The amount of older people choosing by preference to receive the care they need in their home rather than a shared residential home has risen by 82% in the past 10 years. We’re not surprised by this, given the fact it’s more reassuring and less traumatic for elderly people in care, and their families alike to know they are in their own comfortable space. This then means, however, that a lot of our brave aged care workers are required to work independently, moving between locations and inside people’s homes, a testing task in itself, let alone when juggling all the Covid related compliance on top. It’s a vital task in itself to then keep those members of staff engaged whether they are deskless and shift based, or based in a care home.
Aged care workers aren’t used to attracting much media or public attention, but the combination of trends and events has propelled them into the spotlight in recent years. Throughout 2020 and 2021, the findings of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Workers and COVID-19 highly recommended the The Australian Government “should establish a national aged care plan for COVID-19 through the National Cabinet in consultation with the aged care sector.” Since early 2020, the Coronavirus has brought into mind the quiet heroism of our wonderful aged care workers and the vulnerability of aged care residents.
Almost a quarter of the members of (the super fund) HESTA work in the aged care sector. In the hopes of improving the “working experiences and retirement outcomes” of the average aged care employee, HESTA surveyed 1500 aged care professionals in mid-2019 and mid-2020. The feedback HESTA received provides some valuable insights. Insights into how employers can both retain existing staff and attract the many new aged care workers that will be required to care for the ageing baby-boom cohort.
Employee engagement factors for the aged care employees
Finding #1: Despite everything, most aged care workers are engaged
The aged care employee is modestly remunerated and frequently earns minimum wage. Almost all aged care workers do work that’s by nature extremely rewarding, yet tough and emotionally draining. Many of them do work that is also physically demanding when it comes to moving around care patients and performing tasks such as bathing and physical therapy.
And, until recently, there was little societal recognition of the vital role aged care workers play.
Despite the challenges of their important job, it’s understandable that because they are doing essential work that benefits others, aged care workers are still engaged ad proud of the part they are playing.
Finding #2: Aged care workers are financially stressed
“COVID had a significant impact on the aged care workforce. Approximately a quarter of HESTA’s aged care members made a claim to access their super early and nearly 30% of aged care survey respondents reported a drop in household income due to the pandemic.”
Lots of aged care workers are modestly paid and many are casual workers. So, this means it’s crucial for employers to give employees the option to manage and choose their own shifts and work autonomously, which is shown to improve employee engagement due to improved independence.
Additionally, ensuring that staff on lower incomes and casual contracts get paid efficiently, and on time will hugely reduce financial stress and give them more predictability. Improving both of these factors is highly achievable through using important software solutions for better Workforce Management in the aged care sector.
Finding #3: A significant number of more experienced aged care workers are putting off new potential aged-care workforce due to being dissatisfied. This can be corrected.
“The research highlighted a polarised workforce. There was a significant number of unhappy and dissatisfied aged care professionals – detractors – who were motivated to advocate against their employers and their sector. This has the potential to create difficulties for attracting the next generation of aged care professionals, especially given the urgent need to grow the workforce to meet the demands of an ageing population, as identified by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.“
It’s easy to understand that aged care employees who have faced challenges in daily operational factors which have affected their ability to provide care can become disengaged. The HESTA survey found that there’s a vocal minority of embittered aged care workers who are actively discouraging people from entering the industry, which is upsetting as it’s a profession of such high importance and satisfaction if managed correctly. Of course, every industry has its share of disgruntled (ex) employees. But, in the case of the aged care sector, the ‘detractors’ often have legitimate grievances due to previous management failings. Grievances which they are happy to air precisely when the sector is facing a growing labour shortfall.
If employers can work on building employee engagement for current staff through the application of better, more tech-guided aged care solutions they are sure to see people’s lives made easier, and therefore employee engagement increase. Hopefully with it, the inclination to deter potential aged care superstars from doing what they’ll be amazing at. Our key recommendations would be to start using tools which minimise admin by automating rosters and scheduling, transparently and effortlessly managing compliance requirements, and contain workforce analytics which give aged care management better visibility over staff needs and resource saving insights.
Finding #4: There’s a lot of goodwill to go around
“The sector also has an opportunity. The significant improvement in workforce sentiment in a challenging environment indicates workforce strategies implemented now may be effective at increasing employee engagement and the ability to attract and retain people… There was unanimous agreement among aged care employers, peak bodies and unions that improving pay, conditions and skills development opportunities was key to ensuring high-quality, sustainable jobs and meeting future demand.”
As noted, aged care workers themselves, as well as the unions that represent them, have so far demonstrated remarkable strength and dedication. The Royal Commission proclaimed that (quite rightly) aged care workers need and very much deserve better pay, conditions and career opportunities. And, most employers would be happy to furnish them if they received the funding required to do so. The Federal Government is at least taking some baby steps towards directing more money into the aged care sector for now. Demographic trends and political realities suggest that, in the coming years, the Federal Government will have to rejig Australia’s “Soviet-style” aged care system and facilitate the funding that will allow aged care employers to improve pay, conditions and skill development opportunities. But what can be done to assist long-suffering aged care workers right now before this funding materialises?
How can workforce management software improve the job satisfaction of aged care employees?
Most aged care employers can’t currently raise wages and have limited capacity to finance skill development opportunities. That leaves conditions as the one variable they do have the opportunity to tweak. While improving conditions often does involve substantial costs, it doesn’t necessarily have to.
Giving employees 30 days annual leave rather than the standard 20 will significantly raise labour costs. Using technology that makes it easier for managers to offer shifts and easier for employers to balance their work and personal commitments involves a relatively small outlay. An outlay that can have a massive ROI in terms of employee engagement.
As explained in more detail here, workforce management software takes much of the friction out of rostering staff. That has several upsides but perhaps the most significant in the aged care industry context is empowering workers. Digitising the rostering process is low-hanging employee-engagement fruit that “puts workers in control of their schedules and work-life balance, allowing them to lodge their availability and leave, bid for additional shifts, update their details, and connect with team members or managers from within a single, centralised system”.
- There’s widespread recognition that aged care employees deserve better wages, conditions and training opportunities.
- If something isn’t done soon to improve the lot of aged care workers, employers won’t be able to attract staff and Australia won’t be able to care for its ageing population.
- Due to a lack of funding, aged care employers are financially constrained. But there are some low-cost initiatives they can introduce to improve conditions for staff.
- Aside from making life easier for managers (and CFOs), workplace management software can also empower aged care workers by making it easier for them to choose the shifts that suit them best.