Creating a positive workplace culture for personal assistants
20 Jun 2023
5 min read
- Individual employers
- Culture and diversity
We spoke to individual employers (IEs) and a personal assistant (PA) about how to create a positive workplace culture for PAs.
Nadia Clarke, individual employer
As a young disabled woman, I’ve been employing PAs since I was 8 years old - for 22 years now. So, I have lots of experience of being an individual employer, and of managing my own self-directed support, which I was awarded young employer of the year for in conjunction with Skills for Care in 2016.
I’m deaf, and I have cerebral palsy, and I use a communication aid instead of speech.
I currently recruit and manage a team of 15 PAs. Being an individual employer has many benefits, but also comes with challenges. The benefits for me are that I get to pick and choose my own team, finding people who are just right for the job, and who can meet my own unique needs. I find my PA team are incredible, they understand my needs, and I really do receive personalised support.
However, managing everything that’s associated with being an employer, isn’t easy. We spend a lot of time making sure that the workplace is safe and in line with employment legislations, policies and procedures, as well as making sure that we have a positive workplace culture.
For me a positive workplace culture means that I’m a kind and understanding manager. I try to encourage a work ethos where everyone feels comfortable to talk to me and to each other. Being a PA is a really unique role, and I make sure that my PAs know how much I respect them; they’re fantastic social care professionals.
I want my PAs to be happy in the workplace, to feel settled and comfortable. We don’t take ourselves too seriously and we all have a great sense of humour. We do lots of hard work, and very serious work, but also we like to have fun together as a team.
A positive workplace culture means all my team members are respected and valued as individuals. I have a diverse and inclusive team. Every one of my PAs brings different ideas, knowledge, skills, and experience to the workplace. This is celebrated. It’s important that I’m able to give my PAs new experiences and encourage new skills being learnt via good teamwork and training.
Positive workplace culture also means that as a team we’re working safely, and in accordance with legislation, policies, and procedures.
As a team we’re always learning and growing. We don’t get things right all the time – but that’s ok, we talk about it, and learn from our mistakes. Open and honest communication is always encouraged, and I’ll always make time to talk to my PAs if they need support.
I encourage my PAs to learn new skills, so as an employer we look for training opportunities for individuals and the whole team. If a PA was interested in learning something new, we would be encouraging of that and try and find training and development opportunities to support them with that. We have regular team meetings, where we can all come together, share ideas, learn from one another, and have fun.
A big part of working as a PA, is being in someone else’s home environment. This can feel uncomfortable for people. So, we aim to make all PAs feel at home. My home is their home.
I also employ a lady who supports me to manage my team. She works at a brokerage organisation, and helps me and my team with recruitment, and to generally make sure that we’re all working safely. I make sure that all my PAs receive regular supervision.
At Christmas I always treat my team to a meal out as a thank you, and to hopefully show my appreciation for their hard work and commitment. I also try to acknowledge when PAs have done some great work – I talk to them about this and also make sure it gets mentioned in their supervision.
I also want my PAs to join in new experiences and have adventures with me. Some of my PAs have travelled the world with me, enjoy supporting me at gigs and festivals, and with some amazing work opportunities. Lots of my PAs have done things that they’ve never done before, and developed new skills.
The thing we do best, is being kind to one another and working together – after all, team work makes the dream work.
The biggest benefit of providing a positive workplace culture, is that it encourages my PAs to stay in their roles. If my workplace was not a pleasant experience for people, then they’d be unhappy, leave and move on. I have PAs that have been in their jobs for many years. It benefits my team because they develop good relationships with each other, which helps to improve team morale. This ensures better, and continuity of, care for me.
Having a positive workplace culture is ultimately what helps me to live an independent life, and for me and my team to be happy and thrive.
Isaac Samuels, individual employer
As a deaf and disabled person living with a number of long-term health conditions, to live an ordinary life I employ PAs. I have several people employed and they’ve enabled me to live a life with purpose and meaning.
My experience of employing PAs has been wonderful. It’s allowed me not only to have a truly, person-centred approach to my care and support, but to have fundamentally positive relationships with those who I choose to support me, in a way that makes sense to me. Not only do I recruit people based on their skills, talents, hobbies, and interests, but I also ensure they’re committed to my ethos of person-centred care.
