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We have teamed up with Neil Eastwood (author of Saving Social Care) to bring you an exciting series of recruitment and retention tips. These will be quick and simple suggestions, brought to you by Neil, to help you recruit and retain staff. We hope you find these useful, and would welcome any thoughts and suggestions from you.

Below is an archive of previously posted tips...

We all know recruiting people with the right values for care is by far the best way to recruit, but values are invisible so my first tip is look for visible evidence of their values. If your candidate has those behaviours we seek, they will leave an evidence trail.

For example, a work history of serving others, such as customer service, volunteering or community work. You can find great future care workers working in charity shops, fundraising or in some way putting others before themselves.

A great example is family care experience, often never mentioned on a CV, but the factor most cited by high performing care workers as their trigger to join our sector.


Your staff are a great source of intel and insight. Here’s just one example: Track where your best and longest-staying staff came from. Which recruitment sources found them? So, are you doing more to maximise applicant flow from whatever channels are best for your organisation? Sounds obvious but often not considered.

There is much more on this topic – for example asking staff 10 key questions that help you improve your candidate experience and how you sell the role and learn the key differentiators for your organisation. 

Here is tip number 3 and this one is focused on a part of the recruitment process that desperately needs improvement in most care organisations – the candidate experience when applying – is it an obstacle course to even apply or a pleasure? Do I ever get to speak to a human or does it feel like an anonymous robotic sausage machine?

Your website careers page or ATS may well have a multi page application form. Try to break it down so you only ask the minimum qualifying information up front or you will lose great candidates.

You get huge drop-off (90%+ of applicants never completing a seven page form) if it is more than a single page, so only ask what you REALLY need to progress applicants next stage (such as WHY they want the job and look for that evidence of values we spoke about in tip number one.)

Where staff from different cultures teach colleagues to cook a dish from their home country. This builds what we call ‘cultural competence’ and strengthens bonds between UK-born and overseas-born team members. Customers will benefit too of course. Yum! 

Reduce the interviewee’s stress: In interview do not sit behind a desk, sit in comfy chairs with nothing between you. Put them at ease. They may be returners-to-work and very nervous.

While using an 'Employee of the month' program can provide motivation, it can also cause problems for providers. This is because it might be seen to show favouritism, as everyone feels they deserve recognition for their work. Using client or staff nominations may be a better approach when it comes to recognising people's contributions.

The biggest challenge we face in social care – or any sector – is to consistently source high potential new recruits. In social care we also need them to preferably be new to the care sector. So, this is their first job as a care worker. This is because we must grow capacity and the best way to do that is to grow the workforce – not move them around between providers. 

Tip 7. Prioritise your Refer-a-Friend scheme: After pouring over countless excel spreadsheets supplied by in-house recruiters, it dawned on me that our own workforce is the secret to growing a loyal and high performing workforce. There are many reasons why, but my top three are: 

  1. that your own staff are doing both the sourcing and screening for you;  
  2. that this method overcomes the labour market shortage and competition from other local employers by targeting those not actively job seeking, and 

that your employees handle all the concerns the candidate has and sell the job so much more convincingly than we can as recruiters 

8. Present the new starter with their favourite chocolate bar when they join! During the recruitment process ask the candidate what their go-to chocolate bar is and then make sure you add it to their welcome goody bag (more on those in a future tip) or present it to them on day 1. This is a bit of fun but sends a powerful message that they matter and are valued. 

We all know we need to select candidates who display the right values for social care, but how do we do that? Values are invisible, not on a CV. So, what is a visible marker of someone with the values we seek? 

Well, the one that stands out from my research is family care experience. 

Family Carers: Those who care for loved ones often make excellent paid care staff. They may have never considered the role unless approached but have all the qualities we seek. They have had to put someone else first and have learned the common sense and resilience needed in paid care roles.  

How do we find people with this experience? How about offering free spaces on your moving & handling course to local family carers to build goodwill & grow your network? Why not partner with the local hospice and support events which their supporters attend. Most of them will have the right experience. Always ask candidates if they have cared for a loved one. Often it is never added to a CV or application form. 

Ask leavers to come back: Many that leave thinking the grass is greener realize it isn’t. Some leave for more money, to work outside the sector for example.  

