The rota challenge

I was still occasionally tweeting over the festive period and a tweet from @Drmarkredmond to his students caught my eye. Mark and his students have been looking at Generation Z and social care  and Mark’s tweet linked to an article in the Guardian called, “Why it’s difficult to attract younger people into the care sector.”

The article refers to what is being described as a ‘national crisis of recruitment and retention of social care workers.’ It presented the usual solutions –  increasing awareness of work in social care and the importance of value based recruitment. I wonder if what we need is something more fundamental about the way that home care works.

This has been a pressing challenge for me and my team over the past two weeks. We have recruited our first team of Wellbeing Workers, and as part of this we asked each person to tell us their ideal availability for work.

We already have people to support, as we are increasing the capacity in the local area. I assumed that putting  the schedule together would simply be matching peoples availablity to the times that people wanted support. We have a new IT system that we are using, and it looked relatively straight forward. Yes, it is obvious that I have no experience of doing rotas! Michelle used to work as a provider, and has lots of experience in this area, and yet we were on version 2 and still struggling to make it work. So we stepped back, and looked at what we were trying to do. We were trying to do the most person-centred version of the ‘old system’ and this was not working.

Lets go back to the recruitment crisis. We want to bring new people into the social care workforce in Wellbeing Teams. We want to attract people currently working in customer service, women who have caring responsibilities for children or relatives, and we want to attract students. If we stand in the shoes of each of these groups of people, as Neil Eastwood suggests we do, we have to recognise that they are looking for different things from work and to help solve the recruitment crisis we need to find ways to ‘appeal to our target audience.’

People working in customer service. We have recruited three people from customer service roles, a picker and van driver, a hairdresser and someone who works in a shoe shop. They each told us that they were looking for a change, for work that had more meaning where they were making a difference. They worked either full days or shifts, and ofcourse therefore would expect to be paid for the entire time that they were at work, and have breaks. This does not currently happen in home care.

Women with caring responsibilites. One of the women we recruited was not working and wanted to work around her children being at school; another new team member looks after her grandchildren each morning, and another woman cannot work during they day when her children are at school. Each of them want to combine their family commitments with flexible work.

Students. We have two students in our team, who want to combine being in placement or in college with work.

Home care schedules are a challenging patchwork of matching availability to need. At our recruitment workshop people have an opportunity to interview me. One woman, who works in home care at the moment said,

“If they have n’t got another one for me on the rota, I have to hang around for an hour and I don’t get paid for this, will this be different in Wellbeing Teams?”

Thinking about shifts

To try to create ways of working that address what each of these groups want, we are now thinking about schedules around two flexible shifts. The morning shift from 7am to 2 am (plus or minus an hour) and the evenining shift from 5pm to 10pm (plus or minus an hour).

We are assuming that the evening shift could work well for students, and for some families where one partner works during the day, and they want work in the evening. This shift means students can contine with their placement or lectures, and still work. Two of my daughters are Gen X students, and they both have part-time jobs. A night out usually starts at 10.30pm until early morning, followed by a lie in.  A 5 – 10pm Saturday night shift therefore may not affect plans for a big night out.

We are assuming that the morning shift could work for parents who could drop their child/children off at breakfast club, and then be able to pick them up after school.

The ‘plus or minus one’ gives flexibility and means for example, that one of our team who has children and needs to start work at 6pm when her partner is home, and critically, for people who want support before 7am.


If this was easy everyone would be doing it already. Most organisations in home care do not pay people for travel and do not pay people when they are not providing direct support, and this is because they are only paid by commissioners for minutes delivered. This may be challenged by a European ruling that would require people to be paid for all the time that they are at work, not just when they are directly supporting people.

When we have finished putting together the first version of the two shift pattern to share with the team, there are likely to be some ‘gaps’ when people are not needed to support someone. Wellbeing Teams are costed on the basis of delivering 80% of our time and 20% covering team meetings and people fulfilling their roles.

We will work on this with the team, to see how we can keep iterating and developing the schedule to make it work for the people we support and enables everyone to flourish.

As I look ahead to 2018, this is what I hope for and commit to –  seeing challenges, developing ideas about how we can tackle them, and working together to test and adapt again. We will test the two shift idea over the next 2 months, and share here what we are learning.

‘Saving Social Care’ will need more than good stories or campaigns about working in care, or even Value Based Recruitment, we need to create ways of working that enable everyone to flourish.