When hope of making a difference disappears, the staff soon follow

“Recruitment and retention of appropriate staff is the most
critical issue that faces social care services in all
Denise Platt, chief inspector of social services

“This is the front line. If it wasn’t for us there wouldn’t be care
in the community.”
Domiciliary care worker

The Audit Commission’s report on public service recruitment and
retention was based on feedback from focus groups comprising
potential and current public sector staff as well leavers who were
interviewed over the telephone. They were asked why they left and
what would have persuaded them to stay. The people included social
workers, senior social services managers and domiciliary care
staff. As our survey showed, there is a high level of commitment
among social workers and care staff.

So what do we know? Demand for staff – much of it driven by new
investment in public services – is outstripping supply. Although
there are problems in all regions, there are particularly acute
pressures in London and the South East.

At the individual level, there are common messages about why people
join the social care workforce.

“You get a great deal of satisfaction from it. When you can walk
out of an elderly person’s house and leave them with a smile on
their face you know you’ve done a good job. They are clean, warm,
comfortable and safe.”
Current domiciliary care worker

“I think another positive thing about being a social worker is that
you advocate for people, you empower people, you sort of open their
minds by just mentioning something, and you can see the changes
within them, and that’s brilliant.”
Current social worker

“I think there is greater satisfaction in the job, in making a
difference. At the end of the day it’s very nice to make a lot of
money, but it is quite nice to feel that when you’re going to work
it is about something very constructive.”
Senior social services manager

The single biggest reason people identified for joining the public
sector as a whole is the opportunity to “make a difference” in the
lives of individual clients and local communities. This was true
across all staff groups in social care and at all levels.
Domiciliary care workers and senior managers found it frustrating
if they could not focus their energies on improving the experience
of service users.

“Social work now is less about social working if you like, it’s
rather about filling in forms, it’s about accountability all the
time, which I’m not undermining at all, but it’s so repetitive, the
bureaucracy takes away from what I think most of us thought we were
training for.”
Current social worker

“As a social worker, you think I’ve tried to do something
purposeful and sensible and you’re shafted for it by a bunch of
slimy journalists.”
Current social worker

“You feel the public sector is being done to rather than being
Senior social services manager

Staff are leaving the public sector because they feel that their
working environment does not allow them to do what they came into
the job to do – make a positive difference.

The key barriers are paperwork, targets and change initiatives that
do not feel relevant, lack of resources to deliver a good service
and lack of autonomy to tailor approaches to individuals. This
feeling is exacerbated by a sense that their commitment is not
matched by their status and their reward package. Key issues here
are feeling undervalued by government, managers and the public, and
feeling insufficiently rewarded – in pay, and in recognition and
thanks for a job well done.

Seven out of 10 leavers believe that the image of their job
discourages recruits, and this is particularly acute in social
care. Domiciliary care staff think that they are generally seen as
“glorified cleaners”, with the care side of their work poorly

Social workers feel they are either pitied or blamed, but rarely
respected as competent professionals dealing with issues so complex
that they were once recognised as “the tightrope walkers of the
welfare state”.

Listening to staff tells us that there are no simple solutions.
There are long-term issues around supply and demand, particularly
about professional staff, which can only be addressed by investment
and training. But there are immediate pressures in the work
experience of current staff, and here local action can make a

Government and national bodies too must play a key role – seeking
opportunities to value rather than devalue the contribution of
public service workers. It is in all our interests that committed
staff can continue to make a difference.

– Recruitment & Retention: A Public Services Workforce for
the 21st Century
is available online at www.audit-commission.gov.uk
or in print by telephoning 0800 502030.

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