Author: Sam Sly
A version of this article was first published in Learning Disability Today.
Paid carers, support workers, personal assistants; there are many titles but for people who are not able to support themselves or who are not supported by family or loved ones these teams are an essential conduit to living a good life. Employing the right team and keeping this precious resource is something that I am sure many a manager has spent sleepless nights over. I know I have, and although I don’t have all the answers I want to share some of my thoughts and experiences as a leader who has tried to do the right thing with some success through personalised recruitment and retention working with the people supported and families.
I will start with a bold declaration that I think we don’t like to admit; maybe because we are a ‘caring’ profession, or because being paid to ‘care’ is uncomfortable? But the truth is that teams are generally made up of PAID workers and being paid makes this a different relationship. It’s a job and that cannot be ignored. This is not to say people who work in this profession are not amazing – they are and I have been privileged to manage workers who routinely go over and above their duties, but it is job and not a well-paid one at that so we need to use thoughtful ways to find and keep good workers.
I wonder sometimes whether in our quest to make things good for the people we support we are not always honest enough with ourselves and them about paid relationships (I know I have glossed over the negatives; I think because I feel guilt and even sadness that in our Society we still rely heavily on paid relationships). Reality is that paid workers can leave because they can’t handle all the challenges of the job or they want to progress their careers, they can be sick, they can have families and they do have their own lives. All these things can and do have significant negative impacts on the people we support.
Truly involving people and families in recruiting and retaining their teams is in my opinion the only thing to do: no ‘ifs’ no ‘buts’ however by doing this the realities of paid teams can be stark and painful for people. Can you imagine having to advertise and sell yourself (especially when you have times others have labelled as challenging) to then be rejected when applicants then decline the job? Or after years of being in Hospital learning not to make relationships with staff because it hurts so much when they leave you recruit your own team and form relationships and they leave too? No wonder people can find recruitment traumatic.
I am not saying that it is all negative in fact far from it; teams matched to people form stronger relationships and have more in common, core members tend to stay longer, the person feels in control, teams tend to feel more valued and happier in their work and are likely to keep in touch and become real friends when they leave. Personalised recruitment is best but there will inevitably still be pain and rejection.
So back to being a manager of paid teams and those sleepless nights worrying about recruitment and retention! Success, I believe, is an on-going process and feedback I’ve received from teams point to good employment depending on a whole lot more than the pay. Feedback suggests that the style of leadership is very important; knowing that the ethos of the Organisation is truly person-centred, the leaders are big-hearted, inspirational, passionate and positive. Feeling valued and learning from mistakes and not being blamed. Having leaders who remain strong and caring even in crisis situations and being available to talk, give a hug or de-brief over a coffee. Teams appreciate leaders who know what is going on in the person’s life and in their lives and who are flexible and compassionate. Small gestures of thanks, flowers and a kind word make a big difference. One worker said that the belief of leaders in the person supported has a massive impact on their own outlook on life. Mentoring, motivating and supporting teams to progress and continue to grow make a difference. Feedback also suggested that being a hands-on leader gains respect from teams and from the person and family supported. The saying ‘not expecting others to do what you would not do yourself’ matters. Workers like to be a part of an Organisation with low level hierarchy, high standards, an absolute focus on the person supported and with opportunities to train, learn, be innovative and be respected.
Seeing a worker as an individual is important; really listening, making them feel supported and relaxed, laughter and sharing the tears. Developing self-confidence, challenging but allowing workers to make decisions and run with new ideas and enabling them to see the possibilities they can achieve within.
One team member summarized working in such an Organisation as:
I feel very fortunate that I work for a Company that stands out for all the right reasons and constantly moves forward with such passion to want to deliver the best life possible to the people we support.
So recruiting and keeping a personalised service of paid workers is a pretty tall order! It is way more than paying a wage, and involves some painful realities for the person supported which they have to be aware of. However, when people don’t have natural support these are the people who are the ‘care’ in health and social care and because of this we must continue to improve the ways we value and support them.
Follow Sam on twitter: @SamSly2
The publisher is The Centre for Welfare Reform.
Supporting Staff in Person-Centred Work © Sam Sly 2015.
All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.