Cygnet Strives to be a Good Employer.
What does this mean?
I set Cygnet up in November 2014, following a career that spanned health and social care and education and skills. The bulk of my work was within the voluntary sector and so I often faced short term contracts, insecure work and many different job roles. I have experience of good employers, not so good employers and some absolutely terrible employers. It’s fair to say that the terrible employers affected my mental health, my quality of life and also had a negative effect on my personal life and relationships. When I wasn’t being treated well at work, I was pretty miserable and I wasn’t able to enjoy the rest of my life as I was terrified of the impact of leaving or losing my job would be on my family income and stability. Being happy at work makes people more productive, happier and more fulfilled and a good job is one of the most important aspects of living a fulfilled life. It is well documented that having a job you enjoy is positive and having a job that you don’t enjoy is negative.
Working in Care
Care is one of the industries that in the past I was employed in. My first experience of working in care was relatively positive. I was on a zero hour contract, but found I was treated fairly and for the most part I enjoyed my job. It was stressful at times as I was constantly watching the time to make sure I was on time for my next appointment and sometimes I was travelling across North Tyneside to get to my next appointment. Zero hour contracts get a bad press and this is not surprising when you consider how they are sometimes used by employers. However, I had been on a contract in a previous role in a shop, where I was paid for a fixed number of hours per week but regularly worked overtime. When it came to school holidays I could not afford to take a full week off work because I would have only been paid for the hours I was contracted for and would not have been paid holiday pay for the normal amount of hours I worked. On my zero hour contact my average number of hours worked for the previous 13 weeks was calculated and that was the amount of holiday pay I was entitled to.
In this care role I was asked how many hours I would like to work. At first I wasn’t able to get the number of hours I needed, but over time I was able to build up to the hours I asked for and had a regular work pattern, helping me plan my life and childcare and my finances. My work was eventually all in a very small area with extra calls added in if I wanted to do them, all with paid mileage and travel time.
In another care role I was offered, my work was spread across North Tyneside with a typical shift starting in Longbenton at 7am (about the furthest away from my home as it could be, for which I wasn’t able to claim mileage for). It would include calls in Monkseaton, Holystone, Forest Hall, Howdon and Whitley Bay with none of the calls next to each other and I would often get home from work at around 10.30 at night. So whilst I was working long hours, the gaps in between calls meant I was only paid for a few hours a day. Outside of this I was being called at all times of the day and night and expected to answer (once when I was on a night out and another time early in the morning when I was still in bed) but without getting paid for this time, or for the use of my own phone. I found this quite intrusive and I felt like I was never able to relax. It’s fair to say my work / life balance was non existent.
I was given induction training at the beginning of this role and told I was not to carry out certain tasks without having further training (relating to catheter care). However once on the job I was expected to carry out catheter care. On one occasion I was on a call to someone who needed catheter care, which I had not had training on. The district nurse was contacted to carry this out but this failed shortly after the nurse left and they had to be called back out. I had already stayed longer than the allocated time (for which I would not be paid) and there was nothing further I could do to help, so after a discussion with the client, I left. I received a very angry phone call asking why I had not taken care of the catheter. I was in trouble for not doing something I had not been trained in!
On another shift I had another worker follow me from job to job telling me of all the minor things they thought I had not done correctly, with no positive feedback at all. This job affected my mental health and I did not stay for very long. I felt bad for the people who I worked with. They didn’t deserve the constant turn over of staff (I heard from various people that it was unsurprisingly high) or the poor quality expectations (due to staff being expected to carry out work they were not trained to do and didn’t feel confident in). Whilst working at this company I was expected to travel over 10 miles to the office for a supervision session, for which I was unpaid for both my time and my mileage costs. During this session I was asked if I was “competent” at the role. I’m not sure I have ever met anyone who would say they weren’t competent at something and feel that this was an inappropriate question.
Feeling Valued is Important
From my work in care I know how it feels to be treated well, respected and given the level of training I needed to do my work. I also saw the contrast of how it feels to not have those things. Thankfully I was able to leave the job as my household had another income stream and past experience showed me how quickly I was able to find another job. But I also know what its like to be in a stressful job and not be in a position to leave. Where you are forced to stay and be treated badly, where you are bullied, unappreciated and generally taken advantage of.
I have been able to climb the career ladder, but not everyone can or wants to. We need people to work as cleaners and carers and labourers and shop assistants and call center advisers and waiters. We need people to do these jobs and if employers don’t treat these workers with respect and pay them a fair wage, we won’t be able to eat out when we want to, we won’t be well looked after when we are older or we are disabled and we won’t be able buy what we want in a local shop.
Since beginning the recruitment process for care staff it seems that my experiences are not unusual. Many of the applicants are worried about what their pay and conditions will be, and when I was talking to one person who applied for a job with us I ended up telling her about ACAS as I knew that what she was telling me was not good employment practice. ACAS are an organisation who can provide free employment advice to employers and employees to uphold best practice.
Recruiting the Right Staff is One of the Biggest Challenges in Business
There is no doubt about the challenges facing small business owners in recruiting and managing staff, however people are also our biggest asset and if we treat our staff well, they will want to stay working for us. They will be happier and they will be more productive. A disgruntled employee can cause huge reputational damage to a company and whilst we won’t always be able to give our staff everything they want, we do want to make sure they are treated fairly, supported and that they feel they are a valued part of our social enterprise.
I am determined that my company will be an employer of choice. We will pay travel time. We will pay mileage. We will pay correctly for holiday pay. We will honour your employment rights. We will pay above minimum wage. We will pay you for your time when you’re in training. We will try to get work near where you live. We will take on work that is geographically close to our other clients and turn down work if the logistics aren’t right. We will say thank you for a job well done. If you tell us something is wrong we will listen and take steps to put it right where we can. We value our staff. We think carers are heroes.