Is there such a thing as the perfect employer?
A 2012 YouGov poll of UK adults into what makes a good employer found that:
· 82% said a good working environment
· 81% said good pay and a benefits package
· 76% felt it was important an employer offered a good work-life balance
· 65% mentioned training and development opportunities
· 47% said good leadership was a key factor
· 41% wanted 'a good culture' and strong company values.
Effectively managing, motivating, measuring and getting people engaged in a business can make the difference between good and great, according to HR consultancy Croner in its 2013 white paper What makes a great employer? This draws on the example set by winners of the National Business Awards Employer of the Year award, and concludes: “No longer can companies pay lip service to, or give platitudes about, the importance of their people to the business. You need to prove it through demonstrable actions – showing it to be true.
“In the busyness of day-to-day business, it is all too easy not to spend time with people. Yet, it is this ‘face time’ and a personal touch that can make a significant difference to your people. Technology is no substitute for real conversations. If you want to inspire people then you need to connect with them personally.”
If you’re looking for a new job in care, it’s worth looking at your prospective employer as much as the role you’re applying for. Despite the current economic pressures, it is possible for care providers to differentiate themselves as good places to work.
The Care Employer Award category of the Great British Care Awards assesses nominated companies on their business acumen and consistently high standards of service delivery as well as the way they look after their staff. After all, you want your employer to keep the company going and expanding or improving, providing you as an employer with both job security and new opportunities.
So the judges look for employers who can demonstrate leadership best practice and that they have created a learning environment for staff as well as an effective workforce development plan.
This year’s winner, Canterbury Oast Trust, was singled out for its “dedication and commitment” to both its staff and the people they support. The organisation employs its staff on a variety of contracts, many for a long time. A clearly stated value is that “everyone here works as part of the same team”; another is to respect the contribution “all people bring to the organisation”.
All of which sounds great. But if you’re looking for a job, and don’t have an inside track into what it’s like to work for a new employer – such as knowing someone who’s already part of their workforce – then how can you tell whether they’re a good employer or not?
Do your research
Firstly, think carefully about what you personally are looking for in an employer. It may depend on where you are in your career, the reasons you want to change jobs and your particular circumstances, as well as what you found you liked or didn’t in working for other organisations.
A smaller company may offer a more personal touch in its relationship with staff but be able to provide fewer opportunities for progression, for instance. Flexibility that supports your work-life balance might be a higher priority for you than the chance to develop specialist skills or gain qualifications.
Once you’ve got a clear idea of what a good employer means to you, you can start your research.
Company websites are an obvious source of information; marketing materials may be a bit short of specifics. Most websites will have a job vacancies section, but how much detailed information do they give about the everyday support they give staff? Personal stories, including video testimonials, from existing employees in different roles, can offer extra insight.
You could check if they’ve signed up to the voluntary Social Care Commitment to improve workforce quality, which specifically covers providing thorough induction training, helping staff develop their skills and ensuring proper supervision.
Can you access any company policies from the website? Does the company have clear policies on aspects of working life that could affect you, such as bullying or whistle-blowing? What is in place to ensure the organisation complies with anti-discrimination legislation or to support staff health and wellbeing?
News sections may feature events that have been held for staff, new training and fast-track programmes, or winners of in-house recognition schemes. If a company has won a good employer award, then clearly that’s a positive sign!
Barchester Healthcare is, naturally, proud to let people know it was named one of the Sunday Times 25 Best Big Companies to Work for in 2014, particularly as this award is voted for by staff. And Barchester can offer concrete proof of its claims for developing the skills and careers of its staff and providing strong supervisory support. The Barchester Business School delivers management courses, leadership qualifications, vocational qualifications and nursing programmes. The company has been running an apprenticeship scheme since.
Where else can you find out what a new employer can offer you? Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspection reports, which draw on talking to staff, observation of working practices and looking at documentation, can be a good indicator of how the company values its employees as well as the quality of care delivered.
