Professional Comment

Maintaining Morale and Combating Stress in the Face of Staff Shortages

By Sadie Besley, senior operations director, Randstad UK (

Care homes are suffering epic staff shortages. Staff burnout is sky high; some care teams have been running too hot for too long. A parliamentary report has said staff burnout is now at emergency levels. Brexit made talent more scarce (although, while there are 150,000 care roles vacant at the moment, it’s worth highlighting there were more than 100,000 before the referendum). These short- to medium-term issues are mixing with longer-term demographic trends – everyone is getting older and living longer – with demand for labour far outstripping supply. The shortage is so severe that the care sector is forecast to become one of the top three global growth sectors for recruiters over the next twenty years.

The bald numbers are one thing but the consequences are another. Shortages lead to mental and physical health issues, high turnover, and low morale – eventually standards of care will be compromised. Operators know they need to do more to alleviate employee stress.

How to beat stress
What’s the best way to help and support staff experiencing difficulties? We talked to nurse and Love Island star Rachel Fenton about how she handled the stress of the job. She recommended all the classics: meal prep so you can eat clean; incorporate exercise into your routine at work – taking 30 mins to go for a walk, for instance; taking vitamin D if you aren’t getting enough time outside in daylight; drinking a few litres of water a day; and working flexibly. As an employer you should try to facilitate these.

Could better rewards increase morale?
On the one hand, careers in care resonate with Millennials and Generation Z – age groups motivated more by wishing to give back and seeking meaningful work and of course. Material rewards are less important to them than to, say, Baby Boomers or to Generation X.

Furthermore, the first two years of the pandemic shone a bright light on the enormous value of healthcare and care workers in our lives and their contribution to wider society. Whether they are looking after the practical needs of vulnerable individuals or providing much-needed psychological support to those under their care, the professionals in these roles are often a vital lifeline for those with whom they come into contact. ‘Key worker’ status was a tremendous advert for careers in care. The prestige of these roles rocketed in the collective psyche, boosting morale.

On the other hand, while the psychological income of working in care is strong, it doesn’t pay the bills. Almost three in every ten (29 per cent) of healthcare workers received pay rises when changing roles in 2021, seeing an increase of between £500 and £2,000 per annum. If your loyal staff feel underpaid, morale will suffer.

So the first thing to do is reevaluate your asking salaries. Are they realistic given the amount of hiring going on? Perhaps not.

If there’s no cash available, improving your employer brand can help your payroll bill stretch further. Research has revealed if the reputation of an employer’s brand is poor, a pay increase of at least 10% is needed to entice a new employer to join. This translates to approximately £3,300 per hire. A company with over 10,000 employees or more could be spending £5.3million in additional wages to compensate for its poor reputation. The three factors most likely to wrench your employer brand are lousy job security, dysfunctional teams, and poor leadership. Do any of those sound familiar?

There are other rewards you can offer potential employees, other than cash. In the wider workforce, food and drink has traditionally been one means to sustain morale as a social lubricant and workplace perk. Silicon Valley’s tech groups had long competed for talent by providing flashy canteens and free snacks.

While we can aspire to offer workplace snacks including dried seaweed and kombucha, a la Google, more realistically for the average care employer, is offering more flexibility. In the UK, the most important thing that potential employees look for when choosing an employer is work-life balance – it’s more influential – just – on their decision than an attractive salary and benefits.