“Do you feel embarrassed or proud to work in aged care?”

Embarrassed or proud to work in aged care

The comment saddened us, but it was also unsurprising. The sector has been through a royal commission, uncovering a mountain of disturbing detail, yet little has improved for staff and residents on the frontline. 

Many aged care homes and providers offer wonderful care, but we are still hearing regular reports of care failures, weak regulation and inadequate funding. 

The sector is also seriously understaffed. A recent survey found 25% of shifts are going unfilled – and staff are underpaid. Aged care will never deliver the standard of care we expect and hope for in Australia without content and supported staff.

Sophie’s confession made HelloCare want to find out if her feelings are representative of the sector – and what is making them feel that way. If we can identify the issues worrying aged care workers, could this start a conversation that might solve some of the problems plaguing the industry?

So, we put a question to members of HelloCare’s Aged Care Worker Support Group on Facebook: “Do you feel embarrassed or proud to work in aged care?”

We received responses from about 50 aged care workers and were relieved to discover virtually all take immense pride in their work. 

Most who responded said they love working with older people in aged care, and they gain great satisfaction from knowing their efforts improve the final months and years of their clients and residents. 

Yet many admitted to feeling the aged care “system” is hampering their work, leading to feelings of shame and embarrassment. They do all they can to provide care, but they aren’t able to offer the quality of services they would like to and that they believe residents deserve.

What surprised HelloCare were the stories of those who said working in aged care had helped them personally, in moving forward in their life, in persisting despite the challenges, and in learning from older people how to live a better life.

It’s getting hard to say “I love my work”

Sophie has worked in a range of aged care roles over her four decades in the sector. 

“I love aged care, always have,” she told HelloCare. 

But many reforms in the sector “over the years … haven’t been good,” she explained. 

Personal care workers are “busting their guts”. 

They are administering medication, providing personal care, completing documentation, dishing up and serving meals, and washing dishes. 

The aged care home where she works is “continually short staffed” and she is often “left in charge when there’s no registered nurse” on site. 

If she doesn’t work beyond her paid hours “the work wouldn’t get done” – so she stays.

“I’m tired,” she admits. She plans to leave aged care in about two years, joining the exodus from the sector.

A registered nurse working in aged care who responded to our post, Rachel*, had similar feelings. 

She said, “I am proud to work in aged care, but usually there is a moment where I pause and inwardly cringe after saying it.”

Rachel said nurses who work in other fields “definitely look down on us and think we are less skilled than them”.

Aged care pride

Reassuringly, the overwhelming attitude towards working in aged care was one of pride.

Samantha* explained what the role means to her. 

“I don’t feel embarrassed. This is my forever job. I do this work because I choose to … I have left nursing and disability care to care for those who have contributed so much to this world already. 

“It is a privilege to walk alongside people as they enter their twilight years.”

Another worker, Kelly*, said she is “very proud” to work in aged care. 

It is frustrating that negative media coverage overshadows much of the good work being done in aged care, she continued.

“I’m frustrated that you only hear the bad stories and not the stories about how happy the residents are and that we’ve made a difference and given more quality to their day.”

Low pay erodes pride

The low rate of pay makes it difficult for James* to justify working in aged care, let alone take pride in his role, even though he loves working with older people.

“I struggle with knowing that my choice to do this work [that I love] is robbing my family of opportunities that I’d love to be able to provide. 

“I know my family is proud of me for doing a job that makes a difference, but the financial cost is a daily challenge that is not easy to justify.”

The system letting staff and residents down

Many said they love their work and always strive to do their best, but the aged care ‘system’ – regulators, the government, providers – is letting staff and residents down.

Anne* said she wasn’t embarrassed to be a carer, but she “did get embarrassed daily that our customers weren’t getting the help and equipment needed due to bad management who don’t want to listen”.

Management promises a high level of service, leaving it to care staff to let the residents down “gently”, she said.

Emily* did not mince her words. 

“I am embarrassed 100% knowing the elderly I care for don’t get the one-on-one time they need and the care they deserve because we are so short staffed. Our system is a disgrace.”

Monique* said of her role in aged care that she is, “Proud!!! … We can make a positive difference.” 

