Being a personal assistant (PA) can be a rewarding job, but it can be hard to define where the line of professionalism lies.
Renee Jasper-Griffith, author of The Good PA Guide, has extensive experience in the social care sector and has seen many instances of good and bad practice by PAs. So, Renee has shared with us some fantastic advice on how to stay professional without letting work effect the friendships that you’re likely to form with the people you’re working with:
As recently as 30 years ago, disabled people had to fight for the privilege to be recognised as equal citizens by the country they lived in. Their campaign was for the right to be in control of how they led their lives and to choose who they wanted as support to help them live independently.
The term ‘personal assistant’ was more apt then that of ‘care worker’ or even ‘support worker’ as you are personally assisting someone to lead a life that ‘able’ people take for granted. The role of the PA has expanded from those assisting a person with physical disabilities to enabling people with mental health needs, learning disabilities or age related disability, such as dementia, to lead a full and active life.
This has made the role of the PA far more complex, as you may be supporting the person, but you may also be supporting the person who cares for them without pay.
What is a professional PA?
A good PA understands what professional boundaries are. Remember, you are being paid to assist a person. You are not there to offer opinions, judgements or your personal opinion on how a person should live their life or what they should do.
This is not as easy as it sounds. A good PA will often get to know the person they are assisting as well as their friends and family. Sometimes a PA may even start off as a friend or neighbour first.
Friendships develop or already exist in any workplace and there is nothing wrong with developing or maintaining a friendship. However, you need to remember you are working for the person (or if self-employed may be contracted by them) to provide a service to an individual for a certain time and you need to stop and think what your boundaries are and when they should be adhered to.
I have often heard how boundaries become blurred and cause problems because either:
a) the PA becomes too involved with the person’s (or carers) life and starts to advise them what to do based on the PA’s personal opinion
b) the person (or carer) becomes too reliant on the PA and begins to expect them to be on call at all times.
Here are my recommendations on what you need to do if you decide to take on the role of a PA and want to remain professional:
1. Define the times you are working and when you are a friend
This will help to clarify when you are there as paid for professional assistance and when you are there as a supportive friend.
2. Be clear about your own boundaries i.e. what you are able to do and when you are able to do it
Flexibility is a keystone to the work of a PA but do not feel guilty about setting guidelines.
3. Be open and up front right from the start
Trust is built on good communication skills and you will gain respect as a professional if you are clear to the person/s you are supporting right from the start.
4. Offer suggestions (not opinions) even if you think you know something that will help the person
An example may be – I saw these leaflets and thought you may be interested – NOT – You must do this it would be the best thing for you.
5. Decide with your client how best to manage the assistance you give
An example may be attending a social event; should you be there the whole time or should you discreetly agree a time that you will return to assist them?
Having a good range of knowledge about resources in your local community is of great benefit. But always remember the role of the PA is about enabling the person you are supporting to have choice and control. It is not about controlling their life nor is it about taking part in everything they do. It is about assisting a person to manage their life and help them achieve a sense of well-being.
Find more of Renee’s advice in her book along with case studies, key learning points and thinking and practice activities to improve your understanding of the role and responsibility of a personal assistant whilst contributing to your QCF credits. You might also find it useful to read Renee's post on 'Top tips for personal assistants'.
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