No doubt you have heard the stories about aged care workers being spat at on public transport at the time that the Royal Commission into aged care was gearing up and the media were sharing examples of sad stories from aged care on a daily basis. You have probably also heard about workers afraid to wear their uniforms in public for fear of being harassed. Most of these people are workers who come from culturally and linguistically diverse communities. The vast majority are women, which raises the chances of harassment even higher.
These are the workers we spoke to as part of The Little Things project. Importantly, we didn’t start with the failings of aged care or the worst thing about their work. Instead, we took an appreciate inquiry approach, and started with the strengths and insights of nominated best practice personal care assistants (PCAs) to learn what they valued in their work and about the people they worked with.
PCAs often need to assist a person who may be angry, lonely, in pain, disoriented, confused, frustrated or afraid.
That wouldn’t be easy with a person you knew well, but for people who are working across cultures and language backgrounds, across generations, under time constraints and delivering the most personal care such as bathing or addressing continence issues, that’s high stakes communication. Yet, many of these carers are doing it all the time. They may stumble with their verb conjugations now and then, but they are highly skilled in the use of the language that builds trust and understanding.
What do effective carers do?
Lead researcher Pip Mackey found that ‘best practice’ PCAs are not necessarily those with the best grammar or written English. Best practice personal carers relate as they go along. They are present, they show interest and are engaged. Best practice personal carers reassure, discuss and adapt. They can skilfully interweave workplace language that is both relational and transactional.
These insights emerged from data collected through interviews with registered training organisation (RTO) trainers, aged care managers and senior staff. Twelve personal carers also participated in interviews, were observed by researchers and recorded themselves working with older people who volunteered to join the research. Using applied linguistics analysis, we zeroed in on exactly what they said, how they said it and identified all those ‘little things’ that make a difference, but are often taken for granted or mistakenly assumed to be transferable from one culture to another.
Importance of The Little Things
The key message that emerged from The Little Things research, and subsequently included in The Little Things training materials, is not about perfect grammar. The key message is that if we become aware of ‘the little things’ we do within any culture – in our body language, and in our spoken communication – we can build a connection.
As one PCA reflected in the post-training evaluations: “It gives you a magnificent advantage.”
Trials of The Little Things training materials have shown very clearly that with the chance to learn, PCAs are more confident, work more effectively in collaboration with older people and are able to build better rapport.
The Little Things training materials are available from meaningfulageing.org.au/the-little-things. The team is also available to conduct train the trainer sessions with your staff on line.
The Little Things project was led by Farnham Street Neighbourhood Learning Centre (FSNLC) in partnership with Meaningful Ageing Australia. The aged care project participants were Uniting AgeWell, Arcare, Outlook Gardens and Jewish Care Victoria. The Learn Local Registered Training Organisation project participants were The Centre – Your Community College (Wangaratta), Laverton Community Integrated Services Inc and Westgate Community Initiatives Group Inc. The project was evaluated by aged care researchers from La Trobe University led by Professor Yvonne Wells; and supported by the Victorian Government.