Send a postcard to past employees who left on good terms and ask them to return. Receiving a card saying "We'd love to have you back” or “Your clients miss you” works wonders. 

Contacting (and re-contacting) candidates: Firstly, we are all guilty of giving up too soon when trying to contact applicants who have enquired. Research from Social Media 92 shows that you make a positive contact with candidates from social media on average between attempt 6 and 10. We need to be more persistent!   

A future tip will cover the method of communication that works best, but the second part to this is get back in touch with promising applicants who decided against your offer and took another job, after 3 months. Things may not be quite as rosy as they thought. Make sure you obtain permission to follow up and you never know!

12. Welcome cards: Send a welcome card signed by the team home to the new starter as soon as they accept your offer. This sends the message they are valued and makes it less likely they will take a competing job offer – something that is happening more and more now.

I recommend preparing these in batches – so get the team to sign 10 at a time and then add the name of each new starter. I can’t tell you how much positive feedback I get about the impact of this very simple tip!

Why not empower supervisors and co-ordinators to give spontaneous micro-gifts as a thank you for staff. Immediate recognition AND giving line managers autonomy. Two wins.

Managers can award small amounts of points instantly together with a personal message. Small gestures can also include hiding little notes of thanks where staff may discover them, such as in a pile of fresh towels in a care home for example. This will make them smile and feel appreciated and is likely to brighten their day. 

First Impressions: Remember how stressful it is when arriving at a new job. Why not reserve a parking space for new care workers on their first day with their name clearly visible? Make them feel important.

Do you have a City-based or very urban service? Most likely you will have a higher percentage of younger applicants. So, make sure your imagery and wording reflects their needs too. Urban recruitment catchments benefit from high concentrations of potential applicants and good transport links, but turnover will be higher as there is more population mobility and a younger demographic. If you are in a more suburban or rural setting then people are more settled so turnover is lower but you have to work even harder to create a healthy workplace culture because word of mouth will spread fast.

One of the most effective ways of reducing first 90 day survival rates for new care workers is peer mentoring - assigning an experienced staff member to buddy them. Brings agency spend down fast if you are a residential provider and can add +20% to staff retention stats in first months of employment. So, if you don’t run a buddying scheme, you should! I have a guide on how to do that well, so email me neil@carefriends.co.uk if you’d like a copy.

Establish realistic expectations up front with candidates about workload. Tell them if you expect their schedule will be up and down initially. Explain it may take time for them to build up the work schedule they’re looking for. New starters won’t get surprised and more will stay. I found that new starters who have care experience tend to want a similar shift pattern to before as fast as possible. Whereas those for whom it is their first care role, will need a slower ramp up in workload if possible.

Put signage (maybe on TV screen or a poster or whiteboard) up in reception welcoming all new staff on their first day by name. It is so powerful to see you own name displayed as this shows you are expected and in the right place. As an added extra, take a photo of the candidate during the recruitment process and share their photo and name with colleagues, so they will be greeted by name in the kitchen as they make a coffee.

Distance matters: Most residential care staff don’t travel more than 6 miles to their job. Homecare workers drive about 5 miles to their first client. So, if your applicant lives much further away probe whether they have considered the daily commute. Also, I recommend plotting existing staff home postcodes on google maps and look for any patterns or clusters of pins. Is your advertising targeting where staff live? Look for clusters of pins. Shouldn’t you be door-dropping and advertising there?

Mandating daily praise. A simple way to positively change your company culture is to mandate supervisors that they must find 1 example of good care practice each day & praise that employee. Then record it in a ‘praise’ book. The manager can then write a thank you note home to at least one employee each month listing this good work. This is shown to family and friends and builds great loyalty. 

Get the boss to help onboarding: The CEO or owner or area director or a senior person in the company should seek out and have a brief chat with every new starter in their first week. New starters are far less likely to feel unloved after that. 

