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8 Ideas for retaining staff who feel at breaking point

We are experiencing a record number of vacant posts in the UK (Office for National Statistics, reported by BBC News).

Alongside this there is a growing trend of people walking out of jobs they don’t like. In most cases, I celebrate when people are able to escape a bad situation — but in some settings, this is cause for alarm and for action by those who lead.

I am thinking about the settings that are most critical to all of us, such as education, healthcare and other critical public sector roles. For many staff, working through and past COVID has brought intense pressure and fatigue. Staff have started to wonder about whether the role is worth the cost, as disillusionment is surfacing after a lengthy battle in a scenario that doesn’t seem to offer a bright future any time soon.

Add to this the depleting patience and compassion of the public. Staff are reporting record abuse and anger from patients and families. We see public sector staff, worn out themselves — in a system that can’t meet their needs — being blamed or fought against by people who are frustrated, panicked and sometimes afraid. There is a genuine risk that something is going to break and we are seeing it, as staff choose different careers and a staffing crisis (already existent pre-COVID) is reaching epic proportions across the sector.

It is here that we have to ask, ‘what can a leader do to support the retention of their key staff?’ I will offer 8 ideas, based on our work on this very issue across sectors.

8 ways to promote staff retention, under pressure

1. Reinforce professional identity and reward it

No matter what role staff have in the public sector, a sense of collected teaming and identity is critical. Staff need to feel that their role is a profession, it is valued and it is a part of a wider team who do the same. This is most critical for key frontline staff such as receptionists / wider admin, who often feel like a cog in the machine and also often receive the most public distress / anger.

Celebrate openly their role and encourage the wider team to appreciate the role as critical, making this apparent to staff. Patients and families often thank teachers and nurses, but who thanks receptionists? This is often the need of the team and the leaders and should be embraced.

Look for this need in the team and meet it. Celebrate success in role as much as you can!