Celebrate Opinion

Leading the way in social care … Johann van Zyl, Group CEO, Cornerstone Healthcare Group

Johann van Zyl, CEO Cornerstone Healthcare

How are we going to reduce staff turnover in the care sector in the wake of the pandemic? The ‘Great Attrition’, as it was recently dubbed by McKinsey is obviously having a direct impact on standards and availability of care. In February, The Guardian reported that 1,600 beds in the care sector have been lost over the last six months mainly due to staff shortages. To state the obvious, the situation is dire.

The last two years have been exceptionally tough on staff and for the majority of care providers in the UK who are good employers, there has been an increased emphasis on communication, transparency, recognition, development, and wellbeing. But it doesn’t seem to be enough to stop staff leaving.

There is a theory that employees who’ve been through a period of crisis often can’t articulate why they want to leave. Adria Horn, Executive Vice President of Workforce at US telecom giant Tilson, a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army Reserve, and an army veteran who served five tours of duty in Afghanistan, presented this idea and compared her struggles returning from war zones, to employees adjusting to the new normal in the wake of a global health crisis.

Horn commented that each time she was redeployed, reintegration and the ability to manage her feelings and move forward, got easier. In contrast, care staff working in the pandemic had no prior experience of a pandemic, nor the tools to manage the emotional impact. They functioned on adrenalin, camaraderie and loyalty to their colleagues and the people they cared for.

Today, the new normal is upon us, a time for reflection. Staff are asking “is my job still fulfilling?” Any workplace issues like not getting on with their manager or frustrations about company culture, which paled into insignificance in the pandemic, have probably resurfaced, and emotional ties which bound staff have waned. Additionally, unlike a military deployment which has an end date, there’s no ‘end’ to COVID. Things are undoubtedly clearer than in the early days of 2020, but that sense of uncertainty and trauma lingers.

Pre pandemic, staff were leaving jobs for a promotion or a role closer to home, on positive terms. Now, Horn says staff are not waiting for closure – they leave feeling bitter, yet can’t put their finger on why. Some might cite working conditions, or a sense that they’re not valued, yet as an employer, I know we are doing things a lot better now because we’re cognisant of the ordeal our staff have been through.  Some staff recognise this but still feel despondent. This is grief from a series of micro changes that we can’t identify, but it is a perfectly normal response to a traumatic period.

This is a time to empower employees and help them understand the confusion they are experiencing is normal. Let’s stop trying to aggressively retain staff, and instead support them through a process of ‘professional separation’. Let’s let them know that if they ever want to return, they’ll be welcomed back. If we want to solve this challenge we’ll have to change our attitude and see the “Great Attrition” not as a business problem but as a human problem after a massively traumatic time. We should also consider tracking return hires. By giving leavers the chance to recover and reflect, whilst continuing our commitment to wellbeing, transparency and recognition, there is a good chance many will come back when the time is right for them.

Edel Harris

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