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Social care has a reputation for offering flexible working to suit those with personal caring responsibilities and indeed 53% of the care workforce work less than full-time. But equally, it requires unsociable hours – early mornings, evenings and weekends. Up to 60% of workers in domiciliary care are on zero hours contracts: in theory, such contracts enable carers to choose both the schedule of hours they work, and the amount of work they do each week. But does the rhetoric of flexibility and family-friendly match the reality of carers’ jobs?
Timewise, with the support of the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, set out to explore how care providers manage the challenge of delivering a high quality service to people who need care, whilst enabling carers – 82% of whom are women – to find the flexibility they need to manage their own non-work responsibilities.
Key findings from qualitative research with carers, managers and sector experts
- We found great confusion about what flexible working means in social care, and who it’s supposed to benefit – employers or employees. Domiciliary care has a reputation for being a local, ‘family-friendly’ job, which attracts many women to consider the sector. However, the reality is very different. Many carers have very short careers, with a high proportion failing to make it even through the induction and training period, once the reality of the scheduling becomes clear.
- We identified five formidable structural constraints on providing jobs which are compatible with non-work responsibilities: the unpredictability of rotas, the absence of slack in the system, unsociable hours, downtime in the middle of the working day, and the need to travel long distances between clients. These factors make it difficult for employers to offer carers a stable or attractive schedule, and many have given up on even attempting to help their carers to achieve work-life balance. Instead, care managers and schedule coordinators are forced to focus on ‘filling the gaps’ in the schedule.
- However, rather than giving up on work-life balance for carers, Timewise believes there is another way. We identified three potential ways to create compatible scheduling for carers: reducing the volatility of the schedule from week to week, increasing advance notice of the schedule, and maximising carers’ input into schedules.
- We also found that care providers were making special, individualised ‘family-friendly’ working arrangements for some carers, which disadvantaged other carers and were perceived as unfair. A team-based approach might solve this problem.
Key findings of a six-month pilot with Rathbone, a community support provider
The purpose of the pilot phase of our research was to test whether a geographical team-based approach to scheduling could stabilise and enhance jobs in care. The pilot showed that:
- The team-based approach gave carers greater control and input into their working times. There was also an improvement in the perceived fairness of the schedules.
- Reducing travel time by clustering support workers in a particular geographical area enabled the scheduling of a weekly team meeting. This was a forum for negotiating work-life needs, but also served to reduce isolation, improve teamwork and peer support, and increase team members’ knowledge about service users and their needs. We identified a seven-step process which other care providers can use to implement this approach.
- The pilot has highlighted the need for further research on how to tackle the other two ways of improving compatible scheduling for carers – the volatility of each carer’s schedule from week to week, and the amount of advance notice of the schedule. We know that there are multiple causes of schedule unpredictability, but we need to understand the relative importance of the various factors and then to develop strategies for reducing it. This is the critical next step in designing jobs which are more compatible with carers’ non-work responsibilities – jobs which will attract and retain carers in the sector. While there has been a wealth of reports into the state of the social care sector, there has so far been little focus on practical actions to improve the compatibility of carers’ jobs with their non-work responsibilities. The structure of the social care industry, with thousands of small care providers operating on extremely tight margins, suggests that change needs to come from sector-wide initiatives. There is a strong business case for policy makers and commissioners to review job design in social care, as well as a strong social and moral case to enable carers to raise their living standards through secure employment which is compatible with their non-work lives. We recommend that the commissioning of care will need to change to enable the redesign of jobs in this way.
Published May 2017
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