The Support Work sector is in crisis. Even before the pandemic hit, organisations were reporting a growing gap between need for Support Workers and availability of workers to meet that need. How can we best tackle this crisis at a root cause level? Evidence suggests that supporting workers to thrive ‘at the edge’ with courage and compassion is key to retaining and growing a healthy workforce.

The evidence also suggests that ‘values-led’ organisations are more successful at recruitment and retention, which is why Skills for Care recommend a ‘values-based’ approach to it:

‘A values-based approach to recruitment and retention involves establishing strong workplace values and ensuring that your workforce matches them. Doing this helps to reduce time and wasted resources in recruiting the wrong people, and helps your people deliver exceptional care and support.’ (Skills for Care – ‘Values-Based Recruitment’ report 2016)

Skills for Care also found that ‘Employers still need to be convinced to think of longer term and sustainable strategies to recruitment and retention whilst dealing with short term workforce issues.’

Paradigm (facilitators of the Gr8 Support Movement) in partnership me, Tony Bamforth from ‘Glowyerownway’, are getting ready to launch a brand-new series of workshops called ‘Thriving’ designed to cultivate best practice for supporting workforce wellbeing.

These workshops will be focusing specifically on cultivating the core qualities of compassion and courage, drawing on cutting edge research and development work which has delivered specific definitions of compassion and courage in ways that are measurable and teachable. Our ‘Thriving’ workshops provide the resources you need to create sustainable and transformative strategies for recruitment and retention; whilst addressing one of the most pressing workforce issues – the health and wellbeing of Support Workers.

First, let’s take a step back and consider this question: Why do Support Workers choose to become Support Workers?

The evidence suggests that most Gr8 Support Workers see it as a profession, and whilst there is a perception that people can earn more and be ‘less stressed’ working in retail or customer service, it’s the nature of the work itself that attracts people. It is the desire to be alongside people, to support people to flourish, in a way that really matters; to make a difference.

Some of the most difficult challenges in running a successful Support Work organisation are to do with putting our values into action consistently, and with integrity. Values are often defined as guiding principles, pointing towards what the organisation seeks to embody. However, there are times when we all fall short despite our best intentions; we are all fallible and make mistakes. We are also all fundamentally vulnerable, and at times, afraid and anxious. This is just simply part of life, part of being human.

Even the most dedicated Support Workers and managers have days when nothing seems to go right, we lose patience and ‘just do it ourselves’ to save time (or because we simply feel we don’t have the time). We become overwhelmed with difficult emotions (our own and those of people we support). And we become enraged at the injustices we see, consumed by hostility or numbed into apathy.

All too often our difficulties get covered up, brushed aside out of shame, or ‘acted out’ by blaming others. What ‘fracturing of our soul’ occurs when we ‘armour up’ and just get on with it, instead of finding the courage and self-compassion to face our fears, deal with the messy stuff and make sure we get the support we need to bounce back wiser and stronger?

Using the terminology of Brené Brown, to be able to live ‘into our values’, we first need to be able to ‘rumble with vulnerability’ – to face the difficult, uncomfortable stuff. We need to make time for the tough conversations and have the emotional literacy to be able to talk about it. This isn’t work that most of us want to do (because it’s vulnerable and uncomfortable), but it’s work we must do if we want to get real with our values and ourselves.

So, what’s the payoff? In exchange, what we can expect to get is the purposeful cultivation of courage and compassion (both of which are contagious!). We get to consciously create a positive culture where it’s safe to be vulnerable, with an expectation of a certain amount of discomfort. With that safety, we can open up and trust each other, get innovative and creative; bring our whole hearts to our work knowing that we will be accepted and valued as we are. In other words, this means really valuing Support Workers and enabling them to do the best job they can. The expectation of our colleagues taking responsibility for themselves is built on this foundation of trust and openness. We get a culture where we can reasonably expect each other to rise to the challenge to live and work our values – authentically. This type of culture is one which requires nurturing, through the development of specific skill sets to embed the behaviours that align with our values.

In today’s hyper-connected world, reputation based on word-of-mouth testimonial is like gold dust. Organisations who invest in nurturing cultures built on integrity, courage and compassion can expect to become known for it and to attract the right people with the right values. These organisations will have the evidence to convince more people that they will get the support they need to thrive in Support Work, to deal with (and grow from) the emotional and mental stresses that go with it.

Maybe more importantly, it’s also about playing a leading role in changing the discourse about Support Work and the way it’s viewed in our society; the public conversations about Support Work.

Support Work which is consciously grounded in courage and compassion, fully recognising the complexity of skill sets required, is better equipped to raise the profile of Support Work as a profession; and to raise the expectations we can all have of Support Work and of each other, so that we can be assured that if and when we need it, our needs will be met with the courage and compassion we all deserve as vulnerable human beings.  This can only take us closer to being able to convincingly argue for the significant rise in funding needed to pay Support Workers appropriately.

The time to start the work embedding the behaviours and cultivating the complex skill sets your Support Workers, team leaders and managers need to show up more fully is now.

“In wholeness we are life-full.  We discover in awe how much more life there is in us than we ever imagined.  In our relationships with colleagues, much of what made the workplace unpleasant and inefficient vanishes; work becomes a vehicle where we help each other reveal our inner greatness and manifest our calling” (F. Laloux – Reinventing Organisations p144)

To find out more….






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