How to reduce how much your care group spends on agencies

When care homes are short-staffed, using agencies to fill vacancies can be helpful. Still, with the significantly higher costs than using permanent staff, it can be expensive to use them regularly.

Shockingly Research by Care England found that almost eight in 10 providers (78%) were using more or significantly more agency staff than they were previously.

The report also said, ‘A range of factors have been cited for social care’s staffing shortage, including burnout relating to working through the pandemic, employees leaving for better-paid roles in other sectors such as retail, and comparable jobs in the NHS offering more money.’

With budgets tight, it’s essential to keep agency costs down and have enough staff to maintain high care quality. In this article, we’ll examine how one care home handles these challenges well, helping to keep permanent staff in their roles and agency costs to a minimum.

Looking at the current agency spend

Meet Sarah, a care home manager. Sarah is very aware of the high costs of using agency staff, so she uses modern software and regular financial meetings to monitor how much they spend with them.

The digital system shows staffing costs as they happen, helping to spot spending patterns and unusually high costs.

By looking closely at this information, Sarah and her finance team can pinpoint the times and shifts that often need extra agency staff. Knowing this helps them plan better and rely less on expensive temporary solutions, like an agency.

Recruitment strategies

Sarah is pretty savvy at ensuring her agency spend isn’t too high by implementing some comprehensive marketing recruitment strategies for the home:

Social media: Sarah has transformed the recruitment approach at her care home by using social media to target local job seekers. She uses platforms like Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, and LinkedIn to showcase the care home as a nurturing, supportive, and fun workplace. She posts any job vacancies on the sites and on local Facebook community groups.

Employee testimonials: By highlighting employee testimonials and the positive environment at the home on social media, careers website pages, and recruitment adverts, the values and culture of her home shine through, making it attractive to job seekers.

Job fairs and open days: Sarah organises job fairs and open day events at the care home, inviting potential employees to see the home firsthand and meet the current staff. This direct engagement helps candidates feel more connected to the home and the people, making it an appealing option.

Staff reviews: Sarah monitors platforms such as Glassdoor and Indeed, which allow team members to share their experiences of their place of work. She encourages her team to visit these sites and leave positive reviews. She also ensures that if any negative feedback is left, she answers their concerns quickly and in a friendly and helpful manner.

Referral programmes: Recognising the power of personal recommendations, Sarah has implemented a referral programme that incentivises current employees to recommend friends or family members who may be a good fit for the care home. This not only speeds up the hiring process but also brings in candidates who are likely to be committed and reliable, having been referred by trusted staff.

These changes have resulted in a noticeable increase in staff morale and decreased turnover rates. By fostering a supportive and friendly work environment, the home has become a more desirable employer in the local area, attracting a higher calibre of applicants and significantly reducing the reliance on temporary agency staff. This approach to recruitment not only enhances the quality of care provided to residents but also encourages more permanent staff members to join.

Using a staff bank

Another way Sarah helps keep agency staff usage to a minimum is by using a flexible staff bank. This is a group of former employees and part-time workers who can step in when extra help is needed. This system ensures that the care provided remains consistent and high-quality, even when regular staff are unavailable. Using a staff bank is also more cost-effective than hiring from agencies, which often charge higher fees.

Lucy, a semi-retired nurse in the staff bank, explains why she values this arrangement: “Being part of the bank staff lets me contribute without being tied to a full-time job. It’s rewarding to be still involved while still having time for myself and my family”. 

This flexibility is one of the main reasons why people like Lucy choose to join the staff bank. It allows them to work when they want to, giving them control over their schedule and more time for personal activities and commitments.

Additionally, the staff bank helps maintain a friendly and familiar environment in the home. Many of the bank staff, like Lucy, have worked there before, so they know the residents and routines well, which makes the care they provide feel more personal and attentive.

Overall, the staff bank is beneficial for everyone. It helps the home manage staffing more effectively and affordably while giving workers like Lucy the necessary flexibility.

