I can't run but...
…I can walk much faster than this.
Many staff are in jobs they have, or have almost, outgrown. This may be in regard to their knowledge, their experience or their skills. They may be looking to take that next career step, or simply to contribute more in their current role. A good example of this is the senior residential social worker who wants to do more, but doesn’t want the pressure and responsibility of a management role.
Ignore the needs of such staff at your peril. If they are bored their discretionary effort, that is the ‘above and beyond’ element of their work, will dwindle. And every workplace, especially in social care, requires staff to go ‘above and beyond’ in order to get by. In social care, this means helping the kids achieve such great outcomes. Quite what that says about pay and conditions in the sector is another matter, but I digress.
Another effect of not picking up on staff frustration is turnover. People who are bored, or feel unsupported to develop, will find employment elsewhere. The sector cannot afford to lose skilled, motivated staff. Your business cannot afford to lose skilled, motivated staff. Your children cannot afford to lose skilled, motivated staff.
How can you tell?
It’s difficult to tell when a staff member has reached the point where thy feel they have reached the limit of what they feel the job allows them to offer. Typical indicators can be apathy, doing ‘enough’, not picking up overtime, or a generally ‘low’ demeanour. These symptoms may have many underlying causes. No matter how skilled a manager you are, you have to accept there is a status barrier that may prevent the staff member approaching you with their problems. It’s up to you to notice and ask. “Hey, I’ve noticed things don’t seem right. Is everything okay?”. If they tell you they need a new challenge, or feel they are stuck in a rut, or however they express it, it’s important you thank them for being honest and then offer to sit with them to look at what you can change, what extra responsibilities you can offer, or how they can expand their role. Don’t ever mishandle the situation by telling them ‘they should be grateful to have a job in this economy’ or tell them you can’t give them further responsibilities/variety until they turn their attitude around (I have heard managers use both of those responses in the past). They’ve opened up to you, and now the responsibility is on you to help find the solution
Beware ‘enrichment activities’.
A while ago I found myself in this situation. Every day was the same, and I felt that nothing ever changed. I was trying to work towards a management post in a company that, as it turned out, reneged on its interview offer of training and progression. I spoke to my manager, told them I had achieved everything I could in my role, that I was struggling with my motivation due to the lack of progression and that I wanted to take on more responsibility in the home.
She immediately offered me more responsibility.
More staff supervisions? No. Inducting new staff? No. Delivering a broader range of training to new staff? No.
She put me in charge of ‘managing’ the towel cupboard.
Don’t get me wrong. Towels, as Ford Prefect will no doubt tell you, can be very important. But they are hardly an effective basis for career growth in the residential care sector (or for staff retention, as it turned out).
When a colleague asked, ‘how did it go?’, I laughingly referred to this new responsibility as an ‘enrichment activity’. I’d watched a documentary on Longleat (I believe; this was a long time ago) in which the keepers dealt with the problem of the macaques getting bored by hiding their food around the grounds rather than feeding them from a bucket. The monkeys didn’t pick up any new skills, they just used existing ones - essentially working harder and learning nothing for the same reward. Soon this term became widely used amongst the staff when given menial tasks and being told it was ‘good for their career’. Soon after, the manager overheard the phrase. Soon after that, I had another supervision. And during that supervision, well, let’s say words were had.
How can I help?
Sometimes, just asking the person how they would like to expand their job role can generate ideas for tasks they may wish to undertake. This could be an opportunity for you to lighten your workload also. Could they take on the first draft of your quarterly report? Could they take on induction responsibilities? Could they deputise for you in some meetings? Can they take the lead in an upcoming project?
Tasks aside, consider helping your colleague develop transferable skills in their current role. Can they develop communication skills - being responsible for translating reports and updates into easier-to-understand pieces of information to present at a team meeting, perhaps? What about their teamworking skills - can they coordinate a piece work work across different teams, or form new partnerships to reach a team goal?
What opportunities to they have to advise others, voice their opinions, or act as a mentor? This can help them to identify gaps in their knowledge they may previously have been blind to as well as develop their leading and influencing skills.
A little bit of listening and creative thought can do a lot to reduce staff turnover and increase satisfaction and engagement.
The dangers of target-setting.
I was watching a news article on economic immigration last night. With many sectors, including health and social care, struggling to recruit, the nation is looking abroad to fill the gap. Net migration last year was the highest on record.
Certain industries and occupations are on the ‘shortage occupations list’ (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/skilled-worker-visa-shortage-occupations/skilled-worker-visa-shortage-occupations). Care workers and home carers are on the list, though not those working for sole traders or individuals. All senior care workers are on the list also, as are ‘residential, day and domiciliary care managers and proprietors’, and ‘health services and public health managers and directors’.
Looking a this from a manger’s perspective there are short, medium and long-term solutions to this crisis. I’m writing about all sectors, not just care.
