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Aged Care’s Talent Paradox: Middle Managers, Skyrocketing Salaries, and the Decline in Job Movement

In the world we work in – aged care – there’s been a fascinating development in recent times. Imagine this: the people working in middle management, those who play a pivotal role in keeping organisations running smoothly (be it home care, residential care, or retirement living), have been noticing some substantial boosts in their pay checks.

What’s causing this intriguing shift, you ask? Well, it all comes down to a noticeable shortage of mobile talent in this field (people willing to move jobs, or even have the curiosity to explore a new job). Here’s the twist – even as salaries are on the rise, there’s a noticeable decline in how often these professionals switch jobs. So, let’s take a deep dive into the complexities of this situation.

Behind the Surge in Aged Care Salaries

Over the last two years, P.J. Recruitment and Executive Search analysed our data. We utilise data to inform how we recruit, what works, what we need to re-think or reposition. It also informs us who we should target by way of candidate profile, when recruiting. That means we have a clear understanding how and what makes candidates tick and we tap into this knowledge so we can be more successful in making people move jobs.

Our job placement records have provided a clear indication of the changing salary expectation dynamics. In one out of every three placements we’ve facilitated, the client ended up offering a salary higher than the originally advertised figure to secure their candidate of choice. While on one hand, this points to candidates having a stronger negotiation position, on the other, it underscores the desperate need for skilled middle managers in the aged care sector.

The Factors Fuelling the Trend in Salary Surge

Several dynamics contribute to this landscape:

1) Talent Shortage: The aged care industry is grappling with a significant talent crunch, especially at the middle management level. As the demand for aged care services amplifies, this gap becomes even more pronounced.

2) Increasing Responsibilities: Middle managers in today’s aged care facilities juggle a glut of tasks. From ensuring regulatory compliance, embedding legislated care minutes, leading and managing people, maintaining care standards and financial operational performance right through to strategic planning and stakeholder communication. Their role has become multifaceted and demanding. Too multi-faceted I would even suggest. People are tired and why would they therefore consider a job-move?

3) Economic Pressures: Today’s professionals are wrestling with the cost of living and mortgage stress. Elevated salaries are often less about luxury and more about managing these escalating financial pressures.

4) Stagnation in Job Movement: The Unintended Consequence

This is my real bone of contention. Stagnation in Job Movement.

The candidate market at middle management level has frozen. Prior to COVID our target candidate working at the middle management level were more curious to explore new jobs, not everyone, but most people would be curious enough to want to find out more about the job we are filling. Do their due diligence and have a curiosity that since COVID, has been extinguished. Certainly, we are finding that we’re having to tap a lot more candidates on the shoulder before we actually get someone curious enough to want to know more about the job we are recruiting.

It also feels like aged care organisations are competing amongst each other to offer higher salaries, for equivalent jobs. The talent mantra seems to be ‘Retain at all costs (salaries being offered)’. We are seeing counter-offers, current employers offering candidates more money to stay. If providers do have middle management positions to fill, they try to offer a bucket load more than other providers. It freezes others out of the marketplace who just can’t afford (for a number of reasons, including disparity of remuneration to other staff within the organisation) to pay the same or more than their ‘competitors’.

Here’s some of the reasons why this salary war and reduced appetite for job movement exists in the aged care sector among middle managers:

  1. Comfortable Compensation: With competitive salaries, many managers find themselves in a comfortable position, negating the financial incentive to switch jobs.
  2. Job Security: In an industry where their skills are in high demand, sticking with a known employer offers a sense of job security, especially when coupled with a handsome salary.
  3. Risks of Transition: Transitioning to a new role often comes with an initial phase of uncertainty and adjustment. Many middle managers might deem the risks of moving, especially in an industry undergoing rapid change, to outweigh the benefits.
  4. Loyalty and Investment: Higher salaries are often viewed as a sign of an employer’s investment in and appreciation of an employee. This can foster loyalty and reduce the allure of external opportunities.
  5. Built a successful team, why would they give this up to start all over again? Recently I’ve been doing a confidential executive search for a Residential Manager in Queensland. Our beautiful client is paying up to $180K base salary. We have tapped over 100 people on the shoulder about this job and I would say at least 1/3 of these people won’t move jobs because their team, which they have helped build, is amazing. There is a synergy in purpose, an understanding of who plays what role and when, and a collegial approach to

work, which makes people happy – happy staff, happy residents and families. Why would they move jobs, especially if it’s further to drive to work, than where they are now? So sometimes it’s not always the money, but it’s about people.

  • Better the devil you do know than the devil you don’t – even offering higher salaries to attract middle manager candidates out of the jobs they are in, to move to another employer, sometimes it’s not all about the money. Sometimes it’s about people are just familiar, familiar with their workplace, with the corporate teams that support them, with their daily, weekly, monthly routine. Familiar with their direct line manager, who allows them to be flexible in the way they work and how it’s delivered (hybrid and flexible work arrangements for example). It works for their family unit – why would they walk away from that?

For aged care providers, while the burgeoning salaries may seem like a financial challenge, they can be seen as an investment. By offering competitive compensation, they can attract and retain top talent. However, the lack of job movement can also pose challenges, potentially leading to a stagnation of ideas or approaches.

Navigating the Future

While the substantial increase in middle management salaries has certainly contributed to job stability for employers in the aged care sector, it is paramount to remain vigilant against complacency.

Often, employees may become entrenched in the belief that “this is the only path I know” after spending an extended period in the same role, with the same employer. The ongoing debate surrounding job movement versus stability reveals a range of advantages and disadvantages, favouring some employees and employers while not necessarily aligning with the aspirations of others. Is it wise and necessary that the industry shares talent?

While reflecting on aged care’s talent paradox: Middle Managers, Skyrocketing Salaries, and the Decline in Job Movement, I have observed one key theme. At the moment, we are finding that those candidates who are most willing to explore something new, by way of career pathway opportunities, are unique in this current market. Hard to find. Needle in a haystack kind of thing.

It’s evident the aged care sector is at a pivotal crossroads. Our clients, aged care providers, are scratching their heads, wondering what more can they do to fill their jobs? What else have they got in the tank.

In essence, the prevailing dynamics within the aged care sector encapsulate both challenges and opportunities. What stands out, particularly to those of us in roles like mine, focused on aged care executive search and recruitment, is that certain individuals are willing to explore middle management job opportunities even when the offered salary is not significantly higher than their current earnings. Their motivation stems from a profound dedication to the greater good of older Australians and a deep connection to the values, mission, and purpose of their employers, or a prospective employer. There needs to be a ‘fit’. This willingness to consider new roles, rooted in purpose and aligned values, may well be the catalyst needed to unlock the candidate market at the middle management level.

A client said to me recently, who I am head hunting for currently ‘PJ you have got to have faith.’ Perhaps that’s what we all need.