Jul 03, 2020

“Help me help you”: Agency staff bullied in the workplace

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.

“Everyone rolled their eyes and whispered”

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 attitudes change, friendships can form

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’s up to management to set the standard

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.

Five ways to help out new agency staff

  1. Welcome them with a smile. It may seem simple, but a smile can go a long way.
  2. Have a thorough handover and show them around.
  3. Have a ‘buddy’ or colleagues to help them.
  4. Look out for them throughout the shift, and help out if needed.
  5. Put yourself in their shoes, and remember what it’s like to start a new job.

* Name has been changed. Comments have been lightly edited for clarity.

 

 

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  1. So very true going from Facility to Facility changes the dynamics like starting all over again till you get a hang of the Facility you are in and the Residents you are caring for .

  2. First of all, as an agency staff member, there is an expectation of a certain level of experience and knowledge. If she was ‘green as anything’, she probably wasn’t suited to agency work.

  3. I’ve seen that a lot , I’m a night shift worker and I’ve seen day shift do exactly that , it’s very rude . Often it’s done by people set in their ways . Also bad staff / resident ratios . Many are under pressure and a new person they feel will get in their way or see how they cheat cutting corners to get their work load done

  4. I did agency nursing in aged care in the late 1990’s in Melbourne. I received a similar ‘cold welcome’ in many of the aged care facilities where I worked. One RN even greeted me with “Oh, we didn’t want you we wanted the agency girl that worked last night”. I would often get the most challenging residents and was not always warned of their spontaneous propensity for physical aggression. Once I was did 16 showers in one shift. Another time, as the agency EN, I spent most of the night shift folding laundry. It doesn’t sound like much has changed in the intervening 20+ years.

  5. I am really saddened but also glad that you have bought this topic to the table Caroline Egan and the Hellocare team. Bullying within Aged care services is a real and growing concern that has not been taken seriously or addresssed appropriately regardless of current legislation in Australia. Over the last 2 weeks I have been contacted by staff members who are being pushed out of their roles in Aged care due to bullying .We have an aged care workforce ageing themselves, at times not supported, valued, respected or protected and now we are doing the same to other new workforce coming in to care for older people . With the Royal Commission into Aged Care and now COVID-19 we need a focus on looking at the bigger picture of how we support and retain the current workforce and how we attract and sustaine more into the future. Caring for an older person is an absolute honour and privilege and we need to better support those that are doing this well.

  6. We don’t use a lot of agency here & when we do we ask for someone who has been here before. If this is not possible I know which senior AIN to allocate the agency staff with so they are mentored & guided appropriately, however it is very disappointing when an agency nurse arrives & claims they don’t know how to trolley bath, or refuse to take breaks at the time on the allocation sheet, or won’t toilet/shower the male residents (all of which have happened in the last month). When this occurs we have no choice but to tell agency that we will not have those AINs back in our facility. It’s not always the facility nurses who are the problem.

  7. It happens to staff who have been in a facility for period of time. If you fit the click in the aged care place at Sandgate NSW you are ok if not they hunt you down and my experience is with the manager and some team leaders were the leaders of the pack

  8. How sad that agency staff are treated with little or no respect. I am an RN and now work in the community but worked in residential care for many years.
    Agency staff were always welcomed and before beginning their shift, as the RN, we took them on a tour of the facility, including bathroom, staff room, emergency procedures, key codes, care-plans etc. We both then signed a book that was regularly checked by management to say that an orientation had taken place.

  9. We’d be lost without Agency staff coming in. We need to help each other out. I’ve been at my workplace 23 years & i find after days off, I’m lost as don’t know new residents etc. I work there. You can’t be expected to get no help, orientation to facility is non existent & do a shift, without any help. I’m sorry this has happened as really Agency staff are lifesavers.

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