How do you motivate people?

Last week I spent the day in a supervision workshop with 25 enthusiastic social care managers looking at how they can best enable practitioners to work well.

Halfway through a discussion, one of the managers asked: ‘how do we keep motivating staff when things are so difficult, when there’s so little money and people are really struggling?’

Good question; particularly now when we have the spending review coming up fast and Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s report on poverty just out. How does a social care manager motivate staff when things are tough? Here are a few thoughts.

  • Remember that social care matters

Social care matters because it helps those, who would otherwise lack the resources to manage, maintain or restore their lives. Listening to people who use social care and their families is a great motivation. If we hold on to the potential of social care to make a profound difference to people’s lives, this will help us to keep going.

  • Remember the influence you can have

Social care managers can lead, model and practice in ways that motivate others. They provide clarity of purpose, champion values, model good relationships, provide support in uncertainty, lead reflection, and help to get things done. Managers are role models. How they relate to practitioners influences how ready practitioners are to relate well to others. Managers really are able to inspire good practice.

  • Develop internal and external motivation

Our ability to keep going begins with our internal motivation for our work. Managers can help people to reflect on the reasons that they went into social care and what matters to them. Internal motivation is supported by seeing the impact of work through feedback and evaluation. External motivation comes from recognition and reward. Managers can thank people, acknowledge good work and share examples of good practice.

  • Build resilience

Resilience helps us to stay motivated when things are difficult. Social care managers can model resilience and also help promote resilience skills. The main skills are: managing your emotions, not rushing to respond to events, identifying the cause of problems, having empathy for others, having confidence in your ability to solve problems, being prepared to try, and being optimistic. All of these are difficult in busy and demanding environments but you can practice: for example, stopping and thinking before acting when a crisis happens, or spending five minutes talking about things that are going well.

  • Look after yourself

Good social care works through relating to people and so it is demanding. It is essential to understand and acknowledge the impact of the work, particularly when it is busy, uncertain and personal. It will never be possible to finish all the work so managers need to model a balance between working well and resting. Good decisions are undermined by tiredness, hunger, stress and preoccupation. They are helped by a calm environment and space to think. Managers can make the busy environments that social care operates in more tranquil by helping people to organise their work and to stay calm. Crisis language, clutter, interruptions and uncontained emotions all undermine our ability to keep going. The teacher 5 a day is a useful model of sustaining yourself:

  1. Remember that my to-do list will never, ever be complete.
  2. Say ‘hello’ and ‘how are you?’ to every single member of staff.
  3. Take time out to eat.
  4. Go home early. That means once a week when the bell rings.
  5. Join in with staff social events. It’s important to unwind with staff
  • Support each other

Research on what keeps people going in social care continually highlights the importance of the support of managers and colleagues. Nobody in social care should feel alone. It can be isolating particularly when you are buried in work but turn to your colleagues and you will find inspirational, thoughtful, wise people to encourage you.

  • Control what you can, influence what you can’t

Social care managers and practitioners cannot solve all the problems arising from increased demand and reduced resources. I think it helps to understand why things feel so difficult, and to separate out what we can control and what we can’t. We all need to focus on what we can do personally and then seek to influence what is beyond our control. Joining up with others allows us to have greater influence than we do alone.

As with my blog on what helps us to feel less stressed, all of this is easy to say and hard to do. I remain motivated by looking at the great things that people are doing, and by joining with others to speak up for the context we need to do this vital work well.

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