When an agency worker turns up to work at an aged care facility they haven’t worked in before, everything will be new to them: the other staff, the residents, the layout of the building, where things are kept, and routines they need to follow.
Every new facility an agency staff member works in is like starting a new job, with the nerves and the anxiety that goes along with it.
Despite that, a HelloCare reader has spoken to us about the reluctance of regular staff to help and the unfriendliness she has experienced when working as an agency care worker in a number of facilities.
We wanted to share her experiences with our readers, as hers’ is far from an isolated case. We hope it will make people consider the impact such unkindness has on colleagues in the sector.
The disappointing attitude became apparent to Jane Adams* during her first agency shift – just when she needed help the most.
“When I got my first job in a facility it was horrendous! I’ve never in my life met such a horrible team of people,” she told HelloCare.
Ms Adams admitted she needed plenty of instruction at first.
“I was green as anything. They could have taught me how to do things their way, but on the first morning shift I was told to get wash bowls and then (her buddy for that day) walked away.”
Whe Ms Adams asked where the wash bowls were, her buddy looked at her like she was “the dumbest person alive”.
Ms Adams had to explain it was her first day at that facility, and she needed to be told where everything was kept.
“Help me out! Help me help you,” she pleaded with her buddy.
Ms Adams said staff often seem to develop a “group mentality” about her abilities as a carer. “When I walk in for a shift, I can see everyone roll their eyes and talk and whisper,” she observed.
Ms Adams has even been moved to file a bullying complaint, her treatment was so upsetting in one case.
Sadly, Ms Adams’ experience is not unique. We have received a number of comments at HelloCare from agency staff who have experienced a lack of guidance and unkindness from regular facility staff.
When staff do decide to help, Ms Adams said their initial unfriendliness usually disappears once they get to know her and realise she is doing her best.
Ms Adams described an incident in which she was helping another staff member put a resident to bed. Ms Adams had never met the resident before, and the other staff member was standing about, waiting for Ms Adams to begin. “I said, ‘you have to help me, I’ve never put this resident to bed before. I don’t know what to do!’”
The other staff member began to help her. She could see Ms Adams was doing all she could, and the two ended up becoming firm friends.
How much easier would it have been if the help had been offered from the start?
It appears that agency staff are often left to their own devices, with no-one taking accountability for their work, bringing them under their wing, or supporting them.
It’s understandable that already overworked staff might find it frustrating that some agency staff arrive at work with little training and few skills. These weary workers may see the agency staff as just another burden they have to take on that day.
But even for highly skilled and experienced agency staff – such as registered nurses and enrolled nurses – when they turn up to work at a new facility they still need guidance to help them get to know the residents, the individual routines, where everything is located, and more.
In fact, agency work can be particularly daunting for RNs, as they are often in charge of 100s of residents they don’t know. If there hasn’t been an adequate handover or they don’t have supportive staff on the shift, it’s easy to see how there there could be cases of missed care or medication errors.
It is up to management to encourage regular staff to help agency workers. After all, the better agency workers do their job, the more help they will be able to offer all the other staff.
For a sector that is based around ‘caring’, it’s disappointing to see such unkindness prevailing in the aged care workplace.
“I worked in housekeeping most of my working life and I thought they were bitchy, but they were amazing compared to these ‘carers’!” Ms Adams concluded.
* Name has been changed. Comments have been lightly edited for clarity.