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Providing Good Care: I Need to Look After Myself - Matthew Collins

What does it take to be a good care worker? First there are the physical and emotional demands. For me in my care setting, a good level of fitness is required, as walking and other physical activity is a regular feature with Adam - the person I support. The physical demands of undertaking everyday tasks around the house and helping to keep a safe and clean working environment cannot be underestimated.

Working nights

Emotionally I try to leave my issues from home life 'at the door' when I step into work. I always make sure to come across as approachable and empathetic. In tough times, let alone the pandemic I feel that there's been a great rise in mental health issues and I don’t see this changing.

I need to have a caring relationship with those I support and work with. When I describe my role as ‘night staff’ to people outside the care sector, I always say it’s my job to ensure the person I support gets the best night’s sleep possible. Working nights can be a bit lonely as you work on your own at night and sleep in the day. I live alone so sometimes the only people I see are my colleagues and the people I support.


Staffing pressures

There can be tensions and conflicts in care work. For example, I worked in a home that had 5 residents but only 2 carers. The residents had different needs and support hours which meant that the residents with the most support hours almost always did what they wanted, whereas people with less support hours could not. This was a difficult situation and led to great tensions.  Some staff left, including me, because we couldn’t provide the best for everyone.

Covid has stretched a lot of staff. In my care setting, we agreed early on not to use agency staff, as they were working in multiple care settings. This meant that if staff were off sick, the pool of staff to cover the shift was very small, and I had to change my personal plans for work. Changing shifts is something I struggle with most. On one occasion, I worked 10 nights straight because my colleague had to travel to another country as her mother was very sick.

When the service is short staffed, since I live on my own, I feel I should help whenever I can. It's hard to sit at home knowing someone is missing an activity because you didn't go in. This can lead to no end of guilt. Being a driver also means I can do lots more with people. I again feel guilty if I know I can go in when there is a staff shortage and there are no drivers. Adam loves going out in the car.

Separation of professional and personal life in care can be tough. The pandemic has been challenging, especially trying to explain Covid to people I support who don't understand what it has meant to the world. I've seen staff struggle and become overwhelmed by what's been happening. I found it especially tough at the beginning of the pandemic when no one knew what we were facing. Mentally at work I've been pretty strong but away from work I felt it was okay to unravel at times. The constant not knowing when Covid would end zapped a lot of my energy.

Recruitment has been difficult as well. We currently have 2 vacancies and these shifts are covered by agency workers who will not have received the training I have as a permanent staff member. For this reason, I do feel the need to pick up overtime to help Adam’s quality of care.


Looking after myself

Working long hours has an impact on mental health. I don’t mind working long hours but there needs to be that time when I say "right, me time now" and do something I enjoy that will get my head space out of work entirely.

One way I make time for myself is through running. I enjoy running a lot and I find this helps take my mind away from negative thoughts or just even care work in general. When I've had to change or even cancel my running this can lead to conflicts with my work-life balance. I ran a Marathon for my care provider Sense and it was a great journey to train for such an event.

For care work to be sustainable as a career, it is extremely important to have a work-life balance and interests outside work that allow you to switch off. This can only be possible if you have a manager that understands and listens, as well as a staff team that supports each other.

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