The NDIS is Not Medicare
5 March 2019 at 8:31 am
In the disability sector the customer is always going to feel what the employee feels, writes Fran Connelley explaining her shift in focus to workplace culture.
It was December 2017 when it first hit me that I needed to shift my focus.
I was attending a disability services conference in Sydney and chatting with a support worker who worked for a very new, large not-for-profit provider of group home accommodation.
As soon as I mentioned that I was a marketer she rolled her eyes saying: “Look, marketing is all very well, but I was a public servant and I thought I had a job for life. I feel like I’ve just been sold out. I now work for a charity and they’re telling me I have to be a brand ambassador. What does that even mean?”
Here was an extremely capable, dedicated support worker with a new employer whom she didn’t trust. She just wanted to be able to do her job.
At the same conference, a CEO proudly told me that his organisation would grow from $6 million in revenue to $20 million – in the next three months!
It hit me that the speed and scale of mergers in this sector would impact quality at every level – and that I had to shift my focus to workplace culture because in this sector the customer is always going to feel what the employee feels.
I started wondering, how many more frontline support workers were feeling disillusioned?
The recent Centre for Social Impact Report indicated that most providers are finding one-on-one services a major challenge under the NDIS pricing, reporting: “This is of particular concern given the goals of the NDIS to improve user choice and control, with more personalised services.”
Spare a thought for the support worker who may have built a long-term, trusted relationship with an individual from which they now have to withdraw. Let alone the “NDIS participant” who may have a complex disability and struggles to understand why their support worker won’t be showing up any more.
There is a very real human cost at every step of this reform.
With rapidly increasing demand for services and no funding to invest in training and professional development many providers will struggle to deliver anything more than a transactional, compliance-based service.
Last week, the ex-CEO of a Sydney-based disability service summed up their quality dilemma saying: “We had a fantastic culture but how do we possibly maintain it? There’s no funding for professional development or training, demand is growing fast and our compliance and audit costs are now treble what they were thanks to the NDIS Commission.”
What do the numbers say?
The data reveals a disability workforce that’s rapidly shifting.
The NDS’ Australian Disability Workforce Report (July 2018), reported casual employment is accelerating and that last March, it accounted for nearly half the total workforce. Workforce turnover is also increasing. The turnover rate for casuals is now at 8.55 per cent per quarter and the rate for permanent staff is 5.2 per cent per quarter. Of major concern is the decline in working hours in NSW/ACT and WA.
Disability support workers need rosters that offer a continuity of work so that they can earn a decent wage, raise a family and set aside some savings.
As one interviewee for my book (Michael Chester, UnitingCare West) recently commented: “I believe that we have an obligation to keep the issue of the working poor on the radar for everybody… for politicians, the NDIA and every provider in the sector.”
If the current NDIS pricing continues (regardless of recent revisions), we have the possibility of a new working poor emerging in the ranks of disability providers around the country – and a disability sector where demand far exceeds the capacity to supply.
The cultural challenges
In times of massive change it is an organisation’s culture that holds it together or splits it apart. It is culture, not pricing, that should determine the working environment: whether rosters are fair, whether workplaces are safe, and whether a quality service is being delivered to the customer.
A strong brand acts as the internal “cultural anchor” because strong brands are underpinned by values such as integrity, compassion and respect. However, in this overregulated, price controlled sector, “market forces” are simply unable to allocate resources and workplace culture is under threat.
There is a lot of talk about understanding “the customer experience”. However, we need to firstly address the employee’s experience before we can hope to deliver a quality customer experience.
The NDIS is not Medicare. The disability customer is not looking for a transaction; they are looking for someone they can trust. If employees feel heard, valued and supported, so will your customer.
A quality customer experience is dependent on more flexible pricing and provider access to accurate market data. Effective market stewardship depends on it.
About the author: Fran Connelley is a strategic marketer who specialises in the non-profit sector. She began working with disability providers in 2008. Her book, How to Thrive Under the NDIS is now in its sixth reprint. Her second book, How to Build a High Performance Culture Under the NDIS is due for release late 2019.