The Heart of What we do, But how do we keep their Heart in what they do?
Last week I was humbled to be the moderator of the Tendable Webinar – Covid, the good, the bad and what next? The insights of the past 24 months showed how both individual leaders and organisations can drive quality disability support in a volatile environment. Whilst our panellists were mostly positive about their responses to the Covid crisis, there were two areas where the pandemic has highlighted that we need to improve as a sector and improve quickly:
- Health equality for people with a disability
- Recruitment and retention of our Disability Support Workers
Both are huge topics and require us all to invest in having difficult conversations with the view to revolutionise our solutions. To kick this off, I’m going to start the conversation about recruitment and retention of disability support workers. I would love to start the conversation, please put in the comments what do you think drives our high turnover rate? Honest root cause analysis will be the only way we can build more engagement.
My thoughts are that we aren’t measuring the right data. The biggest crocodile at our feet is the fact that there is too much work and not enough people to do it. There have been many memes doing the rounds with the general flavour of ‘you have a heartbeat, you can be a Disability Support Worker’. But really, is anybody the right body for this type of work? According to the ABS, job mobility is currently on the rise for the community and personal service workers (8.6 per cent to 9.7 per cent). But we shouldn’t be focusing on turnover rates. We should be looking at quality service delivery and team cohesion.
For much of our sector, support work is independent. Your front-line workers build relationships with your clients and their teammates, and sometimes if they are lucky there will be a team leader or supervisor on site during their shift. I have conducted many Support Worker polls over the last decade and Support Workers consistently confirm that their primary source of ‘how to’ information is from their peers. It also tends to be verbal so there is little way of determining if correct information was passed on. This begs the question, “if we aren’t recruiting the right people, with the right skills how can we be sure of our quality to the people receiving the service?”
My opinion – it is dangerous to have a dissatisfied worker show up in an isolated environment and be responsible for supporting a potentially vulnerable person. We have all seen that worker. The worker who hates their job or the company they work for, but they need to keep working to earn money or they don’t want to apply for new jobs or learn new policies and people. Their behaviour becomes toxic and they either “do exactly what they are told and no more” or decide to “get even with the company.” This is where bad site culture can emerge at the expense of the people who are paying for the service.
Support Workers Recognition, Responsibility and Growth
So how do we fix it? A study conducted by Harvard Business Review suggests that “many skilled hourly employees would be less dissatisfied and more productive if they were treated more nearly as managers are, rather than as low-skill blue-collar workers are”. This study has echoed the sentiments of many Support Workers I know. Support Workers can often feel disconnected from their broader organisation and feel like things happen to them rather than with them. I know I have personally been guilty of deciding on policies and philosophies that talk to how my brain operates and what I think people need to know. I assumed that all people in this field have similar values and views on how things should be done.
But it’s not as easy as offering our front-line workers a seat at the decision-making table. The first step is building their self esteem to feel worthy of the seat at the table, this might be as simple as a handwritten thank you note when someone goes above and beyond or spending some time with the front-line team and commenting ‘it was really good when you did xxx’. Then as leaders, we need to show them that their voice is heard and actioned. Nothing will destroy all your hard work faster than ignoring their suggestions. Ultimately our goal should be to work with all of the individuals in our organisation to increase their job satisfaction. And for every person that will look a little different but could include achievement, recognition, responsibility, or growth.
Organisations who get this right and can deliver fast will see instant improvement in their recruitment. But they need to approach it with a growth mindset. Meaning that there is value in the process no matter what the outcome. This has been an issue for a long time and will continue to be problematic, but by having a growth mindset the team can all focus on the minor achievements and next thing you know – your organisation is getting the best referrals. You no longer have a recruitment gap and your retention rates are the best in the industry.
Please contact me if would like to discuss this topic more as I would love to initiate a round table.