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Tips For Keeping Caregivers, Household Employees, Personal Care Assistants

Updated on August 9, 2010

Over the last 30 years I have employed so many PCA's that I can't even begin to remember them all. My skills as a manager and employer have improved so I generally retained personal care assistants much longer now than in the beginning. The longest anyone has worked for me has been 17 years. Currently, I have four ladies. Two are full-time and two are part-time. Their range of employment with me runs from two years to 15 years.

I try to adhere to the following tips as much as possible.

1. Respect them as people and skilled individuals.

Most of the people who work for you as a personal care assistant (PCA) will have some experience. Respect that experience and listen to what they have to say. A PCA can let you know about areas on your body that you may not be able to see or evaluate for damage.

If they are working for a parent but under your supervision then chances are they will be observing your parent more closely and over a longer period than you. Unless you have reason to distrust their opinion, believe them when they tell you there is a problem.. A caregiver can spot physical and cognitive dysfunction quickly because they see your parent everyday.

Many people who work in this field have a limited education. Do not make the mistake of thinking that means limited intelligence or life experience. There are an infinite number of reasons why someone doesn't possess a formal education. Sometimes it's family circumstances, a cognitive problem like dyslexia that makes classroom work difficult, or it could be the individual likes working with their hands and finds satisfaction as a caregiver.

2. Maintain Regular Hours

If you have told a PCA that they are working from 8 AM to 3 PM then stick to that. Everyone will have the occasional emergency, but outside of that don't let the hours you expect them to work start sliding. Last-minute telephone calls telling the PCA that they will be working two hours overtime is inconsiderate and disrespectful. Their time is just as important to them and their family as yours is to you.

If you promise someone a 40 hour a week job then give them 40 hours. If you need to make changes, talk about it as early as possible. Some folks must work a certain number of hours to pay their bills. It's unfair to guarantee someone a certain amount of pay and then renege.

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3. Pay on Time

Set up a method for keeping track of hours and honor it. Pay people for their work and on time. Many folks live paycheck to paycheck. Forgetting to pay someone or just not bothering can cause them to make late payments to their creditors.

If you think that a PCA is being dishonest about hours then deal with it immediately and openly. You may choose to give one PCA a raise but not another. Be clear about why.

One of the quickest ways to lose someone is to have them think that you are cheating them. However, don't cave to someone who is trying to cheat you. Fire them and hire someone else.

4. Be Clear about Your Expectations and Feedback

You must let the PCA know exactly what you want them to do and when. This will be part of working out your relationship. Some people stick to a schedule of particular tasks on specific days.

Making a list is useful. At the end of the day or week you can go over the list with the caregiver to see what got done and what didn't. Discuss the reasons for both.

5. Be Flexible

I have several ladies working for me so if someone needs time off because of illness or appointments then we can generally work out a schedule with another of my PCAs covering for the first.

Don't make someone stay until exactly quitting time if they're not needed. Let the PCA go 10 minutes early without docking time. At my house, we only make changes to times in and out if it goes over 15 minutes. The understanding is that there will be times when I will need the favor returned. The PCA may need to stay an extra 10 minutes. I will expect it to be done with grace and a positive attitude.

6. Being Boss Is Not Being God

Your PCA is your employee and not your slave. Speak and behave with decency and respect. Everyone flies off the handle from time to time. Apologize when necessary. Tolerate a reasonable amount of bad days on the PCA's part. It's probably not going to be necessary to micromanage every minute of the PCA's day. Back off and allow them to do their job. If there's a problem then discuss it. If you want something done in a precise way then be clear about that.

Eventually, everyone gets on everyone's nerves. Try to remember that just as much as your PCA is aggravating you, you are probably aggravating them. Think of your own and teachers.

By way of full disclosure, I must say that the above point is a source of constant work and character development for me. I like to be right all the time. Consequently, I am always working on ways to recognize when I am not and behave respectfully to those deserving apologies.

Finally, let me say that as much as things are working out now between me and my PCAs, there have been times when I have gone through five or six of them in a two-month period. Sometimes it just doesn't work out.

Develop a backup plan and then cut your losses and start over.


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