white ceramic mug filled with black coffee

Are You Creating a Toxic Work Environment For Your Caregivers?

Listen up, Folks!  I belong to a TON of disability-related Facebook groups.  I usually just troll through them. Keeping my eyes and ears open for what is happening in the world. Taking note of any new resources, and what people are talking about. What I see a lot of is evidence of a toxic work environment for your caregivers… 

One of the hot topics I am seeing a lot of chatter on, is hiring, managing, and firing support workers.  I am here to talk about you and your support workers. I am about to climb up on my soapbox, so watch out!

For those of us that use caregivers for our loved ones with disabilities, we know how hard it is to find those workers in the best of times. But during a pandemic…it’s crazy!  So let’s talk about the complaints that I am seeing from families a bit.

Complaint #1 “No one is giving me my allotted support workers!  My case manager isn’t doing anything!”

Sorry to burst your bubble, but YOU are the one who provides YOU with support workers.  If you use an agency, YOU need to be the one that is in contact with that agency. They need to know that you still need workers.  There is no guarantee you will get workers but the squeaky wheel and all that. As you know, there is a HUGE shortage of caregivers nationwide.

Your case manager probably has 60-90 cases they manage.  They don’t have time to take on your responsibilities, much less the responsibilities of everyone on their caseload.  If you need workers, go get your own.  You know what skills and experience you need in a worker, your caseworker doesn’t.  Take the initiative!

I work with two agencies plus do direct hires.  I am in constant contact with the agencies via email and/or text.  It takes 5-10 minutes per week to reach out to them so don’t feed me the bull that you don’t have time.  If you think you don’t have time, take your phone into the bathroom with you and multitask! 

woman holding white mug while standing

Complaint #2 “My worker never does anything, she is on her phone all the time.”

My question to this is, why are you letting the caregiver do this?  If they aren’t doing anything, have YOU trained them on what needs to be done?  Have you provided them with written expectations and task lists?  If they aren’t doing anything, that is because they don’t know what needs to be done. 

Support workers don’t come fully trained, you have to do it.  There is always something for support workers to do.  Create a checklist of tasks.  This is what any good manager does in any business.  They fully train their staff so their staff knows what is expected of them at all times.  

Didn’t work?

If you do this and they are still not doing their work, yes, you can fire them. But think back on how long it took you to find them in the first place.  Do you really want to fire them and go through that process again?  Pull up your big Momma Bear panties and take charge of the situation!  You don’t have to be mean and disrespectful, just the Big Boss Bear.  Let them know that they don’t get paid for the time they are not working.  If they need something to do, you will help them find something to occupy their time. Something that they can get paid for.  

Tell them to re-read your house policies, dress code, procedures, and protocols again.  Have them go through the task list to see if there is anything they missed.  Have them spend time interacting with your loved one!  They can play board games or video games (taking turns and learning to be a good winner and loser is all about life skills!).  They can go for a walk or to the park or ride bikes.  That’s all about exercise.  Do you see what I am saying?  You can’t just expect a stranger to come into your house and automatically know what to do and how to do it.  You need to train them properly and if you do, things like this won’t become an issue. 

Complaint #3 “My worker had an injury at home and now she can’t lift my 110lb son into his wheelchair!  What good is she?  Why did she do this to me?  I need to fire her!!”

Wait… what??  You want to fire someone because you think they deliberately injured themselves so they wouldn’t have to work with your son?  Your 110 lb son who is a full assist on transferring.  You expect your staff to do a 1 person lift on a 100+ lb person who can’t assist them?? In case you didn’t know, abusing your staff like this is full blown evidence of a toxic work environment!

My question is this:  Why are you breaking your staff?  If your loved on is more than 50 lbs, you NEED to have some equipment on hand. Without lifting equipment, or aids they will be injuring not only themselves but also your loved one. 

Caregivers learn quickly that they have to take care of their bodies. They do this by learning and being trained on good body mechanics.  If a support worker doesn’t use good body mechanics and lifting and transferring aids, their bodies are going to wear out quickly. 

Don’t break yourself!

And this includes you, Momma & Poppa Bears!  We need to keep ourselves in top working order so we can be around to take care of our kids.  If we keep tweaking our backs or knees or arms or whatever, we are no longer going to be able to physically support our kids.  Get lifting equipment!!  Get a gait belt, get a Hoyer-type lift, get a transfer board, and get a shower chair!  Don’t expect your staff to just yard your kid around. 