In terms of having a positive work culture, it can be difficult to support people when they're not having a great day. Often my PAs are supporting me in very difficult circumstances.
Notwithstanding this, it’s crucial to create a culture that focuses on a positive workplace, because that facilitates PAs doing their jobs well, enables them to support me and means they can manage their own wellbeing. We’ve had to proactively think about how we do this, and we’ve found several ways to achieve it.
There are simple things I've done, as an individual employer, to enable my staff to have a really good workplace culture in terms of wellbeing.
We have wellbeing plans that focus on the wellbeing of each PA. We also have a wellbeing meeting once a month, where we discuss what can support the PAs’ wellbeing - this might be flexible hours, planning ahead, or things that could ease the workload. Doing this has been a great opportunity to discuss what wellbeing means to all of us.
Also, I've made sure there’s a regular lunch hour with whoever’s supporting me. We’ll sit and have lunch together. This means we can get to know and be alongside each other, really focusing on wellbeing, not just the work.
We’ve also provided team members with vouchers to have complementary therapies, which has really helped with managing stress. Additionally, every quarter we have a meet up that isn’t work related. Instead, it's all about being alongside each other and having a bit of fun. One thing we’ve enjoyed recently is silent discos.
We always think about the mental health and wellbeing of the people that I'm employing. It's important that my staff have regular breaks, so I build that into the day meaning they can go out and get some fresh air, even on days where I can't.
Staff wellbeing is really important as it benefits both them and me. It’s helped me when recruiting and retaining people.
There are numerous benefits to this approach because it saves money in terms of avoiding high staff turnover. Additionally, it builds relationships and helps everyone feel valued and important.
I was recently involved with a piece of work looking at the problems deaf and disabled people faced during COVID-19. One contributor pointed out that deaf and disabled people are highly-adept at problem solving and can often do this in cost-efficient ways. I think that might be relevant here too.
There won’t be one solution that suits everyone, but it’s about listening to people, recognising what’s important to them, then being open-minded and creative about responding to problems and demonstrating how much someone is valued for their contributions.
Additionally, for me, peer support has been vital, because it’s given me the ability to collect and share knowledge about how other deaf and disabled individual employers create positive work environments for their PAs. By drawing on different experiences then combining these with the range of skills and talents that people have, if we truly want to create positive work cultures we can and will do it.
Chris Hamnett, personal assistant
I’ve been a PA for 17 years. I met a young man called Joe on an adventure holiday when I was 15. We quickly became friends, and shortly after Joe’s mum asked if I would like to become his PA. My friends were beginning to find work in local bars, shops, and cinemas none of which appealed to me, therefore spending time with Joe was an ideal option.
My time with Joe encouraged me to take on new roles and I quickly became a PA for another three young men - Tom, Haydn, and Daniel.
At times, I’ve worked as a PA for 40+ hours a week and others for less than 10+. I’ve been fortunate to work with people who could offer me flexibility as my availability fluctuated over the years.
My favourite thing about being a PA is the freedom you have to apply creativity and curiosity to practice.
As a PA my relationship is directly with the person I’m supporting, and we can work differently every day.
For me a positive workplace culture is one where employees are happy and content. It’s one where me and my colleagues are encouraged to grow and develop. I enjoy working alongside other enthusiastic people who like to implement new ideas and try new things.
I’ve been fortunate to work with many fantastic individual employers. They’ve primarily been people who I share similar values and interests with, which I believe is crucial.
They’ve always recognised my strengths and encouraged me to apply them to my work. For instance, I’m a strong advocate for social inclusion so I’ve worked with many of my individual employers to challenge barriers within our community.
I think, as much as possible, IEs want their PAs to feel motivated. Challenging PAs to make things better, keeps them interested and in exchange should result in better support.
I appreciate that depending on your care needs, this may be more difficult to do and actually some PAs may not share my views on this. I think it’s important to employ people who share your values, and to speak to your PAs regularly and ask them what could improve their experience at work.
Find more support for individual employers and personal assistants on our IE PA Hub.
Find out more about developing a #PositiveWorkplaceCulture with our spotlight.
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