Scope for creativity

What’s the secret to successful recruitment and retention in the
private sector? “Basically, treat your people like customers –
that’s the simple way to sum it all up,” says Joe Slavin, managing
director of online recruitment company

Large private sector companies spend millions on their image and
corporate “branding” – something few social care employers are
likely to do. But it is possible to become “an employer of choice”
without spending a fortune.

The beginning of building an attractive “employment brand” lies in
creating a culture at work that promotes trust, supportiveness and
creativity, and challenges, develops and values individuals.

The recruitment and retention problems in social care bear out the
need for new approaches, says organisational behaviour expert
Malcolm Higgs of Henley Management College.

Higgs says: “Are you really doing the best with taxpayers’ money if
you’re depleting your workforce? I would argue that if you reduce
and deal with stress – whether that includes a relaxation room, a
fun room, or whatever – then you’re actually giving the taxpayer a
better deal.”

Higgs argues that when recruiting, “you can’t just look to the
human resources people and say ‘come up with some innovative
ideas’. You have to ask what is the total deal we offer people?
What is the experience of working for us going to be like?”

Assuming that the groundwork for such a culture is under way,
spreading the word is important. Employees who are thriving at work
can be your most vocal and successful ambassadors, and any
publicity helps. The ultimate sign that you have this is that
potential employees are seeking you out, rather than the other way

Application procedures can make a big difference too, yet those in
the public sector are often unwieldy and outdated. According to
Slavin:”They couldn’t possibly make it more of a horrendous process
for somebody to apply. You have to take the barriers down.” In an
environment where the onus is on the employer to “sell” themselves
to good quality prospective candidates, multi-page application
forms do not send out the image of a flexible, creative, empowering
and supportive organisation.

If applications must be used, Slavin advocates online applications
-Êand not simply forms that must be downloaded and filled out
by hand or by typewriter. Online applications also have the
advantage that employers can create a database of promising
potential candidates for future vacancies.

Higgs says the use of equal opportunity criteria in public sector
selection is “a really interesting challenge. The intention of that
process is completely right, but the executionÉ turns it into
a long, bureaucratic and frankly inflexible process”. He argues
that the whole issue surrounding equal opportunity selection is a
question of “transparency of what you’re trying to do, and there
should be a way to do it that doesn’t bind you in ridiculous

Once employed, research shows that the factor most likely to
influence retention is an employee’s relationship with their
immediate boss. Also critical is whether the employee feels
supported and valued, and is given opportunities to grow. “It’s
recognising what they’re doing, just valuing people in terms of
thanking them. Good quality supervision of people, particularly in
high stress jobs such as social work, is critical,” Higgs

Private sector companies offer a range of perks to their staff,
from on-site child care and discounts on luxury goods to fitness
club memberships. These help staff feel valued. One company,
computer firm Cisco Systems took this as far as sending a “thank
you” letter to all of its job applicants, saying it was “honoured”
to have received their applications.

Social care workers may scoff at the idea of a chill-out room with
soft lighting and comfortable furnishings, they may snigger at the
thought of receiving a bouquet for delivering a report on time, but
when the most common complaint in social care is feeling stressed
and undervalued, perhaps these are not such ridiculous ideas. But,
Slavin says, whatever incentives are offered, public sector staff
are likely to be attracted to private sector companies during
periods of economic upturn.

Benefits can complement a job’s long-term appeal and social care
employers should focus on developing their own unique systems for
rewarding employees, based on their own teams’ values and
interests, instead of merely applying best practice. Neither should
the public sector lift private sector practice and just drop it
into their organisation. In the end it comes down to determining
what your organisation’s values are, letting the world know, and
then living up to them. CC

Dee Dee Doke is a workplace issues specialist

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