Supporting staff through change

The administration of Four Seasons has some important lessons for staff managers. By CHM resident freelance journalist Eleanore Robinson

With Four Seasons Health Care entering administration and then being put up for sale, its 20,000 staff in its 250 homes face an uncertain future.

Stress levels for many social care workers are already at a critical level; a seismic shift in their workplace, such as the collapse of their employer, their care home being put up for sale or that dreaded word “restructuring”, can lead to some staff unable to cope.

As well as impacting staff, it can also affect everyone in the care home if that person is no longer able to come into work. So how can providers help their employees during these difficult times?

Social care stress

A Social Workers Union (SWU) survey last August reported that social care has among the highest levels of stress sickness absence of all employment sectors in the country. Levels of presenteeism (coming into work despite being so ill it would be better to stay at home) were also rising. 

John McGowan, general secretary at SWU, believes it is crucial that staff are able to access support during these times of change. He said: “You need a general management structure who know how their staff are doing. They need to be making sure they have access to training and future development. They need to be making sure they can progress.”

A spokesman for Four Seasons said they understood that it was crucial for staff to be supported in their work at this time. He said:  “We have made it a priority to ensure that all of our managers and care home staff are aware that nothing will change for them as the sale process continues, and we have maintained open lines of communication to management to ensure any concerns raised by our colleagues are dealt with promptly.”

Even if the day-to-day job doesn’t alter during this process, the uncertainty surrounding the future of an organisation can lead to high levels of stress. Anchor Trust’s merger with housing association Hanover last December affected around 10,000 workers in 1,700 locations. Anchor Hanover chief executive Jane Ashcroft acknowledged that, as well as being an exciting opportunity for both organisations, it was an unsettling time for staff, so it was important that colleagues were supported through the process.

Managers in both organisations received briefing packs and there was a dedicated email address for staff to pose questions to management. An internal social media platform, Workplace by Facebook, was also rolled out, allowing staff to post comments and pictures, ask questions and watch live broadcasts. Employees were involved in creating the branding of the new organisation. This helped foster a sense community, Ashcroft said.

Furthermore, before the merger completed, a new set of values were developed. She said: “A huge amount of work goes into a merger. But the formal completion of a merger is just the beginning in many ways, as teams get into the detail of how to integrate a variety of different systems, processes and ways of working. Having a shared set of values up front has really helped with that.”

Ensuring values have a key role to play in any deal is essential to reassuring staff during this period of change, John McGowan said. “It is about working with companies that have a good staff ethos, not just bums on seats”, he said. He argued that issues such as the professionalisation of staff should be set down in contracts when operators change hands.

Constant communication is key to keeping stress levels to a minimum during any time of change. When integrating more than 100 Bupa homes in 2017, HC-One held roadshows with 600 managers and key stakeholders around the country. On the first day of transfer of services, HC-One held a teleconference, set up helplines and sent out more than 300 bunches of flowers to staff.

Ashcroft added: “Communication was, and continues to be, a key priority. When we announced that Anchor and Hanover were in merger talks, we were keen to explain the rationale and the benefits to both colleagues and customers. We published our business plan soon after the merger so that people could see how the merger enables us to grow and achieve more together.”

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