No wonder they don’t want to come to work because you have created an unsafe, toxic work environment for them!  Talk to your case manager and physical therapist and see if they can help you with equipment needs.  There are all kinds of grants or equipment closets out there that you can use.

two gray crutches on concrete pavement during daytime

Complaint #4 “My support worker wants to take a vacation and I need her to work!  I don’t care that she gave me 6 months’ notice, she needs to work!”

Our support workers are staff, not slaves.  They have lives doctors appointments, and dates and family get-togethers, and fun and not-so-fun things to do outside our homes.  And as long as they give us advance notice, they get to do those things!  

That is why it is important to have a backup plan.  The backup plan can be another caregiver, Grandma or Grandpa, an older sibling, or even you. But have a backup plan so if your support worker needs time off or calls in sick, you still have coverage.

Complaint #5 It’s Your Turn to babysit the caregiver!

Don’t be a micromanager!  If you have properly trained your caregiver, why do you need to babysit them?  In fact, why did you hire them in the first place if that is what you are going to do? This is called micro-managing. And what do micro-managers do? Everyone say it with me. 1…2…3 “They create a toxic work environment!”

Caregivers are here to help give us a break from the day-to-day stress of providing support to our loved ones.  So if you feel the need to babysit them, that defeats the purpose.  Take a deep breath and leave the house. Let the support worker have a chance to do the job that you hired and trained them for.

And you know what?  I bet, when you get back to the house, the world will not have caved in! 

baby lying on inflatable ring.  Being a babysitter to your caregivers creates a toxic work environment

The Good, Bad, and Ugly Truth

Long story short, if your support workers aren’t coming to work, aren’t doing their work, or are getting injured on the job, chances are, it’s YOU not them.  You have created a toxic work environment that they are not comfortable with for some reason.

Create a support worker handbook that has clearly defined expectations and boundaries.  Train them, and not just for an hour either!  My son’s support workers go through an intensive training hands-on training with me. We work together for the full length of their shift.  This is not a one-and-done type training. I work with them for days, if not weeks. Slowly, I will start leaving them in charge of things for longer periods of time. I still check in with them to see how things are going. And I am always around for questions or concerns. I want them to feel comfortable coming to me with anything. It’s important that they know that I am here to support THEM. Not to find fault.

I have checklists on the wall with daily, weekly and monthly tasks that need to be done.  There are always general housekeeping tasks to be done, PT, OT, and Speech therapy activities to be done, personal care, exercise equipment, going for walks, reading books, and supplies to restock.  His support workers are never bored.  If I have a support worker that is having issues being on time, or not doing their work, I don’t fire them.  I sit down with them and have a talk and find out what is driving the behavior and we work on a solution. 

woman writing on paper on table near laptop.  This is a professional workplace atmosphere, not a toxic work environment

Journey’s end…or just the beginning?

Sometimes the solution is that this is just not the right job for them and that is fine.  But sometimes it’s something that we can work on.  Maybe I have not fully defined what is expected of them on the job and we go over the support worker handbook again and I update it as needed.  I just had one support worker who was needing something to do on her shift.  I had her go through the task lists and update them with things that she thought should be on the list.  And it was great!  She added things that I hadn’t even thought about and are task lists are much more organized and cohesive now.

Don’t be passive-aggressive with your staff. You can’t expect them to know what you want them to do without you telling them.  Tell them, nicely.  You have to be the boss but don’t be a toxic, inconsiderate one.  We have all had those types of bosses in our lives and did we perform our best for them?  Of course not!  If you have a high turnover among your staff, Newsflash! it’s not because you are a great boss to work for.

C-Bear has 2 support workers that have been with us for over 6 years.  I don’t yell, I don’t intimidate, I don’t threaten and I don’t belittle them.  I make sure that they have everything they need, in training and equipment, to do their job effectively.  We are a team but they know that ultimately, I am the one in charge and they respect that.  I am in charge and I respect them and appreciate the fact that they come to work every day and help me to take care of my son.

Wrapping it up

If you are having trouble with a staff member have you tried talking to them about it? If you are still having issues, do you have a good boss that you could talk to?  Take the situation to them and see what advice they might have for you.  If you don’t have anyone, reach out to me! Maybe we can brainstorm a solution that would work for you so you don’t have to fire the support worker.

Ok, I am climbing off my soapbox now and reverting back to my normal Momma Bear self.  I will attach some links below to other posts I wrote that address having written expectations in place for your caregivers.  If you have questions on anything, leave me a comment below.

Related posts:
36 Questions to ask before using Caregivers
5 Ways to be a great boss

Other articles:
How to Treat Others with Respect in the Workplace – Indeed.com
9 Tips for Building Trust in the Workplace – Achievers.com

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