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Recruitment and Retention for MAT Leaders

Date posted : 23 November 2023

Laura Williams is an education leadership coach with fifteen years of leadership experience in education across business, operations, HR, finance and governance. She is a former Business Manager, COO, CFO and Company Secretary. She works with school and MAT leaders to help find creative solutions to the challenges present in today’s education landscape.

In this blog, Laura takes an in-depth look at some of the different elements that can combine to strengthen or weaken a trust's ability to recruit and retain key staff.

Teaching Personnel’s TP Talent offering is ideal for MAT Leaders to find solutions to all their long-term and permanent recruitment needs. 

When it comes to recruitment and retention, it's easy to get lost in short-term activities instead of focusing on long-term strategy.

The pandemic, political landscape, education profile, and funding pressures have created a cultural shift within and beyond the sector.

In a sector where it's becoming increasingly difficult to recruit and compete, we can't afford to do what we've always done to attract and retain staff.

Flexible working hours, working from home, and term-time-only contracts becoming the norm 

across the labour market (along with eye-catching salaries in certain quarters) means that we can no longer expect to be inundated with applications when we advertise. It also means that we need to prepare for and deal with higher levels of turnover than we may have been used to.

Applicants want more from us as employers, and we must find a way to show what we offer. For existing staff, we must ensure our offer is strong and meets their needs. 

Developing an excellent offer to retain staff

When it comes to retaining staff, there are many touch-points and milestones that can create 'deal-breakers' for your employees, resulting in resignation. Some are beyond your control, but many are within it. Before we look at what you can do to create a robust recruitment and retention strategy, let's look at our employees and what they want from us as employers. These factors, as a whole, constitute what is known as the 'psychological contract'.

The psychological contract is the 'silent partner' of the employment contract, but it is different because it is unwritten and subjective. For the employee, the psychological contract focuses on their expectations of the employer and how they hold up their end of the 'employment deal'. These expectations relate to areas such as:

  • Reward
  • Recognition
  • Development and progression
  • Security
  • Management support
  • Flexibility and work/life balance
  • Autonomy
  • Fair treatment
  • Trust

The management of the psychological contract is key to positive employment relationships, the facilitation of employee choice, and improved recruitment and retention.

Though intangible, the psychological contract is similar to the employment contract in that it can be 'breached'. From the employee perspective, the most serious breach occurs when organisational and management behaviours compromise one or more of the above areas. Examples include overpromising and underdelivering, a 'do as I say, not as I do' culture, a lack of follow-through, not meeting deadlines, mismatched processes and practice, and moving the goalposts.

If unresolved, these types of breaches often result in disengagement for an employee. This might start with dissatisfaction and progress to working to rule and doing as little as possible. If this continues for a period of time, it could impact the employee's wellbeing and even result in prolonged periods of absence or resignation.

As employers, what we have to wrestle with and be alert for are instances where the employee perceives that there has been a breach. This could be due to a lack of communication or information or simply the staffs' interpretation of management behaviour. Real or perceived, these breaches can be avoided and addressed – thus mitigating the impact on turnover and staff engagement.

Whatever the truth or reality, how your staff perceive you as an employer will impact their psychological contract with the organisation. From the moment someone joins your organisation, they are constantly yet often unconsciously assessing whether leaders do what they say, honour their promises, lead by example, and apply policy fairly and consistently.

When you start looking at the employment relationship through the lens of the psychological contract, the levers you can pull to maintain a healthy psychological contract with your staff become much clearer.

From your perspective as an employer, the psychological contract lives in what we know more commonly as 'how things are done around here'. Concerning the list of what our employees want from us, these 'things' include:

  • The creation and management of staffing structures and restructures
  • Recruitment processes
  • Leadership and line manager behaviour
  • Policies and implementation
  • Appraisal and Performance Management
  • CPD, career progression and succession planning

 

All of these things will currently exist or take place within your organisation, but how well your organisation does these things significantly impacts how staff view you as an employer and whether they want to continue working for you. 

In essence, employer behaviour in these areas determines whether an employee feels supported, treated fairly, valued, recognised, developed, allowed autonomy and trusted.

Here are some areas to focus on that will help you to both shape and maintain a healthy organisational psychological contract and improve both recruitment and retention:

1.      Job Design & Recruitment

Turnover does have an upside in that it can create the perfect opportunity to affect organisational change with minimal disruption. If you have your finger on the pulse and your eye on the future, you can reduce the likelihood of wholesale restructures down the road. 

Take the chance to think about the vacancy that needs to be filled and what type of person the role would suit. Make it an attractive role and be clear about what it will be like to do this job on a daily basis; for all its quirks, make sure you highlight its perks. If you've nailed job design, attracting the right candidate for your role shouldn't be an issue – but only if you get your marketing right. 

Don't do it the same as you've always done it. Look at different recruitment sources. Look at the language you use in your adverts. How are you standing out from the school up the road? What do you stand for? What's it like to work for you? Why would someone want to? Have you made all of this explicit in your recruitment campaign? How are you engaging with candidates? What impression are you creating? Look at recruitment strategies outside of education for some new ideas.

Remember, the 'psychological contract' starts here – everything written, spoken and communicated from the start to the end of the recruitment process sets the tone for the future working relationship. Be consistent, don't make promises you can't keep and deliver on everything you say you will. This rolls right through into induction and probation periods. Don't leave them adrift, wandering around your corridors. Take charge, set expectations and set your stall out in terms of what your staff can expect to receive from you as a team member.

2.      Line Management and Workload

How managers treat people directly impacts how staff feel about coming to work in the morning. They are the 'face' of the organisation and the decisions made, so how they communicate to staff matters. Your value on the quality of line management directly indicates how much you value your staff.

How well you listen to your staff is also crucial in maintaining the psychological contract. Workload is an excellent example of this. If your team sees a task as 'worth it', they will be more likely to engage with it positively. If they see it as a 'waste of time', this will affect their view of their role and how they feel about working for you. As stated earlier, their perception of what's worth it and what's not may be skewed, but the sooner you address these discrepancies, the better.

3.      Performance Management, CPD & Succession Planning

If job design and recruitment form the beginning of the psychological contract and line management establishes it, performance management, CPD and succession planning cement it. These processes are about identifying those who need support, supporting those who are ambitious and ready to progress, identifying specific organisational and individually beneficial CPD and having a meaningful dialogue with staff. They alone embody and facilitate several of the employee 'wants' we covered: reward, recognition, development, progression, support, fair treatment, autonomy, and trust, so you must get them right.

How you do business defines your culture and identity, and how you do something is just as important as what you do. Policies and processes must be designed and actively managed with your people in mind, not only to hold them accountable or measure them but also to recognise them, reward them, bring out the best in them, engage them and value them. By doing this, the right people will want to work for you and stay working for you.

 

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