No Abuse in Service Use

May 28, 2014

No Abuse in Service UseThe verdict from care professionals, at a recent seminar, that we ran, was that the key to avoiding abuse of service users by care staff lay in selection of the staff in the first place.

While that cannot be the whole story nonetheless it is a crucial, and relatively simple, first step.

The terms recruitment and selection typically sit alongside each other and yet there is a critical distinction between the two. Recruitment implies starting to employ a substantial number of people but does not in itself imply selection.  On the other hand selection is often thought of in terms of relatively few people and the clear implication is that not everyone who applies is employed. Good recruitment therefore will embrace selection.

It is the cost of selection that is an obstacle in the eyes of some employers. Interviewing is the most common process and it is expensive in terms of time. But other means of selection are often overlooked because of the more obvious cash costs of the process. In this article we shall look at a number of processes.

First it is worth looking at the scale, or cost, of filling a vacancy.

The true cost of recruitment

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development estimates that it costs an average of £6,000 to recruit an employee. At first sight that seems an incredible figure but it is an average and clearly it costs more to recruit a registered manager than a carer. Nonetheless we recruit far more carers than registered managers so the figure will still reflect some fairly typical costs.

So why so high? Advertising springs easily to mind but, in reality, that can be relatively small. Placing an advertisement on the internet with a proprietary agency can cost less than £200 and increasingly everyone, including carers, looks there. Advertising, when we relied on a local paper, is no longer the cost that it was.

But other, greater costs, are frequently overlooked. Recruitment invariably means a vacancy exists and, while that remains, it will need to be covered by overtime, agency staff and even, perhaps, over-work.

Then there are administrative costs in finding good applicants. Thought needs to be given to the advertisement content. When applications are received, unsuitable applications need to be turned down and a good employer (mindful of their reputation) will reply to each one. Usually, shortlisting needs to be carried out. This may be a short or long process depending on the number and quality of the applicants. Interviewees need to be invited. All this takes time and hence expenditure.

The cost of interviewing itself may be only partially recognised. It will take the owner or manager away from the business so there is serious opportunity cost involved. To be effective interviewers need training; although that should be a one-off investment.

Then there may be further time for the vacancy to be covered while the appointee(s) work notice; hence a temptation to appoint someone who can start immediately, even if they are not ideal.

New appointees need to be trained. There may be relatively little training if you have been able to appoint experienced people – but even they will take time to learn your systems, culture (how things are done around here) and expectations. In that time frame they will be less effective and, indeed, they might not even make the grade.

In the latter circumstances I often say there are two likely outcomes: the person will leave (and you will need to start the process all over again) or you will find yourself in ten years time wondering why you ever employed them! Of course you can dismiss an unsatisfactory employee reasonably easily (within two years) – but that still means re-starting the recruitment process.

Hence it is easy to see how the true outlay arising from a vacancy, even of a carer, soon mounts into thousands of pounds. This is good reason for giving attention to, and putting some investment into, the process of selection.

How best to select

The starting point has to be the person specification. This is the list of qualities, qualifications and experience that you want to see in your appointee(s). “Essential criteria” might be ones without which you would not appoint an applicant. “Desirable criteria” would be ones which you would use to select between candidates who met the essential criteria.

Do not be tempted to make a long list of criteria because every criterion reduces your field of candidates and it is too easy to reduce the field too far. Then you would be forced to make compromises that did not form part of your original thinking.

The person specification should inform your advertisement. This is the very first step in your selection process. The perfect advertisement for one vacancy will produce two excellent candidates. One to appoint and one other so you can be sure you are appointing the best!

In practice shortlisting is almost inevitable and this is most effective if carried out against the person specification. If the person specification is apparent in the advertisement and applicants mould their CVs or letters of application to it, then shortlisting should be easy. Sadly, it almost never happens in our experience.

Once you have a shortlist there are many selection techniques from the dubious (astrology and handwriting) to the highly credited (assessment centres and trial periods). Among these the interview is ubiquitous. Good reason, therefore, to give it attention by planning and structuring interviews. Good questioning and listening skills will make all the difference. We shall look at interviewing skills in a future blog/article.

Other techniques include:

Applications forms and CVs These will have been studied already but they can provide both evidence of meeting the person specification and provide leads to be explored at interview.

Psychometric testing. Temperament, compassion and emotional resilience are critical qualities in a care worker. These qualities and others can be assessed effectively by means of professional testing interpreted by trained personnel. They are a cash-cost but given the substantial cost of mistakes in selection they are worthy of consideration at least for preferred candidates. The information they provide can be valuable going forward, during induction for example.

Assessment centres The value of assessment centres for assessing social skills has been used effectively by some supermarkets in selecting till operators. If assessment centres can assess social skills why not caring skills? While they may be very costly for single appointments, anyone intending to recruit significant numbers of carers may well find them excellent for the selection process.

Trial periods While not always practical there can be opportunities. For example a temporary worker relationship provides for a far longer period of assessment than other selection processes can provide. Of course a probationary period can provide the same but it raises questions of expectations of future employment. That can influence individuals to keep their noses clean in the way a period of temporary employment might not.

Further guidance

Although not written in conjunction with this article, QCS provides recruitment policies and procedures that act as a further guide.

Practical day-to-day assistance with interview training, psychometric testing and assessment centres can be provided by Employer Solutions.

Adoption of good practices will not only avoid the rise of abuse but, we submit, save resources and preserve a healthy bottom line for your business.


Malcolm Martin of Employer Solutions – QCS Human Resource Expert.


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