It is reassuring to see comments from inspectors like: “We saw that staff had undertaken training and had the skills and knowledge to meet people’s needs. They told us they were supported through induction, regular supervision and the management team in the home. There were sufficient staff on duty to meet people’s needs.”
You should also get an idea of what steps the company takes to ensure your health and safety as well as that of service users through what inspectors say about risk assessment and use of equipment, for instance.
If you’ve found a particular job you want to apply for, you can get some indication of what your prospective employer is like from the recruitment process itself, starting with the advert.
For instance, the Skills for Care 2013 recruitment guide Finders Keepers highlights Home Instead, which gave a lot of thought to simple wording of new job adverts, getting across clear and personal messages such ‘We are able to offer flexible hours’ and ‘We will offer you ongoing support and training’.
Applicants said that the advert stood out. Potential recruits were also invited to a drop-in session at the local Home Instead office for a face-to-face chat. Application forms were only handed out in person. As Finders Keepers says: “Doing this adds a personal touch to the process and allows a relationship to develop.”
How quickly a prospective employer responds to your application, and the way they do it (including offering support to attend an interview), may add to your initial impression of their attitude to staff. Ideally you will come away from the actual process feeling you’ve been given a real chance to demonstrate what you can offer.
Another Finders Keepers case study, Orchard Care Homes, carried out a group assessment to recruit staff for a new home, which proved an effective way to bring out the best in candidates who found one-to-one interviews nerve-racking. The session ended with a group question and answer session prompting a broader range of queries and better all-round understanding than if applicants had asked individual questions at interview.
Involving service users on interview panels, or the chance to shadow someone on a ‘taster shift’, can reassure you that you are being judged fairly.
A fair approach
The interview – and any informal chat beforehand – is your chance to ask questions about things that matter to you. There is plenty of legislation that all companies need to comply with, plus additional regulations that apply to care providers. Based on your particular priorities, you may want to investigate how much the company goes above and beyond the minimum required around specific aspects of health and safety or equality and diversity, for instance.
For instance, how does it handle sickness absence and help people get back to work? What support is offered to manage stress? If your faith is important, you might want to ask about accommodating practices and observances, especially relating to festivals and holy days.
A big issue is likely to be your work hours – this may relate as much to the job you’re applying for as the terms and conditions offered, and you need to be clear on what you want and how flexible a prospective employer will be. Zero-hours contracts and long shifts may be particular concerns. Unreasonable time pressures on homecare workers is one strand of UNISON’s campaign against too-short, rushed visits, and in its Ethical Care Charter it calls for all homecare workers to be paid for their travel time, travel costs and other necessary expenses such as mobile phones. These are things you want to be clear about from the start.
Support from day one
There are so many other indicators of what makes a company one you want to work for – some of these won’t be fully apparent immediately, but your research should give you a pretty good idea of the opportunities for personal and professional development available, and chances of future career progression.
A well thought-out induction process that involves, motivates and reassures you is always a good sign that your new employer is committed to engaging with their staff. It should be the starting point for your individual development plan.
Finders Keepers explains how Meera House Nursing Home introduced structured support and supervision sessions to help staff to regularly reflect on their practice and openly discuss their ideas and concerns with their manager. This has made them feel more supported and confident, willing to express their views without fear of criticism.
This is important; as the Skills for Care guide points out: “Research tells us that care staff often take the decision to change career or move from a care setting because of a feeling of not being valued by their employer, rather than low wage levels.”
Finders Keepers points out that there are many things organisations can do to show they value and respect staff, like celebrating staff achievements and personal occasions, and offering incentives both financial and emotional, such as employee of the month awards.
The existence of clear feedback systems and encouragement to use them, and the content and tone of company communications (both written ones like newsletters or face-to-face such as team briefings) will demonstrate how open and keen to listen the organisation is.
There are many individual elements that can add up to a ‘great’ employer – what it boils down to is how working for them makes you feel.