Home Opinion Wellbeing at work

Wellbeing at work

by Kirsty Kirsty

Professor Martin Green OBE, Chief Executive, Care England 

Social care is an incredibly rewarding but also very stressful profession, and many of our colleagues are dealing with incredibly sensitive and difficult issues on a daily basis. We saw how amazing they were during the pandemic, but we also saw some of the enormous emotional toll that it took on them. During the pandemic, people were suffering from what might be described as “professional bereavement”, losing people whom they had known well and whom they had supported for many years. Even though this is often part of the role of a social care worker, during the pandemic, we saw the trauma of loss multiply so many times.

I spoke to one care service that had lost 11 of its valued residents within the space of 72 hours. If this had happened on the battlefield, the army would have ensured that its soldiers were properly supported and given counselling for Post Traumatic Stress. Sadly in social care, there was no systematic approach to supporting staff who had been through the most incredibly difficult and traumatic time. In general, social care needs to get much better at understanding stress and supporting staff with a difficult and complex roles. Wellbeing is a vital part of a healthy life, and there needs to be a much more systematic approach to nurturing staff and ensuring their welfare. Wellbeing should be something that is riven through social care. We have a responsibility for the welfare of our residents, but we also need to focus on staff.

There are so many ways in which good employers can support people to have a good quality work experience and give them the capacity to deal with some of the traumatic aspects of social care work. One of the things that are often neglected and do have an impact on well-being is time to reflect.

Social care roles are very pressurised, and there is always something to do, and all too often, this leads staff members into being on a treadmill, where they are constantly dealing with the practicalities of delivering care and get in little time to understand the emotional impact of their role. 

A lot of research tells us that good quality work can make a real difference in people’s lives and enhance their wellbeing. We have to ensure that social care is a profession that people want to embark on, and when they do, we need to ensure that there are mechanisms in place to make this a good quality experience. One of the things that has consistently come up in research is the need for flexibility in employment. As a sector that delivers a 24/7 service, we do have the potential to offer flexibility in how we construct our work patterns. I do not underestimate the challenges of this for employers, but the evidence suggests that flexibility does lead to greater levels of retention and satisfaction by staff.

The pandemic also changed people’s views about work, and people are now looking for things that give them both flexibility and a sense of purpose and doing something worthwhile. We do need to see some structural changes to ensure that this is not only a destination for people who want to make a difference but also provides work that is stimulating, worthwhile and well-remunerated.

The Government will shortly be announcing a workforce strategy, and it is really important that we take into account not only the flexibility needed in the workplace but also pay and conditions which will make this a destination of choice when people are thinking about careers.

There is a long way to go to get social work recognised and to get our colleagues the money, training and status that they so richly deserve. Social care is complex. It is both emotionally and physically draining, but it is probably one of the most emotionally rewarding careers anybody can pursue. The move towards integration of health and social care also needs to take into account the vast difference between the pay and conditions in health and those available to the social care workforce.

If we are to meet the challenges of the future, we need a workforce that can move seamlessly across systems, just as citizens do. In order to do this effectively, we need a very clear workforce strategy which goes across both health and social care. We also need some very clear skills in competency frameworks with portable qualifications in the social care space, and the money to underpin a professional approach to care must also include significant increases in the training budgets available to our sector.

The NHS spends in excess of £100,000 a minute on training, and we need to ensure that social care can have access to these budgets. It is only when we get a clear and consistent approach to health and social care careers, and we enable people to have clear career pathways and proper remuneration and training that we will see the fantastic professionalism of the social care workforce, properly acknowledged and rewarded.

There is a long way to go to reach this objective, but we must start now. We are currently in a workforce crisis with over 158,000 vacancies across the social care workforce, and we need some immediate action to make this a destination of choice for people wanting to build their careers. If we are going to make social care attractive, we also need to focus not only on pay conditions and training but also on flexibility and wellbeing because these will be the definers of our success in recruiting the workforce of the future.

Image depicts Professor Martin Green OBE, Chief Executive, Care England

Related Articles