Welcome to the first installment of many blog posts I have in mind on the matter of recruiting, managing, appreciating and knowing your rights as an employer of Personal Assistants via the Direct Payments scheme here in the UK.
CLICK HERE for more information on what the Direct Payments Scheme entails
In this blog I'm not holding back any punches, we are diving head first into the type of workable relationship you want to have with a person whom (let's get real here!), is going to be very involved in your day-to-day life and needs to get to know you, as well as you them on a personal, understanding and respectful level for the best possible outcome of having that person be with you for a number of years.
Let's highlight a fact that employees might not be aware of. We as PA employers are on the constant look out for that "diamond in the rough" person. That connection, the type where the PA doesn't need to be guided over and over what you need and expect of them. You want them to undergo a period of training and for them just to know without you asking thereafter. That's what's supposed to happen in ANY relationship, you get to know how a person likes things done, how they work, the best way to approach them/challenges they may face (eg. in this case due to disability.)
Who wants to self direct each step of transferring to the loo? Having to awkwardly ask for privacy and for them to at least remain within earshot so we aren't hollering staring at the bathroom tiles for half an hour. Only for said PA to return and you having to talk through how to get off the loo...It gets old, it's tedious. As a disabled person who needs care support, in order to feel equal and that the disability side of our lives doesn't take over us as a person and controls us more than it should....we need to be able to get to that point where we can say, "Hey (insert PA name here) I just need to nip to the toilet." Simple as. Just put forward the need and together get the job done and get back to much more exciting daily activities 😅!
I'm a big believer in the cliché term, "Treat people how you wish to be treated." When I'm preparing to interview or train a potential new employee, I take a moment to get into their mindset. OK, I may be nervous about hiring and getting to know a new person who's supposed to come in my life and help me with very personal things because frankly I cannot do those things myself. But we must show compassion to their anxiety over the role they're embarking on. Especially those who have never worked in the Care sector before. Everyone has to start somewhere. Think about it, imagine that you are the able bodied individual who wants to make a difference in people's lives and has made the leap of applying for the position, gearing themselves up for the interview, worrying over the types of questions WE may ask, trying to put their personality but professionalism across and all the while it's at the back of their mind that they'll be talking to their employer today, but if hired have to face personal care tasks like toileting, bathing, grooming etc even a week later. It's daunting and takes ALOT of guts and compassion!!
If you can just focus on putting yourself into their shoes during the interview, training, early trial period and whenever the relationship gets a bit rocky, then the rest will follow.
Be mindful. As much as your PA is there to assist you in whatever care/daily activities you need help with. You need to be mindful that they are still human. They will make mistakes, even if you've shown them a few times. They do get tired. They do have a life outside the job that could cause issues within because often it's so hard to leave emotions at the front door (even if you pride yourself in being VERY professional). It happens. Life happens! If you see your PA seemingly overwhelmed or tired and the task isn't urgent...take a moment to ask how THEY are. Ask them if they'd like to sit down and have a cuppa tea. Yes you can't be providing sit down emotional support all the time but it's a pretty toxic situation if you can't show compassion when someone who does SO much for you is struggling. A cared for employee is a happier one.
Once your employees see that this is so much more than just a job, the benefits will reap in. You will build a mutual respect for one another, not just them being in awe of you and all your medical struggles but you them for all they do. You will start to get to know them as a person, not just a job title. Just how they learn how you like things done, showing them respect and attention to their needs means you learn when is a good time for their break for example. You notice they haven't sat down after some pretty strenuous care tasks in a row. Note how they slow down etc and believe me when they see that you cared to tell them to rest, when they think you expect them to keep going and going until an exact time everyday despite different tasks. They'll do so much better physically for you, if you care for them in return.
We all know this job isn't easy. Though it is incredibly rewarding to the right kind of people. To attract the kind of people who want to make a difference to someone with disabilities lives I always put what's in it for them in the first part of my Personal Assistant ads. Something along the lines of, "Are you looking for a unique opportunity to really make a difference in someone's life? I'm looking for compassionate individuals to for fill a rewarding role in helping me be as independent of a disabled person and mother to 2 precious little girls as I can possibly be...." I do really preach it how I see it. I want to attract people who want to be in this line of work and to do that I'm tugging on heart strings because I'm truly appreciative of the work PAs do that enable me to be the best I can possibly be.
Lastly don't let past experience with Personal Assistants taint the way you deal with new employees. I will touch on abuse and such with PAs in a future blog. Though I wanted to touch on this issue briefly here. So many employers get emotionally scarred when they've been taken advantage of/intimidated/abused in some way by a past PA. It can cause extreme anxiety and knock your confidence. I have experienced it first hand and for a while I couldn't help but let it impact on the way I was with future employees. You have to try with all your might to wipe the slate clean and start again, no two people are the same. Your new PA is walking into the situation blind to what you've gone through. You act uptight, anxious and demanding because you're afraid history will repeat itself and the new PA will be exactly the same and abuse the situation. You are then the one causing an uncomfortable relationship, you are the one letting the past affect the present and you are the one that may unintentionally push good employees away through your attitude and approach that's been altered due to unfortunate events. Only you can stand up, brush yourself off and carry on. Otherwise you may aswell throw in the towel as they've won.
I hope my take on how important mutual respect can be when trying to develop lasting working relationships with your Personal Assistants can be. Stay tuned for the next installment of "Personal Assistants 101"