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.
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