Are you considering getting some extra at-home help or a carer to look after you (or your loved one) in your own home?
As with all work relationships, dealing with helpers in your home can either lift you up and brighten your day, or leave you feeling frustrated, overwhelmed and stressed. Your happiness and well being can be greatly affected by the relationships you have with your helper. If they are cheerful and complete their duties efficiently, your load will be lighter; but if they take advantage of your vulnerability or regularly do not complete tasks, the situation can quickly deteriorate and add more stress to your life.
As with any relationship, setting boundaries from the outset is critical. Many professional carers are trained to maintain professional boundaries; they are aware of the need for confidentiality, respect and reliability. However not everyone you hire may have had this training; even so, there are many grey areas that have the potential to become problematic over time. Boundaries impact all areas of our lives, and you or your loved one are the more vulnerable person in this situation; you need to consider how to protect yourself.
Role description or agreement
The helper will be carrying out their work duties inside the privacy of your own home/on your private property, therefore your personal safety – both physical and emotional – is paramount. Use a written document to specify the main boundaries by listing them as house rules. This list can cover privacy and security as well as your most important values and preferences, such as:
- No smoking in or around the home
- No private phone calls or texts to be made while at work
- No racial/sexist/religious slurs
- Follow regular nursing rules for all tasks that involve physical contact
- Do not take any photos on the premises
- No sharing of information/photos of any aspect of this job, either in private circles or on any social media network or public forum, without prior permission to do so
- Food/drink is not to be used / taken from the premises for private use
- Do not use the home phone line, computer or vehicle unless owner is present and gives permission, or in cases of extreme emergency, etc.
Your house rules create a structure to cover safety of self, safety of information, and safety of property. By listing them in a written document and reviewing them with your helper from time to time, you can avoid many of the common potential areas of conflict that can easily creep in.
Consider the following points when writing a work agreement
Physical boundaries Touch can be healing and comforting or it can be confusing, hurtful, or unwelcome. When physical contact is necessary to carry out a duty, it should be used sparingly. If someone violates your physical boundary, i.e. by touching you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, it can be defined as physical abuse. Make sure you specify exactly what sort of physical contact will be acceptable. If necessary, arrange to have a full training session to cover the duties that involve physical contact. Have the district nurse, close friend or a family member present to affirm what is acceptable contact for each task.
Certain distractions can interfere with the helper’s focus and place your personal safety at risk. It might be important to stipulate that loud music, the use of ear phones, and mobile phones are not permitted. Phones should only be used at work when deemed necessary and no private phone calls or texts should be made while on duty. The helper should be focused on their duties and responsibilities at all times, unless they are on a break.
Language is one way of establishing and maintaining boundaries. When you first start working with your support worker, it is good to directly establish with them how you want to be addressed. While most people prefer to use their first name, if it makes you more comfortable you are welcome to ask them to address you more formally by titles such as 'Mr', 'Mrs', or 'Miss'. The use of endearing terms can cross professional boundaries and make people uncomfortable so should be avoided by both you and your support worker. If your support worker uses language or makes comments that make you uncomfortable, it is important to address this with them immediately, and set boundaries around what language is and isn't acceptable within your professional relationships to avoid the behaviour escalating.
Gift giving can be culturally significant and something you feel is necessary to do for occasions such as Christmas and birthdays. During these special occasions you may like to give a gift to your worker as a token of appreciation for all the support they provide. However, it can sometimes blur the lines between a professional relationship and a personal one. It is up to your own discretion to decide whether the exchanging of gifts is appropriate or not, though we do recommend that you do not give large gifts to your workers. If you feel it is appropriate within the bounds of your professional relationship to give a small gift on certain occasions, and that your worker will be comfortable with this, you are welcome to. If you do not wish to give gifts, or feel uncomfortable doing so, you are not required to.
It is also up to your discretion to decide whether it is appropriate for your support worker to give you a gift on special occasions. If for some reason you feel uncomfortable accepting a gift, it is okay to decline even if you think it may cause offense, as this helps to maintain your professional relationship.
Private information Home-based jobs can lead to a certain amount of familiarity. The helper will be hearing/overhearing, seeing and perhaps even participating in your personal matters and private business (or that of your family or loved ones). They may have access to private areas of the home and even your computer or vehicle. Having clear boundaries about what is acceptable to you will encourage mutual respect, as well as healthy channels of communication.
A confidentiality clause should be included in any written role agreement. Be aware that this still permits a helper to share information with certain approved relatives, or with specific medical staff or specialists, if they feel it is in your best interests. Even though it may often be tempting to chat openly about your personal life or problems, it is important to respect the helper as a health care professional rather than as a friend or a sounding board. Try not to share deeply personal information just because you need to talk. If you have health problems, speak to your doctor. If you have financial problems, speak with a close family member, social worker, or your accountant.
Identity theft and/or data breaching is becoming a very real danger, and the most vulnerable are at the highest risk of being taken advantage of. Do not share any ‘secret’ information such as bank account details, pin numbers, or passwords. Take necessary steps to tighten your data security if this information is openly available on your computer, or written down somewhere in your home. Be very specific about the rule of no photographs and videos while at work. When part of the job description includes outings or attending social events, the worker should understand that their role in those situations is primarily to assist the client and not for their own participation. They are also NOT permitted to share any of the details on their own social media networks unless they have specific permission to do so.
Dealing with violations When work relationship boundaries are weak, they risk being violated. If something happens that you are not happy about, try these steps to rectify the situation:
- Identify where your boundaries are low, i.e. what upset you and why
- Bring up a boundary violation straight away to avoid letting things stew; inform the helper by email so that the incident and the date is recorded. Decide whether this incident may or may not require a warning.
- Request a change. Use a calm but formal tone to address the issue, and base your request for change on the terms you both signed in a contract or agreement (if any).
- Follow-up. Once things have been sorted out, you could make some positive remarks about noticing and appreciating any improvements.