In the short term we need people to fill roles and pay taxes. It makes perfect sense to encourage people to come to work in the UK. There are thirty-one categories on the shortage occupations list, with many other sectors such as hospitality desperate to get on the list.
In the medium term we need to look at retention. Yes, Brexit and the pandemic had a huge impact on recruitment and retention in certain sectors. Looking at the reasons why people haven’t returned to those roles is key. Salary, working patterns, competition for other industries, and zero-hours contracts, to name a few factors, all play a part. We need to look at how we can improve these to keep staff employed in these roles.
In the long term we need to invest in education and careers advice for young people. The list covers a wide spectrum of occupations, from health and social care to management to chemical scientists to engineers to musicians to IT… it really is incredibly broad. We need to highlight these careers and really nurture the talent we have in this country - which also means investing in education and making higher education accessible to all who have the ability to benefit from it.
What we can’t afford is weak, ill-informed, ideology-driven mismanagement.
In the same news article they discussed Suella Braverman. Her priority in all of this is to ‘get immigration down’ to the ‘tens of thousands’ it was ‘under Thatcher’.
What gets measured, get prioritised. Or, as Peter Drucker said, “what gets measured gets managed - even when it’s pointless to measure and manage it, and even if it harms the purpose of the organisation to do so”.
Immigration, in this particular instance, should be a side effect of measuring and managing the short, medium and long term goals I described above. The larger the number, the less effective our efforts at building and retaining home-grown talent have been. If we train people here to do the jobs we need, and if we treat them well whilst they are doing them, immigration will become a non-issue. Focussing on just getting the numbers down without any consideration for why the numbers are so high will only harm our economy.
I don’t want this to come across an an anti-immigration rant. It isn’t. I welcome those who come to Britain to work and contribute to the economy.
The point I’m making is this: when you set goals, targets and outcomes for individuals or for teams or the organisation you are defining what is to be managed. In this case rather than the important work that needs doing, the government appears to be focused on the end result. A parallel that comes to mind in social care is the company that focuses on occupation levels rather than the quality of care on offer. If a company sets the target (and a manager’s bonus) around ensuring 95% occupancy over the year rather than the quality of care on offer, will this affect the RM’s decision in whether to accept a referral or not? Not for everybody, but there will be a net effect overall. If we offer teachers a bonus based on standardised test results, or tie school budgets to the same, will the children receive a broad, challenging and interesting curriculum? Or will huge chunks of the term be given to going over the same narrow focus covered by the tests?
I know I’ve come to a children’s home to find the hoovering and dusting are left wanting as I’ve advised staff to ‘put spending time with the children first’. I didn’t mean to spend every minute with them on the PS4, playing football, on walks, engaging and interacting to the exclusion of all else (and then hurriedly completing paperwork in the last half hour of the shift). But neither could I complain; they’d done what I’d asked.
As managers the responsibility is on us to make clear, well-thought-out targets; and accept responsibility for the fall-out when the results aren’t what we intended.
Sometimes it’s much better to focus on the process rather than the outcomes
Today is International Women’s Day. Amongst other things, it should prompt all of us to reflect on gender inequality, how it affects all of us, and what we can do to combat it. Unfortunately it also is used by many to increase division. Within moments of this being uploaded I expect the usual range of complaints that a man is daring to give his opinion on this topic, or grumpy blokes complaining that there isn’t an international men’s day (Sunday November 19th, this year).
Many view International Women’s day as little more than a self-congratulatory back-slapping exercise. Whilst in some media and social media coverage this is true, www.internationalwomensday.com has this to say:
“Imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that's diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. Together we can forge women's equality. Collectively we can all #EmbraceEquity.
Celebrate women's achievement. Raise awareness about discrimination. Take action to drive gender parity.
IWD belongs to everyone, everywhere. Inclusion means all IWD action is valid.”
There is a world of difference between congratulation and empowerment - it’s a cliche, but a rising tide lifts all boats.
Looking at this issue from the perspective of a man and a service director, there are a few practical changes I’d like to see from the government to truly help empower women in Britain.
The first would be a focus early in education on emotional intelligence and empathy; respecting the rights of all, and keeping each other safe. Too many young boys aren’t given positive female role models, nor are they given enough male role models who treat and respect women properly. This is especially important nowadays with the easy access to online pornography and shameful characters such as Andrew Tate.
Children need professional role models also. My experience of careers advice in school (this is back in the 90s, so a lot may have changed - I’m happy to be educated on how this looks now) was one of ‘too little, to late’. I do wonder how many fantastic female scientists, engineers, and other traditionally “male” roles society has failed to benefit from, because girls weren’t encouraged to pursue these paths. The same thinking applies to working-class kids who weren’t encouraged to raise their ambitions and chase traditionally “upper class” careers. We had British Steel plants near, a 3M factory, and an air-conditioning unit factory near us when I grew up. I don’t recall us being encouraged to reach for carers in law, finance of medicine.