Struggling to staff a rural service?: It can be hard to find candidates who love rurally. Think about where rural dwellers must go to buy the weekly shop or refuel. Could this be somewhere you can advertise, such as petrol pump handles or take promotional space? Somewhere where many rural dwellers come together

Visible symbols for top performers: I saw this many times in other countries but not much in the UK. The idea is to use visible symbols to recognize achievement, such as different coloured lanyards or a button or enamel badge. A great example of this is to give staff a badge denoting number of years of service, which they will wear with pride and want to keep collecting. 

Check your website analytics to see what percentage of visits to your careers page are made from a mobile phone. You may be surprised. Probably 70% of all prospective applicants will be viewing on a tiny screen. What is the experience like? Good enough? 

Get applicants to refer: Allow a space on your application form for applicants to list up to 3 people they believe would make a great care worker. Also ask interviewees. A clever way of multiplying your applicants for free - and referrals are usually strong candidates, of course. In fact there was a large pilot of this approach in the US homecare sector and the referrals of interviewees were consistently better suited to the role than the interviewee themselves! 

Get a dog on your website, blog & Facebook posts. This gives you standout, says you are fun to work for, a caring company and drives likes & shares like nothing else. We measured 8 times the applications if a cute dog photo or video on your posts. I haven't split-tested Fang the Pit bull vs Boo the Pomeranian puppy yet but I think the fewer teeth showing the better! After Covid every care company has someone who owns a cute dog so it will be easy to find your artistic talent! 

Why not tell the families of those you provide care or support to, that you are on the lookout for great new staff members to join the team? In about 45% of cases a family member is lives within 10 miles of the person being supported. I have found they are pleased to help. Just find the right time to raise it and reassure them that this personal connection method is proven to be the best way to find great new members of the team. 

In the US homecare market, they offer incentives of free care hours for each successful referral.  

Why not try advertising your care job vacancy amongst different but related Situations Vacant sections online or offline, such as beauty, childcare, cleaning or retail. How many job seekers in those fields might not have thought of a more rewarding job like care? 

Tip 29 is all about how to convincingly sell a role in social care to your candidate: 

Sell EQ: Social care is unlike almost any other career because it gives you exposure to, and learning in, how to manage relationships. This is broadly termed emotional intelligence, or EQ. Many younger people want more of it and many older people have much of it to offer and want to use it. We as a sector should be positioning a job or career as one which can help your personal life as well as your work life, by picking up valuable social skills.  

Non-committal responses: It is really important to listen for non-committal responses to screening questions about key qualifiers such as availability or pay. A non-committal answer sounds like "I think so", "That's probably fine", Not really". These are proven flags to non-commitment to the job or to working for you and easy to spot if you are aware. If you hear them double-down on confirming there are no lurking reservations. Eye contact may not be strong too, so have your antennae up! On pay rates, never assume that because you advertised the pay rate, the candidate has seen it and mentally accepted it. Ask at phone interview: "Remind me what your pay requirements are?" without mentioning what you offer.  

Clever questions to ask: Many social care recruiters and interviewers tell me they are unhappy with the standard questions the company has given them. Sometimes they are written assuming every candidate has paid care experience, or it’s not clear what a good answer actually is. 
An few examples of an insightful questions to ask applicants include: "What attracted you to a job in care?" or "Can you tell me why you left your last two jobs?". One of my favourites is: “Tell me about a meaningful relationship you’ve had with an older person or a person with a disability, and how that relationship has affected you.” Works for both existing & new-to-care applicants. Powerful. 

Screening deal-breakers: Some deal breakers for me are what I call availability fuzziness – we looked at this a couple of weeks back – but also an over-commitment to be able to work every shift and every day of the week. Also, I look for responses that seem unconvincing as to why do they want to do this kind of work or multiple job applications to other sectors not care. Always ask “Are you applying to other employers and can I ask if those are all in the care sector?” 

Keeping in touch: If you send out a company newsletter make sure you keep the ex-employees you would like to have back on the distribution list. Just confirm with them that you’d like to do this. Keeping the connection with your company, their ex-colleagues and clients could well trigger them to return. But don’t stop there, if you have lost a long-time great employee, why not send them an anniversary card relating to their employment date? 

Team-building: Try offering free quarterly office breakfasts where, critically, the managers serve the frontline staff. Showing respect like this and serving those who serve others is powerful.  

Last updated: 04/01/2024