Resilience: Is It A Useful Concept In Social Care?
Social work involves dealing with very emotional, stressful situations. Is resilience a skill or requirement in order to deal with the job?
9th August 2017
Written by Mark Redmond
Towards the end of 2016 SCIE, the Social Care Institute of Excellence, published some interesting work designed to help staff in the social care sector enhance their own health and well-being when working with service users and colleagues.
It is an incredibly useful document, and I would say it should be included in induction packs. Some of their tips include how to recognise when you’re under pressure, suggesting that early indications might be divided into physical, emotional and behavioural signs, and range from nausea and light headedness, to nervous habits such as pacing or nail biting, alongside only seeing the negative aspects of an issue, or constantly worrying.
Since its publication, everyone seems to be talking about it, and it is increasingly difficult to escape the subject on social media. Alongside mindfulness, resilience is certainly having its moment in the sun.
Of course, resilience is an important issue. We all need to learn techniques to remain well, both at work and at home, and arguably it’s something that all school children should learn about in the classroom and playground.
Resilience in social care
I am more than worried about this recent trend in social care. There have been times when I have let work get on top of me. It isn’t a great place to be, and a few useful techniques in coping and keeping things in perspective would have been useful at different times in my life.
Arguments about the resilience of social care workers plays into debates about staff not being ‘strong enough’, or needing to ‘toughen up’ and ‘get real’. Yet this is a workforce that deals with death and dying on a regular basis, and regularly finds themselves elbow deep in bodily waste, before putting on a cheery face and going on to the next person who needs our help.
In these circumstances, I find arguments about resilience to be more about excuses that are used by managers and leaders in social care, who suggest staff are ‘weak’. In this sense, resilience becomes finding and using coping mechanisms when things aren't going to change.
Social care is full of examples that are related to poor management and leadership, and the attention being paid to resilience by SCIE is only one side of the coin. In this case, SCIE seem in control, and they’re also paying significant attention to improve leadership and management. It’s important to put this into the equation, as ‘blaming staff’ is a downfall of the sector.
In my opinion, many of the reasons and issues that cause staff stress are not things at home, and are not things created by their service users. Instead, they are caused by what comes out of the office. Poor rotas, no gaps, long gaps, no travel time or travel pay, inadequate rates of pay, and low sleep-in allowance are all causes of stress.
In some of the businesses I’ve worked, there has also been a culture of office staff ‘punishing’ carers for having days off sick, by altering their rotas and giving them either too little or too much work. Having to manage a spiteful work culture isn’t easy, and suggestions about having to be more resilient are a bit like blaming the victim.
Considering this, I would turn the argument about resilience on its head, and say that being unhappy about work, for reasons such as the ones listed above, is fine. It’s OK to not be OK.
These problems, that are endemic in the social care sector, should not be tolerated by care workers, and if managers and leaders won’t change, then staff will vote by leaving.
Why be resilient in an unsupportive work environment?
It is mainly with this appreciation and understanding in mind, that I look at the recruitment and retention figures offered by the national minimum data set, compiled by SCIE. They do not offer good reading and point towards some issues that it needs to address.
NMDS data demonstrates that the sector has a turnover of more than 30%, and in some cases, it is pushing 40%. It highlights that something is wrong in social care, and it isn't about staff needing to toughen up.
One of the positives that I take from the NMDS figures is the notion of the ‘revolving door’; Carers and support workers move from one social care organisation to the other.
Although there may be many reasons for this, for me it points to the fact that these people are also well motivated in wanting to work in social care. It suggests that their values and ethics as workers are strong, but it also points to the fact that they have yet to find an organisational home in which to flourish.
How these staff stay motivated in wanting to work in social care is a question we need to ask, because if we can understand that, then we help transform organisations in the ways that will benefit everyone in the future without having to ‘toughen up’.