Prioritising own staff for shifts

Sarah has introduced a modern and efficient way to manage shifts at the home through a mobile app. This app is a significant improvement because it allows staff to interact directly with the shift schedule from anywhere, at any time. By using the app, employees can quickly see which shifts are available and choose the ones they want to work.

The mobile app is designed to be user-friendly, ensuring that all employees can easily use it, regardless of how tech-savvy they are. This accessibility is key to ensuring that the system works smoothly and that staff can take advantage of it without needing extensive training.

By prioritising internal staff for shifts before looking to agency workers, the home not only reduces its reliance on agency staffing – but also fosters a sense of loyalty and job satisfaction among the team. Employees appreciate having the first opportunity to pick up additional shifts, which can lead to increased earnings and greater involvement in the care home.

This approach helps maintain a high level of care consistency. Residents benefit from seeing familiar faces, and staff members build stronger relationships with their colleagues and those they care for. This continuity is essential in a care home setting, where the well-being of residents is closely tied to the quality and consistency of the care they receive.

The system also includes features like shift reminders making it even easier for staff to manage their work-life balance. This thoughtful functionality reflects the care home’s commitment to supporting its staff as much as it supports its residents.

Using this shift management app helps the care home manage costs better and improves staff happiness and loyalty, which are vital to providing excellent care.

Negotiating with agencies

When Sarah does need to work with staffing agencies, she negotiates very carefully. She asks the agencies to show her exactly what each part of their service costs. This detailed cost breakdown helps her understand where she can save money.

Sarah also tries to make deals that last longer and cost less. Instead of working with an agency for a short time, she wants to set up several month-long contracts. More extended contracts can mean lower prices because the agency knows it has steady work for a longer period.

By doing this, Sarah not only saves money for her care home but also makes sure that the agency keeps providing good quality staff. This careful approach to negotiating helps keep the care home running smoothly and keeps costs under control.

Employee retention strategies 

Keeping staff happy and committed to their jobs is crucial for reducing the need to hire temporary agency workers. Sarah understands this well and has introduced several initiatives to help improve employee satisfaction and loyalty.

The first interactions count: Just as it’s essential to make a great first impression with customers, it’s crucial to do the same with potential and new employees. Sarah carefully plans everything from the job advertisement to the application process, interview, and their first day at work. First impressions are lasting, and getting these initial interactions right can make a big difference in how employees feel about their new workplace for a long time to come.

Employee recognition: One initiative that Sarah has created is the “Star of the Month” programme. This programme is designed to recognise and celebrate her team members’ hard work and dedication. Each month, one employee who has gone above and beyond in their role is highlighted and rewarded. This recognition not only boosts the morale of the chosen employee but also motivates others to strive for excellence in their roles as well.

Staff well-being: Sarah has also focused on the overall well-being of her staff by ensuring they are aware of free online resources to support their physical and mental health. Employees can access counselling services, stress management advice, and regular health screenings. This support system is crucial for maintaining the well-being of the staff, who often work in challenging and emotionally demanding environments.

She also regularly ‘checks in’ with her team members to see if they are okay or need any help. Having an open-door policy in place, where staff know they can talk to her in confidence at any time, is hugely reassuring to the team.

Team discounts: The home informs new staff about a discount programme that all healthcare workers are entitled to apply for through the Blue Light Card. For a small fee, the card offers various discounts on leisure, health, and recreational activities.

Satisfaction surveys: The home conducts employee satisfaction surveys every six months to gauge staff happiness and identify areas for improvement. These surveys are comprehensive, covering aspects such as job satisfaction, work-life balance, management support, and professional development opportunities. The feedback collected is taken seriously, with the home committing to making changes based on the staff’s input.

