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Expert Perspective: Small changes, big difference

Last month HWL lead, Professor Linda McKie, mentioned our recent presentations at the annual conference of the British Society of Gerontology (BSG). As lead of HWL’s Ethnography work stream, I want to showcase the research that informed my contribution to the conference on Retaining Care Home Staff, and how that has contributed to the work of HWL.

Ethnography involves observing and talking to people in their own environment to understand their practices, experiences and, for us, their contextualised perspectives on elder care. Our first step was to spend time in the six care homes that agreed to participate, speaking to older staff members - HWL’s focus - in what little down-time they have.

We made a series of visits between May and October 2022, including during night shifts. The goal was to understand better the numerous issues they face in the workplace. This provided ethnographically rich insights into the daily experiences of a workforce and the challenges they face – but might also be able to help address.

This ethnography had a key role to play in the next stage of HWL, sharing data on context and priorities allowed our co-design team to create unique “probes” for each care home. This demonstrated we understood their particular situation, and were ready to work with them to develop meaningful solutions to the problems they themselves had identified.

We are currently writing up the ethnographic work, and highlighted in our findings are small insights, motivators and local innovations that can make really improve morale and encourage employees to stay in their job.

These small innovations are not “instead of” meaningful and sustainable change at a sector level, but can help increase care home stability until the co-design activity is completed.

About the author

Dr Sue Lewis is Senior Research Fellow & Project Manager with the Advanced Care Research Centre, University of Edinburgh, and co-lead on Healthier Working Lives (HWL).

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In this story

Sue Lewis

Sue Lewis

Healthier Working Lives lead research investigator

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