But she admitted she is “absolutely ashamed of the [aged care] system”. 

Fiona* admitted it was difficult hearing families say their loved one is not receiving proper care. 

“It’s hard when you hear people talking about the limited care that their family members have received.”

She reassures herself with the knowledge she is “doing my best” and she perseveres despite the difficulties. 

Amanda* said aged care workers “do a damn good job” despite understaffing, a huge workload and unrealistically high expectations from families, employers and the quality agency. 

“The pressure is relentless and comes from all sides. We need ratios, wage increases and support,” she told HelloCare.

A giving sector

Some aged care workers revealed that while they love caring for older people, they also benefit from working in the sector.

Natasha* said she was “never ashamed” of working in aged care. In fact, the work had given her the “skills I needed to move forward in my life”.

She’d also met “great people” along the way.

For some, the fact the sector is so maligned amplifies their pride – they continue to care despite the challenges.

Maria* said “not many people want to work in an industry with such a bad reputation,” but “without us, who will look after them?”

She continued, “It’s an honour” to care for older Australians, and described their many attributes: “vulnerable, caring, brave, tough, scared, ashamed, stereotyped, loving, compassionate, worried, lonely, funny, abandoned, forgotten”.

Maria said she learns something new from older people every day. 

“They have the best stories and life experiences, and what they have learnt in their lives teaches us what we should be doing.”

*Names have been changed.

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  1. I think most carers are content with their jobs and the care they deliver and so they should be.
    The word “proud” being asked has always been wired to me, a cleaner, barista,taxi driver,welder, accountant etc aren’t asked if they are “proud” of their work. It’s a job and as such you should do as good a job as possible.

    The carers over the last few years have gone above and beyond and they should be respected for what they do every day. Sadly a lot of the disrespect comes from within, some carers will chuck a sickie on short notice and of course management can’t replace that carer forcing the other carers to carry a bigger load and this happens every day. Respect starts from within,you can’t buy respect and more money doesn’t equal respect either.

    1. I agree! I love what I do! It might be an embarrassment for some but for me heck I love it. Yes its hard especially when you are short staff. Mentally and physically you are overworked but you still love what you do. Talking and singing with the residents while attending or while you shower them is best. I pray everyday for strength so I can work and give my best care to all the residents I care and at the same time I have a job that I do love and money that keeps me and my family alive. Yes, there is no job that is perfect no matter what job you are good at but yes as a carer for 7 years I might say God only knows when I can still do the job I do now because of my physical health. But, looking after the residents at their home is where I can say my 3rd home. I love them and will forever be grateful to God and being here and working in australia.

    2. If I was you, I’d be trying to find out if there is a systemic issue as to “WHY” these staff are “chucking a sickie” on short notice… Clearly it’s an issue for your place of business, because you’ve mentioned it in several comments on HelloCare stories…
      Are they feeling burnt out?
      Are they the same staff who you are rostering to fill those extra roles, for staff who have previously rang in sick?
      Are they feeling unsupported in their role?
      Is there a member of the team who may be bullying them?
      Are they experiencing flu-like symptoms, often brought on by the change of weather/season and calling in sick, because this is what they have been told to do for the last 2 years, and should still absolutely be doing, because Covid hasn’t actually gone away…?

      There’s probably many reasons, but it sounds like a top-down communication issue and burn-out to me.

  2. I hope that this post is put under the noses of all that are supposed to be in charge of this sector, and I mean the imbecile politicians. How about we do a major survey of all political leaders and their deputies. Find out where their parents are living and what care,if any, they are receiving. What nursing homes are involved and whether they think they are getting enough and proper care. IF THESE WONDERFUL PEOPLE THAT DO THIS JOB SO WELL DON’T GET RECOGNIZED THEY WILL BE LOST TO THE INDUSTRY AND WILL BE REPLACED BY THOSE NOT INTERESTED IN PEOPLE BUT, THE MONEY. This is happening big time in all jobs that involve critical personal interaction as the main occupation ie Hospital nursing staff, ambulance and police. Do another survey on that.

  3. When you received a big teary hug and a thank you from your elderly clients you help in the community – it make it all worth while.

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