By Anne-Marie Perry, the Founder of CareMatch (carematch.ltd)
Nearly the entire world has undergone some form of workplace transformation over the past 18 months. During 2020, the ONS reported more than a twofold increase (12.4% to 25.9%) in the number of Brits working from home. The physical constraints of a lockdown ushered in a new age of hybrid flexibility for many millions of workers. Research from Capita, suggests that the flexibility of work, which was a necessity, is now here to stay as 76% of organisations have put in place a hybrid working programme for employees moving forward.
The care sector, however, has never been flexible nor has it fully embraced the positive revolution of flexible working. If anything, flexibility has decreased for care as the workforce has been stretched thin by a mass exodus of professionals moving away from the industry and a weakening flow of new hires.
Full-time social care workers have always been under strict timetables and ram-packed schedules with little lenience. Over the past year and a half, full-time carers have become tied to demanding positions where a choice of working hours is not an option due to the shortage of staff. The impact of which has been hugely detrimental as, according to a UNISON study, approximately more than two thirds of care workers have seen their mental health decline because of the strained working conditions over the last year.
Why should the workplace revolution be felt in other sectors but not in care?
There is potential to provide greater flexibility through technological coordination. A major problem the care industry faces is how to distribute the workforce efficiently. There is a surplus of those willing to care but full-time care givers find their time monopolised by less-specialised requirements which could easily be fulfilled by someone closer to the start of their care journey. Although the benefits of full-time staff are clear, and most in the industry recognise this fact, a solution to the current crisis could be found by bringing in a new wave of part-time workers to lessen the burden on existing carers.
Even as little as four hours a week of part-time help among a few people could free up two days’ worth of work for a full-time carer. The work itself may be something as simple as cooking a meal or lending a hand with the laundry. The vital aim though is to prioritise the precious time of the most skilled and experienced members of the social care workforce.
Critically though, flexibility for care givers needs to be founded on the needs of those who are receiving the care. It’s all well and good pushing a flexible work model to improve the working conditions of carers but if it results in a drop in the standard of care then it defeats the true purpose of the industry.
User-friendly tech options for care receivers can ensure this doesn’t happen.
These services can unite individuals with a support network, often in the local community, which provides multiple choices for help at different times. Instead of having a single carer with timetabled visits, those in need can reach out to a carer when they need them most and not when it has been arbitrarily assigned by the local council.
The lack of proactivity being shown by the care sector to move with the times and provide the flexibility being offered most of the UK’s workforce is cause for concern. By embracing a less strict model of work, the sector can improve its working conditions, and stop the slowly trickling loss of competent workers. To achieve this, there needs to be a greater use of community networks. Neighbours, friends and family members of those in need to be united and coordinated by personalised technology.
This isn’t a call for everyone to adopt the ‘spirit of Blitz’ and pitch in wherever possible. It’s a call for a long over-due restructuring of what has been an unrelentingly inflexible sector (for those who work in it and those who receive its services) and a call to re-build our communities.