Society also needs properly funded childcare that supports women to re-enter the workplace after giving birth, should they want to do so. The private sector simply isn’t equipped to do this, particularly with the profit motive. We need comprehensive, 8am to 7pm childcare, from early years to 15-year-olds, accessible to all.
Although this has increased in recent years, flexible working conditions are another component which disproportionately affect women’s working patterns. Alongside this, we need creative corporate solutions to the problems flexible working conditions inevitably pose. In certain roles, flexible working can cause as many problems as they solve, but these problems, I’m sure, are not insurmountable. A specific example of this would be the residential childcare sector. If we give parents the flexibility to, for example, do the school run for their children that may leave the home short of workers to take our children to school and college. One solution is of course to ensure both parents have access to flexible working, meaning the task can be shared. Flexible working solutions are far easier to implement in some roles than others, but the concept is something I think about a lot when designing rotas and policies.
Accessible, meaningful, lifelong learning opportunities are so important. Up-skilling the workforce benefits everyone. In the contexts of this post, making learning available to women would help them keep pace with their male colleagues - for example, after a career break.
This is, of course, just one man’s opinion on a topic that affects everyone. I’d love to hear your views on this, especially those coming from a different perspective than my own.
I'm reading loads of posts at the moment on being "your authentic self". Many of these articles also raise the question of whether you should be your authentic self at work, and to what extent this should be allowed or supported.
My question is this: what the hell are all these people on about?
This may sound a little “old man yells at cloud”, but bear with me. A lot what’s written on the topic is vague and unclear. As with many things you read in business and management, the concept is part insight and part buzzword.
There appears no single dictionary-standard definition of what the phrase means. But a fairly comprehensive definition is, “who you truly are as a person, regardless of your occupation, regardless of the influence of others, it is an honest representation of you. To be authentic means not caring what others think about you.” (Read more here)
I'm a middle aged bloke who reads novels of pretty much any genre. I'm a heavy metal fan. I love getting tattoos. I'm a commuter who listens to self-improvement audiobooks. I'm a considerate father who relentlessly pummels his children with dad jokes. I'm a company director who always gives the best impression of the company when meeting other professionals. I'm a creative individual who writes, blogs, and plays guitar. I can't put up a shelf. I think the answer to "Best British band ever, Beatles v Stones?" is Led Zeppelin. Black Sabbath are a close second.
So which if those is my "authentic self"?
All of them, of course. We are multi-faceted individuals who show different sides of ourselves (or wear different 'masks') in different situations.
Here's another point. When you sit at my table I have certain expectations of you. Likewise, when I sit at someone else's table they will have expectations of me - dress, conduct, contributions. Our "authentic selves" are irrelevant. We come together to do a job, complete a task, or solve a problem. Cognitive diversity is an incredibly important element in effective problem-solving, and the best solutions are found, ironically for this post, by diverse teams unafraid to challenge each other, voicing opinions and ideas that others won't think of because of their own backgrounds. All of which should be filtered through the prism of the organisation's culture; of professional conduct and professional expectations.
If this sounds a little confusing and self-contradictory, then fair enough. A quick Google search brings up plenty of posts on the importance of being your authentic self, of the benefits of bringing your authentic self to the workplace, etc, etc - but the first article describes how "in order to reap many of the benefits of feeling authentic you may have to betray your true nature". Groupthink, in other words.
Then there’s the opposite. The loudmouth who thinks everyone should listen to them and that they should be able to say whatever they want as nobody should interfere with their right to be their ‘authentic self’. In other words, the phrase can be a shield behind which people hide from criticism or accountability. I’m not saying this is what the term means, just that some will use it this way.
You may have a job in a company or industry that aligns with your personal values. Good. You may find yourself a fantastic fit for your team. Good. You may find yourself working in a relaxed, permissive environment that allows you to wear band T-shirts and show your tattoos. Good. Your authentic self’, in terms of your values, align with the people paying you to do a job.
Or you may find yourself working for somewhere that restricts what you can wear, how you look, what you can say and how you can say it. And you may, rightly or otherwise, consider this short sighted and small minded. Either way, you're at their table. You can fit in, or flee. Remember that if you do leave, you should be leaving with all the experience and skills you are able to take from the place (otherwise, what are you doing there?). They, on the other hand, are losing an employee. A fantastic employee who could have brought a lot to the team they are now missing out on; or a disruptive entitled employee who thinks it's their place to change the culture around their own values; or a mediocre employee they've already forgotten about.
I know I have left companies in the past as it was apparent their values did not reflect mine. This was my choice, and I had no expectation that the company would bend itself around my ‘authentic self’.
To me, the whole notion of being authentic at work is overhyped. It really comes down to one thing; how and if you choose to fit in with the culture at work.
This is the page I'll update most often, with thoughts and opinions on management, writing, and what I've been watching or listening to. So dip in and see what takes your fancy.