Career clinic: What if staff vacancies mean an extra workload?

Two people are soon to leave my team to move to more senior jobs elsewhere and it may be some time before we successfully recruit to their posts. I am worried about what this will mean for my workload. What can I do?

There will always be turnover within work groups and although it can be disruptive, it can also be stimulating as new colleagues arrive with different skills and perspectives. Indeed, getting a balance in teams between stability (but not stagnation) and change (but not chaos) is a real achievement.

But what to do while waiting for new colleagues? First, hopefully this will be seen as a team issue and, as such, it should be discussed within the team with everyone considering how best to cope with vacant posts. This is an alternative to just seeing it as something to be sorted by the team manager, leaving the manager stranded with a problem which needs everyone’s engagement.

Options include reviewing existing work within the team and considering how space might be created to take on the work which is and would have been within the workloads of those who are leaving. Setting new priorities within the reduced resource of staff time means looking right across the team’s work and use of time.

Second, it may be necessary to seek assistance from other teams, depending on how great the impact will be of losing two team members. There is a swings and roundabouts argument here, where all teams are likely to go through peaks and troughs of staffing – seeking help across team boundaries also means giving it where possible. Teamwork is a strength within social care, but sharing across teams when necessary should also be a strength.

Third, if the vacancies are likely to run for some time because of anticipated difficulties with recruitment, seeking short-term and possibly limited-hours temporary assistance from colleagues locally not in employment but who would welcome the opportunity for some work may be an option, as is employing agency staff.

If even then it is still difficult to get a direct, albeit temporary, replacement for the level and competencies of the staff who have left, it might be sensible to consider a temporary or even longer-term change in the skills mix within the team.

This may require management agreement from outside the team, and more senior managers should also be informed if work priorities and work allocation and rationing within the team are having to change because of staff vacancies.

It’s best, though, to give more senior managers a solution, albeit one which may involve not doing all that was done before or doing it differently. This is preferable to leaving it for senior managers to have to create and impose a solution, which then may make less sense to you and your colleagues.

In essence, try to shape what is to happen within your team, so that you and your colleagues keep as much control and ownership as possible. If necessary, draw on external resources and, if work has to be significantly re-prioritised, your manager should be informing more senior managers, as matching work against staff is ultimately an agency as well as a team responsibility.

Ray Jones (left) is professor of social work at Kingston University and St George’s, University of London, and is a former director of social services and BASW chair

28 August QUESTION

I’ve applied for a role which closes in a few days, but I am going on annual leave for three weeks and am worried that the assessments and interviews may be scheduled to take place while I am away. Should I wait to be invited before I let them know of my situation?

We will answer this question in the 28 August issue of Community Care. Send you advice to by 21 August for publication.

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