Skills for Care

How can reward and recognition support a positive workplace culture

19 Jul 2023

5 min read

Neil Eastwood

  • Culture and diversity
  • Leadership
  • Retention

Neil Eastwood explores the opportunity to show more gratitude in the workplace and what options are available to employers to improve in this area.

I can’t recall a time in my past thirteen years of studying social care workforce issues when employers have been more focused on staff retention than right now. My view is that this is partly due to a sudden, albeit temporary, easing of longstanding recruitment pressures.

This reduction is likely driven by two main factors. Firstly, an influx of 70,000 migrant workers as reported recently by Skills for Care, compounded by the 37.5 hours a week or more they will work, compared to an estimated 22 hours a week for UK-born local workers based on my experience. Secondly, the current cost of living crisis is both bringing people back into the workplace and, recent surveys suggest, two in five workers are having to take on additional hours. This respite naturally shifts the focus across to retention concerns. It is also something of a mystery to many managers exactly what factors drive their staff loss and quite what to do about it.

I feel the same way. Of the two workforce topics I spend my time researching, how to find care workers and how to keep them as long as possible, it is the latter that is the hardest to improve. I have measured over 100 different factors that could contribute to a care worker leaving their role. The exact mix of causal factors can vary by locality, from team to team within the same organisation, and from one individual to another.

But, of all the possible factors, we must accept we have limited or no influence on many, such as the wider labour market, Government policy or a pandemic for example. Pay is another factor with little leeway left to improve for many providers. So, we must stay focused on what we have the ability to control as employers.


The importance of workplace culture

First and most important is the workplace culture we create. A healthy workplace culture is essential to keep staff turnover rates manageable. Nowhere is this more true than in social care, where employees have made a choice not to take the easier path of less challenging roles for similar, or often more money, outside the sector. They have accepted an emotionally and physically challenging role with often unsocial hours.

At the very least, care workers deserve to work in caring, supportive, fair and inclusive environments, where they share in decision-making and feel recognised for their contribution. There are many facets to building a positive culture, such as good leadership and regular two-way communication, but I wanted to pick out just one here: regularly showing gratitude to colleagues for the good work they do.


Recognising your staff

From my experience, the majority of managers and leaders in social care understand all too well the importance of regular recognition, but increasing work and time pressures often mean a quiet word of praise or positive feedback is delayed, forgotten, or put off altogether. This can be hugely detrimental to morale.

The simple fix for this is to build regular acknowledgement of a job well done into the work day, whether verbally or through the award of a more permanent symbol of some kind. Here are four suggestions to get you started:


1. Create a central public display of appreciation

Over in the NHS, Blackpool Teaching Hospital installed a ‘gratitude rainbow’ as a central place to capture people’s appreciation which boosted morale and created a sense of unity. Why not try something similar? I've seen a tree painted onto a wall and paper ‘leaves’ added, each recording a team member’s good work or achievement, as one example. When placed in a high traffic area it is a constant reminder of the importance of the workforce.


2. Once a day praise ‘quotas’

Asking supervisors and managers to find and praise good work from a team member at least once every day can quickly improve workplace culture. Double-down on this by writing a letter home every so often saying thank you for the specific action which was spotted. This letter will be shown to family and friends and builds goodwill.


3. Alongside verbal praise, try visible symbols

I've seen evidence around the world of the power of physical items, such as badges, different uniforms or even special lanyards, to provide a daily recognition of achievements. Why not introduce long service badges with the number of years completed clearly displayed? These become almost a collectible and a goal to earn the next one.


4. Ensure you recognise good acts without delay

We're all much more expecting of instant gratification in our lives through, for example, same day deliveries offered by e-commerce businesses or the convenience of online food ordering platforms. This is equally true of workplace recognition.

It's far more powerful when it is delivered as soon as possible after the act itself. We have seen this at scale with the Care Friends app, where employers can take advantage of the instant notification feature to award bonus points instantly direct to the app user’s phone, accompanied by a personal message of thanks. This feature is so popular with employers, it is now vying with the core referral functionality for total points awarded.

Of course, there is much more to building and nurturing a positive workplace culture, but embedding regular recognition is a great place to start.


More information can be found in Neil’s book ‘Saving Social Care, now in its second edition.

Neil Eastwood is Founder and CEO of Care Friends, the employee referral app for the sector operating in partnership with Skills for Care.

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