Supporting someone to live independently can make a huge difference to their quality of life and provide you with a great sense of achievement. As in any job, performing to the best of your ability, achieving professional goals and growing in the role makes the work more satisfying and of greatest benefit to those you assist.
Each of the following elements will be valuable in your work. Regularly reflecting on how you’re doing in these areas, lessons learned and experience gained can help guide you to success.
Check your attitude. Taking a caring, committed, can-do approach is essential when supporting others. Being cheerful can help lift people's spirits; some days, it might be what they need the most. Your encouragement could help them try something new, attempt something difficult, or get through daily life as independently as possible.
Be the help your client needs. Have a job description and know what is and isn’t your job. Your client, and their families and whanau (if they're involved), also need to understand your professional role, so make sure everyone agrees on this from the start. Review it if circumstances change.
Remember you’re part of a bigger team. No one person is responsible for meeting a person's every need. You're part of a support team made up of family, friends, neighbours, community members and other support professionals – your care complements what they do. Use the team and be a team player. Keep each other informed. Recognise it can be tricky for families and friends to navigate achieving the best support for their loved one, and be understanding.
Get to know your client. Make time to hear the parts of their story they want to share and discover what’s important to them. Be aware of their likes and dislikes. This can help you relate to them and anticipate their needs. Be an active listener at all times. Be as aware and supportive of their emotional wellbeing as you are of their physical wellbeing.
Be respectful and non-judgmental. Simply being consistently being polite can have a very positive effect. Accept your client for who they are. Respect any cultural or religious practices and beliefs. People know when they're valued and respected and when they’re not. If you see things differently from them, empathy can help you take a step back and consider things from their perspective.
Be kind-hearted. Your role is to attend to the needs of those you assist, and you should give them the respect, care and compassion you’d want yourself. Keeping this in mind can help keep you on track.
Be interested and interesting. Being good with people is a strength. Clients can sense your warmth and interest, or lack thereof. Realise that your tone of voice and your body language can say as much or even more than your words.
Be patient. Patience can help you deal with challenges and understand the physical or emotional strain your client may be experiencing, but even a great care worker can feel impatient sometimes. Repeating actions or hearing stories or requests multiple times can be stressful. In difficult moments, step back and push your ‘re-set button’. Pause to collect your thoughts; take several slow, deep breaths to help you calm down. Focusing on what suits you the most can lead to frustration, so it helps to focus on your client first. Your role is about supporting them and meeting their needs.
Don’t take negative comments personally. Instead, pause to consider the feedback from a professional perspective. Honest comments can be valuable. Identify and assess the person’s concerns. Are there areas you need to learn about or work on? Or are the comments reflective of your client’s mood and current outlook? We all have bad days; tomorrow might be better for them and for your relationship.
Keep calm. Do your best to keep your client relaxed. Be as calm as possible yourself. A peaceful environment will decrease their stress and yours. If you feel anxious, start by taking some slow, deep breaths.
Communicate well. Good relationships rely on good communication. Share information with your client in a clear, concise way. Learn to actively listen. Learning about body language can be useful too, to help you identify what they may be communicating in a different way.
Consult and involve. Helping your client maintain their independence is vital – it has a big effect on their wellbeing and self-esteem. Involve your client in all daily planning and decision-making. When a person is given choices, they feel they have more control and this is empowering. Acknowledge and use their own knowledge, expertise and skills. Encourage them to express their preferences and opinions, and support their goals however you can.
Be diplomatic. You may have to have some challenging discussions, and when you do, aim to choose your words carefully. Be as tactful as possible. If a client is resisting something needs to happen, learn ways to negotiate with them positively and to compromise if necessary. Communicate in ways that show you respect them. If emotions are running high, come back to the conversation at a later stage.
Maintain professional boundaries. Providing support to those who need assistance can be an intimate experience for you both. Your responsibility is to make sure your help, support and relationship doesn’t harm or disempower them in any way. Because giving support can be stressful at times, professional boundaries will help you to manage any strong emotions and prevent you from overreaching or behaving unprofessionally.
Be honest and reliable, and respect confidentiality. Develop a relationship with your client that's built on a foundation of trust. Working in a client’s home exposes you to matters that are private and personal to them and their family. Prove that you're trustworthy in both small and big matters. Work with absolute integrity and reliability. Be true to your word and follow through on what you say you’ll do. Never gossip or pass on information about your client. Be conscientious about your hours and punctuality. You're relied on to provide an ethical service to your client, so never compromise on this.
Observe and monitor. A good worker is a vital health and wellbeing resource. Your goal is to be fully present with your client, so you can actively notice how they are when you’re with them. Keep an eye on the whole picture and all the elements of your client’s wellbeing. Observe them if they're unable to verbally communicate. Watch for signs that they may be struggling with something or would like you to do things differently. You may need to be a detective at times, looking past the obvious to discover what’s really going on for them. Provide the help they need, or find ways to access someone else to assist. Keep the wider support team updated when relevant. Keeping a daily log that includes the date and your observations is a very useful practice to adopt.
Gain new skills. Be committed to learning more and improving your skills. Take the initiative in this. Look out for helpful information and articles on caregiver sites as well.
Be flexible. Unexpected changes in schedule, tasks and your client’s situation can occur at any time, as can crisis situations. Be ready to adjust when changes happen. You can set the ‘keep calm and carry on’ tone for your client, which can influence how they cope, too. Keep your composure. Stop, think and reprioritise. Take some slow, deep breaths if you can feel your anxiety rising. Ensure you have an emergency or crisis plan ready, and keep key contacts handy. Don't hesitate to phone 111 if there's an emergency you can’t deal with.
Be organised, resourceful and a problem solver. Good organisation helps you make the most of your time. Keep track of things by using a system that works for you. Stay on top of key information; find out the things you need to know. If you need assistance with something, or if you identify that your client needs something you can’t provide, investigate other options. Get things happening for you, or your client, to improve a difficult situation. If problems arise, take a proactive approach to finding a solution. Take control when needed, such as in a crisis or emergency, but in non-urgent situations, consult your client and others in their support team first, if possible.
Keep your sense of humour. Humour and laughter can help you and your client through some challenging or awkward times and have well-proven health benefits too, releasing stress, improving mood, lowering blood pressure and improving the immune system.
Remember that perfection is impossible. Be quick to identify and acknowledge any mistakes and set them right as promptly as possible. Apologise as appropriate, learn, forgive yourself and move on.
Acknowledge grief. When people are unwell or in pain, grief can be very real for those who support them. If a client goes through something traumatic, if they move away or die, or if your role with them ends, you can experience a sense of loss. Grief is the normal process we all go through to adjust to the reality of a significant change. Being in a paid position doesn’t mean you won’t grieve, so make room for it. Let it take the time it needs to take. Get some extra personal support, if needed.
Take the initiative. Great care providers know what needs to be done. They're capable of taking action and initiative as needed, without taking over. Commit yourself to offering the best care possible for your client, and know that you're making a difference. You’re contracted because what you offer is needed and because of who you are as a person.
Take care of yourself. A burned out or permanently stressed helper is not able to give their best; doing what you need to do to maintain your energy and health is key to giving optimum support to others. Make self-care a priority and know your limits. Put in place safety practices to protect yourself from injury.
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