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Keeping care staff: research shows what works


Monetary and in-kind rewards, career progression upwards and sideways into other roles and a comprehensive education program are all useful tools for aged care staff retention, according to a new study.

A team of researchers from Curtin University, University of Technology Sydney and RMIT studied the approaches of a major Western Australian provider to understand the working conditions that engage and retain personal care workers. Their findings have been published in the journal Labour and Industry.

The organisation employs 1600 staff across a range of aged care settings in both metropolitan and rural and remote areas. Like many providers, personal care workers constitute the majority of its workforce – 50 to 70 per cent at particular facilities.

Interviews with five executive managers and six residential facility managers provided insights into the nuanced strategy underway that has seen “relatively low” turnover among staff.

Training and development was a cornerstone, with a “comprehensive” orientation for new staff as well as informal feedback from supervisors under a “buddy system”. An annual training calendar covered a range of clinical and workplace topics, while care workers can be supported to progress to nurse and management roles.

“There is also a range of support and mentoring systems, ongoing teamwork and supervisory feedback,” the researchers report.

Rewarding staff

Recognition was another key element of the provider’s approach, which included some monetary rewards, such as for acting in supervisory roles and mentoring.

“A new initiative from the HR manager called the Scorecard collects key performance data on attendance, turnover and injury rates at each workplace monthly and annually and rewards teams with monetary bonuses which can be used for any agreed purposes,” they said.

In-kind rewards included public recognition through employee awards and the promotion of social gatherings and staff celebrations.

Career pathways

In addition, a mix of “horizontal and vertical pathways” for personal care workers was seen as important. Vertical options included care workers stepping into positions such as acting supervisors and mentors, and being supported to up-skill to nurse and management positions.

Horizontal moves included taking on more job functions, becoming an expert in a key area or getting involved in management tasks such as roster planning.

Based on the observations the research team suggested aged care providers could:

  • adopt skills-based job descriptions to outline clearly the duties of a care worker
  • proactively recognise and reward care workers, and their caring and compassionate skills in particular
  • include work sampling in the hiring phase
  • seek to create more permanent, full-time positions; and
  • provide greater access to formalised career paths and professional development.

Broader sector challenge

The managers were also asked about the challenges of recruitment and retention in aged care more generally. Echoing earlier findings, they referred to the need for better promotion of the careers available in the sector and to tackle negative community perceptions about aged care work.

The researchers noted the sector is “currently in a hiatus, linked to government policy uncertainty.”

Their study comes as the Federal Government’s aged care workforce taskforce examines short, medium and long-term options to boost supply of new workers to the sector. The committee is due to report to government by June (read more here).

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