What kind of support worker are you? The six kinds of support worker

What kind of support worker are you?

The six kinds of support worker

We originally published this list over five years ago but it still comes up as one of the most consistently viewed blogs on our website. So we thought it was time to give it a proper airing once again.

We know that Covid has had a big impact on the types of things people can and can’t do. We know also that there are many great support workers out there – brilliantly celebrated in the Lockdown Stories of #Gr8Support here

However, a big part of what Stay Up Late is about is challenging outdated institutional practices that don’t meet people’s real support needs. We’re not going to stop doing that until such a time that we are no longer needed. As our Director, Paul Richards, wrote at the time:

“It’s a generalisation, and may annoy people but part of this campaign is about challenging people. So here they are anyway, and I’d ask you to think which one are you!”

Let us know what you think…

1) The ‘I just do what I’m told’ support worker

This kind of support worker might turn up and enter in to the spirit of things but when it comes to watching the clock they’re sticklers and will ‘encourage’ the people they are supporting to go home when it gets to 9pm (even going to the lengths of taking people off the dance floor mid tune).

They don’t seem aware (or won’t challenge) that making people leave before they want to is wrong. They’re probably a very nice person but just don’t get it. A product of poor training and poor leadership.

2) The frustrated support worker

These are the people who got in to their work for the right reasons but find the system they work in constrains them. They know it’s not right to leave before people are ready to but they become part of that system by not challenging things. Or maybe they once knew that it was wrong to not give people choice about the way they spent their evening but the culture where they work has knocked any ideals out of them.

We know there are loads of great support workers out there working in settings where there just isn’t flexibility around shift patterns, and know that they also find this incredibly frustrating.

They’re also probably the product of a team culture where the manager isn’t providing enough leadership, or is being constrained by senior management. Work life for these people is really difficult, they know one thing and have to do another.

3) The ‘square peg in a round hole’ support worker

These are the kind of person who knows the culture they are working in isn’t right and they stick to their guns and challenge their colleagues to do the right thing at every team meeting. They’ll soon become quite unpopular and labelled as a maverick. For their own good they ought to try and find a more positive setting to work in as they probably won’t last very long and their very presence on the team may become unbearable. Of course they may be just the sort of leadership the team are looking for and be that person who can support a manager to introduce a positive culture.

4) The support worker who’d rather be elsewhere

We can also caricature another kind of support worker that can be spotted at disability club nights, and it doesn’t take a lot to find them. They are generally sitting at the side immersed in their mobile phone and watching the clock for when it’s time to go home.

These are people who perhaps need to be asking themselves why they are in the work at all, and also probably come from a team where there is again poor leadership from management. Or maybe they just don’t get any support or training from their manager and have therefore totally lost sight of what their work is about. They certainly can’t find their work a fulfilling thing.

This kind of support worker is incredibly powerful though, they deny people choices and also suck the life out of any event with their infectious lack of enthusiasm.

This kind of support worker shouldn’t be confused with the respectful and brilliant kind of worker who asks someone how they would like to be supported: would they like them to dance with them or give them some space while they dance with their mates? They instinctively know the empowering way to work in this kind of situation. They’re not too hard to spot though, they won’t be on their phone, they’ll be chatting to somebody else. They are exactly like the ‘Party Starter’ in their attitude to their work.

5) The party starter support worker

These are the best kind of support workers, the kind that add hugely to any event. They’re there in the moment to do whatever it takes to make sure the person they are supporting is going to have a great time. They don’t look at their mobile phones, they’re there in the moment dedicated to ensuring that the person they’re supporting has a great time and they also take time to find out how someone wants to spend their evening.

These are the support workers who are full of energy and love their work, they support people to get up dancing and are there until it’s time to go, and offer that choice to the person they’re supporting.

Typically they’re also supported by a great manager who leads by example and creates a positive culture in the team, and consequently staff are happy to go they extra mile in their work and totally get what the point of their job is.

6) The unknown support worker

I can’t write much about these as they’re never there. We know they must exist but their existence also remains something of a mystery. What do they do? How do they think? We’d love to know.

Real choices

Without labouring the point too much it’s all about support workers who are able to offer people real choices, and deliver on those choices. And that’s the point of Stay Up Late – it’s about promoting those choices but we reckon that if you don’t get to choose what time you go to bed you probably don’t get to make a lot of choices about the other ways in which you live your life.

Get in touch

Do get in touch, and do let us know if we’re being a little unkind with our caricatures – we’d especially love to hear from self-advocates, support staff and managers.


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