Flexible working: From the insights gained through these surveys, Sarah has introduced several fundamental changes to improve working conditions. One significant adjustment has been introducing more flexible working hours, allowing staff, where possible, to manage their professional and personal responsibilities better. This flexibility has proven particularly popular among staff with families or educational commitments, allowing them to tailor their work schedules to fit their personal lives better.

Staff training: Another major initiative has been enhancing professional development opportunities. Recognising that career advancement is a significant motivator and retention tool, and the home has offered more in-house training programmes. It has established partnerships with programmes like the Florence Academy to provide affordable and customised training that helps staff develop the skills they need to do their jobs well and gives them access to continuing education courses and certification. These opportunities not only aid in personal and professional growth but also help keep the staff up-to-date with the latest best practices in care.

Enhanced social rooms and workspaces:  The home has also made a concerted effort to improve the physical workspace and staff facilities, ensuring that all areas are well-maintained, safe, and pleasant to work in. Investments have been made in upgrading staff lounges and providing better on-site amenities, which contribute to an overall better working environment.

All of these programmes significantly impact how valued employees feel. When staff members feel appreciated and supported, they are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs and less inclined to seek employment elsewhere. This sense of belonging and appreciation helps create a caring and supportive community within the care home. This reduces the need for temporary staff from agencies, which helps maintain a high standard of care and keeps operational costs down.

Using a neutral vendor

Managing relationships with many different staffing agencies can get tricky and take up a lot of time. Sarah decided to use a neutral vendor, such as Florence, to make this easier. The neutral vendor helps by dealing with all the different agencies for the care home, finding the best people for the job without any bias or preference for one agency over another.

Using a neutral vendor means that Sarah doesn’t have to spend so much time on the phone or emailing different agencies to fill shifts. Florence handles all that, which frees up Sarah and her team to spend more time looking after their residents and focusing on providing excellent care.

Another benefit of using a neutral vendor is that it ensures that finding staff is fair. By removing any favouritism, every agency gets a fair chance to offer its best candidates, and the care home receives the best possible staff. This fair way of doing things means capable and suitable people always staff the home.

Having a neutral vendor simplifies the whole process of dealing with staffing agencies. It saves time, reduces stress, and ensures fairness, allowing Sarah and her team at the care home to concentrate on what they do best – caring for their residents.

Use of staffing technology 

Sarah has introduced a modern workforce management system that uses the latest technology. This system has made a massive difference in how they schedule staff and manage shifts. It’s like having an intelligent assistant that helps arrange who works and ensures there’s always enough staff on duty.

Thanks to this new system, Sarah and her team’s time spent making the schedule has been cut significantly. With less time spent on these tasks, Sarah can focus more on other important parts of her job.

The system also helps reduce mistakes. Before, when scheduling was done manually, it was easy to make errors – like double-booking a staff member or not having enough people on a shift. The new technology helps prevent these mistakes by automatically alerting Sarah if there’s a clash in the schedule or if a shift is understaffed.

Another big benefit of this technology is how it improves decision-making. The system collects data on how the staffing is working, which helps Sarah see trends and patterns. For example, she can quickly find out which days are busiest and might need more staff or see if there are times when they have too many staff on duty. This kind of information is very useful for making smart decisions about how to run the care home more efficiently.

The introduction of this advanced workforce management system has made staffing much simpler and more accurate at the care home. It means that Sarah and her team can spend less time worrying about schedules and more time doing what they do best – taking care of their residents.

Final thoughts 

The steps taken by Sarah are great examples of how care providers can effectively manage and reduce agency costs. As the care sector evolves, it’s vital for procurement directors and managers to keep assessing and refining their staffing strategies. By adopting approaches like those used here, including using a neutral vendor, care home groups can ensure high-quality care while keeping their agency spending in check.

Florence offers simple, no-stress neutral vendor and agency management tools to save money, time and improve quality. Learn more about our agency manager tool today.

You might also be interested in:

– Master vendor vs neutral vendor

– The true cost of care

– How to improve continuity of care

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