In it, Kirby shares her personal learning around the challenges of hiring Personal Assistants. With thanks to Kirby, we thought this advice may be of interest to people who use our Independent Living Payments Support services, and so have reproduced here. The original blog post can be found at https://www.wheels2wander.org/post/the-headaches-of-hiring-help
This past month I have been looking to add a new addition to my small team of PA’s (Personal Assistants or Carers). I currently have a strong team who have been with me for years and have experienced growth and development in my personal and professional life first-hand alongside changes in my disability. The experience and competency of my current team has made it all the harder to find a new team member. The role is equal parts exciting, dynamic and mundane as my ever-changing life, it’s almost impossible to create a job description that encompasses everything.
I have now been recruiting my own PA’s for over 10 years, in that time I have experienced some amazing highs and awful lows with the process – it has been a real Rollercoaster. As an employer I have met some amazing people and been in some tough situations. I have discovered that being a personal assistant is an emotive and unique role that can bring out the best and worst in people.
I wanted to share some of the hard-won knowledge I have gained in one place to help others that might be going through something similar.
Please know these guidelines are built from my personal experience, I would always recommend that you seek help for your personal circumstances if you’re struggling to get the right team. This could include speaking to a mentor or a local Disabled Persons Organisation (DPO).
- Team’s the Word – If you require full time daily support then it’s going to take a small village. It’s nice to treat them like a traditional team and encourage everyone to work together to get the job done. This takes a common mindset and a whole lot of communication, it’s vital that everyone is happy with the hours they work and the activities they’re involved in. It’s equally important they feel able to come to you with any problems so that you can work together to sort things out. You don’t all have to be best buddies who go out for drinks on a Friday night, but a good level of respect and understanding is absolutely vital. As your team grows you’ll naturally recognise strengths and weaknesses among them, don’t be afraid to use this to your advantage when making plans and establishing hours. Different strengths and personalities in a team can be a really great thing when properly drawn upon.
- Setting Expectations – At the start of employment it’s important to lay out your expectations of your PA. This can vary wildly from person to person and is likely to change throughout your life. Setting expectations helps to establish professional boundaries and give you both firm footing should a miscommunication or grievance occur. Ensure your PA understands their role is one of facilitation and support. This can be particularly important if you’re younger as close PA’s can easily fall into a pseudo parenting role. Stay accountable for your own actions and decisions, it’s your life and you’re allowed to make mistakes and mess up, you shouldn’t have to ask for permission and you PA is there to facilitate life’s experiences, the good and the bad.
- You have to get along! – I know this may seem obvious but the absolute foundation of any PA/employer relationship is solidified in a unique type of friendship. It’s a professional friendship with boundaries but at the heart of it all you do have to actually like one another! This camaraderie will make it easier from the start as communication will be easier and more fluid and you’ll want to get to know one another. I sometimes work with my PA’s for many days in a row and it would be pretty darn miserable if we didn’t get along!
- Boundaries – The relationship with your PA is such that rock solid wall-like boundaries are not entirely feasible. There has to be a degree of overlap between a friendship and an employer-employee relationship for it to work well. Saying that, there is certain professional boundaries to be established, and you might not know your boundaries until they have been crossed. In this instance it’s important to have healthy communication about how you might be feeling, I often find that a strategic review or appraisal is a good way of addressing any ongoing problems in a professional way.
- Flexibility (on both sides) – If, like me, you expect your PA’s to be flexible then devise a system that allows for flexibility on both sides. This can mean using a mixture of care types so that the burden of essential tasks doesn’t always sit with one individual but is spread through a larger team. This also means that good diary management is essential. For example, I often will not commit to anything until I have cleared it with the whole team and I’m totally sure everyone is in place to facilitate the diary event. My team know to make me aware of any personal commitments that might limit their hours on a given day so that I can plan around them and put the right support in place. This communication ensures everything gets covered and no one-person feels put out or put on.
- Sometimes it just isn’t working – Having the wrong person working as your PA can be hugely damaging. Nothing else has had such a directly negative effect on my mental health in my entire life. When you’re dependent on others your mood, health and capacity as a human being is directly affected by those supporting you. They can help raise you up, help you seize opportunities or drag you down or even cement you in place. This power is not to be taken lightly, so it’s important to know when to call it a day. In the complex world of employment this can be challenging but your health and your life should always come first. There are lots of legal advisors that can support with this process and I would encourage you to use them, you’ll find them through your insurers and sometimes within your local authority. It’s also good to consult a friend – having someone outside of the situation to vent to is really important. Try to keep things impersonal and move forward with your head held high, sometimes things don’t work out, and that’s ok.
Remember that Personal Assistants are there to enable you to live the life you want to live. However, it’s up to you to empower yourself with the knowledge, confidence and skill-set to manage your care needs effectively. We don’t need to conform to a culture of care for survival, with the right team we can break down all those barriers and independently thrive.
With thanks to Kirby for permission to re-post her blog.
If you are a customer of WECIL’s Independent Living Payments Support service and need help in recruiting a new Personal Assistant, contact your Advisor.
If you are interested in becoming a Personal Assistant, visit WECIL’s PA jobs page for more information and for current vacancies.