‘Showing empathy is probably the most important skill in my job. To be successful, you need to be sensitive and understanding and have a love for getting to know people. Understanding different cultural norms and values is key. Care workers come from different backgrounds, so they have to learn how to behave with clients in the UK.’

Job: Care Worker.
Typical hours worked: 42.
Profile: Alex is a Care Worker in his 20s who’s originally from India. He lives in the East of England with his wife and works for a rehabilitation centre and care home. 

Career history 

I’d never worked in care before I moved to England from India three years ago. I’d previously worked in bookings and amendments for a train company. I came to the UK when the pandemic hit and I just needed a job. I initially took a job in care to pay the bills, but over time I started to really enjoy it and I found myself to be an effective Care Worker. I’ve been in my current role for two months and work mainly with people suffering from dementia. I worked in a similar role at a different company for three years where I cared and supervised for four towns.

My working day 

My current role involves general care for clients, such as feeding them, making conversation with them and washing them. Those with good mobility don’t require much beyond that, but for the less physically able we use certain equipment to help. Some of the equipment is complex and we need to be careful to ensure we don’t injure anyone. 
 
I work long shifts – around 12 hours a shift. Being in one place for hours used to cause me stress, but now time passes quickly. I don't have to worry too much, as I know whoever picks up the shift after me will continue with the work I began if I couldn't finish it and vice versa. 

Work-life balance 

My last job involved domiciliary care, so I travelled from place-to-place attending to clients’ needs. This made getting a good work-life balance harder. The hours were longer, which meant it was difficult to get a good night’s sleep and have regular evening meals. With my current hours, things are easier. However, if my circumstances changed, for example if I were to have children, I would look at how I could spend more time at home. 

Job design 

Showing empathy is probably the most important skill in my job. To be successful, you need to be sensitive, patient and understanding and have a love for getting to know people.
 
Understanding different cultural norms and values is key. Care workers come from different backgrounds, so they have to learn how to behave with and approach clients in the UK. This is especially important when working with people with dementia, who don’t always understand why someone is behaving the way they are. 
 
I think I make a difference in my job with my approach to clients. I have a lot of control in deciding how I work, because all clients have different needs. For this reason, using trial and error with different approaches to care is encouraged. They really appreciate what I do and they often compliment me. I value having a positive effect on their lives and making them easier and I wouldn’t want to do a job where I couldn’t make that difference.

Pay and benefits 

My pay is slightly below my expectations. I have a positive attitude and am grateful for what I get, but I realistically need more money to lead a comfortable life. I often worry about paying bills. It feels like my role isn’t as appreciated as it should be, given the responsibilities I have.

Health and wellbeing

My role is mentally taxing in unexpected ways. For example, just doing small things away from work, like putting your shoes on, can distract you from everyday life and bring up an experience from work. I love my work but it does drain me and makes me consider my own future. I often wonder whether I’ll end up in a place like this, which is uncomfortable. No one wants to end up like this, but seeing and interacting with people so directly does make me fear that. 
 
Nevertheless, the skills this job has given me will no doubt be useful in time to come. For example, I have a much better understanding of how to behave when I have my own children, both in a practical sense and in showing understanding and empathy.

Relationships at work 

My relationship with my line manager is great. She’s very friendly, always smiling and positive, and is extremely good at her job. I haven’t been in the job long but I feel very supported by her. I believe there are two types of leaders: one who does everything very formally, and one who does everything correctly, and successfully, but in a more calm, cool way. My manager is more of the latter.
 
I am a friendly colleague and have good relationships with my colleagues. Everyone is very understanding of each other and teamwork is key in our jobs. We communicate with each other so well – when a task needs doing, we come together to plan, go away and perform our roles and then come back together to reflect.

Voice and representation 

I don’t have much experience of using my voice at work given my limited experience in my current role. But I’m confident that, if I were to speak up, my voice would be heard. For more serious issues, there’s a website where we can raise a complaint anonymously. So I’m really pleased with how different resources and channels for voice have been highlighted. In my old job, things were less positive - I raised my voice and asked for change but nothing came.

Reflections  

I had a great experience with one client who I used to take to the park in her wheelchair. Initially we’d just walk together, but then I began playing music to her. She told me her favourite musician and if I could play his music. It was very difficult to understand what she was saying as she had difficulties speaking, but I eventually understood. Her favourite musician was Engelbert Humperdinck, and I began playing his music on our walks, which she loved. After a few days, she would sing his songs and I would join in. Being able to build such connections with people is what motivates me in my work and is something I hope to continue doing as I develop in my role.

Thinking points for people managers

  • Ensure employees feel valued in their role and understand how they contribute to the overall success of the organisation.
  • Consider opportunities for professional development to develop a long-term career within the organisation.
  • Review shift patterns to ensure they meet the ongoing needs of employees and allow people to request flexible working.
  • Check whether employees have appropriate supervision and give them the opportunity to talk about their role, experiences and concerns.
  • Make time for teamwork and ensure employees can share ideas to support each other and their clients.

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