Retaining and rewarding top talent within the care home sector

Staff in the care home sector provide invaluable care to some of the UK’s most vulnerable people, but these employees and the industry as a whole are facing unprecedented change.

According to Skills for Care, in 2016 the adult social care sector employed an estimated 1.5 million people, a large number of them low-wage staff. The introduction of the National Living Wage (NLW) and the overwhelming shortage of skilled carers, compounded by Brexit, is directly impacting resources. It is now more important than ever for care homes to retain staff and drive employee engagement and productivity to ensure we can continue to care for those most in need.

The challenges facing the sector

care-sectorAs we’ve seen in some sectors, the increase in wages has led to cuts being made elsewhere. This has been particularly publicised in the retail sector where some employers have cut benefits, such as staff discounts, subsidised lunches and even hours, to cover the cost of wage increases.

Fortunately, in a study of 80,000 social care workers published in August 2016, 57% of front-line care workers have benefited from the NLW with ‘no evidence of hours cut to foot the bill’. The care sector also passed on the benefits to those employees under 25 with more than 80% of under-25s now receiving the over 25’s NLW rate.

The introduction of the NLW has actually helped make care a much more appealing sector to potential employees as it has bought the care sector closer to other industries in terms of pay. According to the LPC (The Low Pay Commission), care was previously one of the lowest paid industries/occupations. Some hope that the continued increases in the NLW up until 2020 will make pay much less of a barrier when choosing a career in social care.

One unexpected negative consequence of the NLW has been the impact on career progression in the sector. The same study showed 32% of care workers are ‘bunched’ at the NLW salary level. The gap between frontline staff, supervisors and managers has closed.

It is therefore vital that businesses continue to evolve with best practice and put initiatives in place to recruit and retain talent. This can be done through the implementation of a rewards programme. An effective reward programme is a cost effective and powerful way to retain key staff and attract new talent into the sector at a time of rising costs.

The business case for employee engagement

Businesses faced with either increasing the salaries across all levels of the organisation or offering more rewards and benefits to staff who feel like they have missed out on the 9-10% pay rise, naturally find the latter option to be more appealing. There is a national productivity problem here in the UK, with a growing gap between us and the rest of the G7, and paying staff more money doesn’t necessarily mean they will work harder. The key to driving productivity is to make your staff more engaged by driving happiness and employee satisfaction. A survey conducted by Personal Group earlier this year found that 35% of employees would be happier if they have more recognition in the workplace. If your staff are happier, they will work harder and stick around for longer. An effective reward and recognition scheme is a great way to show appreciation and demonstrate value to staff in ways that are better appreciated than a few pence more in their pay packet.

But a reward scheme alone won’t solve the problem. It must be introduced as part of a holistic benefits programme which takes into account your business’s culture and values. Retail discounts are worthless if those at the top don’t say thank you for a job well done.

Case study: Sunrise Senior Living and Gracewell Healthcare

One of the companies we work with is Sunrise Senior Living and Gracewell Healthcare, who provide a glowing example of how an effective strategy can bring about real change. The care home provider has a progressive reward and recognition scheme in place, with the company’s core values at its heart. The scheme has recently been recognised for the impact it has had on its workers, winning Employee Benefits magazine’s Most Motivational Benefits Award 2017.

Powered by Personal Group, the company has housed a reward and recognition strategy and benefits programme all in one place, aptly named Hapi Benefits. By integrating their reward and recognition programmes in Hapi Benefits, all the elements of the benefits programme have been brought together onto one place, which has dramatically increased engagement.  

The results are remarkable. The Company’s engagement score has increased year on year with a significant jump of 17% since 2012, with the top performing category being Reward and Recognition. In 2012, the engagement score was 68% and this has jumped to a fantastic score of 85% for Sunrise UK in 2017, and more than 88% for Gracewell Healthcare. These scores rank 28% higher than the UK benchmark. Retention rates have also increased across the business.

The implementation of an employee benefits programme, a reward and recognition scheme - or even a wellness initiative, shows that you care and that you want your staff to stay. A pay rise is no longer enough; organisations need to take notice and think of other, more creative and meaningful ways to make their staff happy. Moreover, as we’ve seen with Sunrise Senior Living and Gracewell Healthcare, there is clear evidence that an effective reward and recognition programme will help reduce turnover and increase retention. Lessons for any business to learn from.


Written by Mark Scanlon, Chief Executive at Personal Group, one of the UK’s leading employee services providers. Personal Group helps UK businesses to improve their productivity through better engagement with their employees. The business works with some of the biggest players in the care industry.