Social Care’s Miracle Ointment: soft skills

by Neil 15 April 2015 0

As some readers may know, I have spent many years studying overseas social care markets for new-to-the-UK approaches to the recruitment and retention of frontline care staff.

This post concerns a novel and highly effective US intervention to address the avoidable loss of frontline staff, which I discovered during my research there.

It is the training of first line managers, such as supervisors, seniors, nurses and coordinators, in communication ‘soft skills’ and coaching supervision.

No shortage of training, but are we missing something?

That our sector recognises the importance of training is not in doubt, but so much of this focuses on hard skills, the ‘how to do it’ stuff, for hands-on staff or to a lesser extent on leadership development.

Of course we need competent and knowledgeable practitioners and inspiring leaders but at its heart care is so much about the relationship between two human beings. This can be forgotten in an often stressful and compliance-focused regime.

To me, two emotional connections particularly matter: those between care staff and their clients and families, and those between care staff and their supervisors.

Relationships are social care glue

We know from extensive research that it is the bond between a care worker and their client that is the glue that holds our social care system together. But this all too often contrasts with the relationship between the carer and their supervisor and needlessly pushes good staff out of the sector.

In home care, where rostering and travel add more pressure, then it is often the coordinator, or planner, and care worker dependency that is the defining factor in staff retention.

Conflict, blame and a lack of support are, I would argue, particularly toxic to naturally caring folk as this cohort are much more relationship-centric individuals, often with a lower self-esteem than the typical population.

The US experience

Some years back a visionary US not-for-profit, the PHI Healthcare Institute, decided to intervene to break this cycle. By training and reinforcing active listening, non-judgmental communication and collaborative problem solving with US care supervisors through their Center for Coaching Supervision, amazing things happened.

Blame, conflict and misunderstanding markedly reduced in care settings that received this ‘soft skills’ training. In research, supervisory staff turnover more than halved and frontline staff reported feeling more respected, involved and supported.

Clearly a culture of consideration and mutual support helped bring stability, protect the client-care worker relationship and intrinsic satisfaction that attracts and keeps great frontline care staff.

With the unrelenting pressures and stresses on social care in the UK, shouldn’t we all consider applying a little US ointment to the parts that really matter?


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