifying problems and initiating projects to improve practice.

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