Employee Tip - Check Your Power
It is a fact of life that members look up to you as their staff. It is a great feeling to have somebody see you as a mentor, but if you don’t keep tabs on yourself, it can create an unhealthy dynamic. Because you are in a position of authority, you can easily slip into patterns of behavior where you are asserting your power over members. For this reason, it is important to be intentional about exercising your power only when absolutely necessary. Below are some methods for gaining awareness around the ways in which you use your authority with members.
Are You Asking or Telling?
We are handed a number of demands as direct care staff, such as daily chores, personal cares for members, and goals we are asked to try to get members to work on. Though most people step into this job wanting to help the members lead more fulfilled lives, this purpose can quickly become overshadowed when there is just so much to do. We can find ourselves being directive, and telling members what they need to be doing to make sure that we check every box on our list.
While it is important to fulfill your responsibilities at work, it is also important to recognize that you are helping a person live his or her life, and sometimes that life will not always move forward in a straight line. Make sure that you are asking for input from members rather than just telling them what they need to do that day. Get an idea of where that person is at emotionally during your shift, and adapt to their needs. Also try to pick up on cues that a member may be going along with something they really don’t want just because you have asked them to do it. Even when staff ask, it can feel like staff is telling in a member’s eyes.
There may be some things that are absolutely crucial for a member to do (be accountable at a job, take care of their medical needs, etc.). In this case, it is important to allow a member to express themselves if they disagree and to have a conversation. Try your best to direct them toward positive decision making while still keeping the conversation framed around the fact that the member is the person who makes the ultimate decision.
Is it About Safety?
One of the main times that staff has to exercise their power over members is when their safety is threatened. For instance, if a member is running toward a busy street oblivious to the danger, it is okay to be directive as staff, and use your authority to tell them to stop. However, if a member is choosing to buy and eat unhealthy foods, it is not the role of staff to take these foods away from them or disallow their purchase. In a situation like this, where safety is not at threat, but a member is making a poor choice, it is our job as staff to discuss the consequences of that choice and try to steer them in the right direction.
Whose Agenda Are You Serving?
Most of the people we serve have several different people and agencies trying to push them in specific directions in their lives. This can be a good thing for members, because it provides them with valuable guidance in their life choices. However, we are all here to serve the agendas of members, and to help support them in their decision making processes. If a member wants to make a choice that runs contrary to what their guardians or case manager wants for them, remind them of what others in their lives want for them, and the potential consequences of making decisions contrary to their case plan or their parents wishes. Help them weigh the pros and cons but make sure it is the member who is making the decision.
When They Put it on You, Put it Back on Them.
Some members have very strong convictions about what they want for their lives. However, some are uncomfortable making decisions for themselves, either because they lack self-confidence, or because people have made decisions for them their entire lives. A member facing a decision may look to you to make a decision for them. It’s flattering when this happens, and easy to just tell them what they should do. However, a strategy that will help a member with personal growth is to put the decision back on them. It is definitely okay to discuss the different dynamics of a decision. Ask questions and see if they can come up with the answers themselves. This is one of the most empowering things you can do for a member.