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However, a big part of what Stay Up Late is about is challenging outdated institutional practices that don’t meet people’s real support needs.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.


Recent Comments

  • Amanda Rackley

    Tuesday, 13 Oct, 2020

    Hi, I love this post and I love the Stay up Late campaign. My husband and I have been running our own small residential home for up to 5 adults with learning disabilities for nearly 38 years. Please don’t switch off when you read that word ‘Residential’ – I know it conjures up all the things you are so right in campaigning against, but please hear me out! The home was set up by my parents in 1983 in order to provide a future for my older brother Paul, who had Downs Syndrome. He hated all the respite places he went to in their efforts to plan for his future, so they set up this home for him and some of his friends. We then decided we loved the work as we had helped them from the start and we took over running the home in 1989, moving in with our three young sons. At that time residential homes were the only option for people, but I am glad we have so many choices for people these days. We were unable to change to supported living as we still live in the home ourselves, but the local authority appear happy with the service we run because people here are happy with the home they have. My brother sadly died 12 years ago, but we still have some of his friends living here. We have four residents at present and they have grown older alongside us, but that does not mean they are any less active. In all those years we have never had ‘bed times’ or getting up times either unless people have set plans for their days. We don’t have shifts here as we live here, so it makes no difference to us what time people prefer to go to bed, whether they want to be the last to leave the dance, whether they want to go to the pub and stay until closing time. Bed time can be any time people want and that is rarely early! We have one person who is generally up until around midnight, but 10.30 to 11 pm seems to be the time people are heading off to bed when at home. If they are out bed time is when they get home and are ready for sleep! We go to shows, we go to dances, we go to clubs where they can meet their friends, we are happy to take people to whatever activities they have chosen and do not worry about distance as we know how important these things are to keep life good. We have two staff during the week to support us with giving people a good day. They do have set working times but they are both willing to work at different times and if people are out and enjoying themselves and don’t want to leave they know they do not have to rush back as we are happy they are the type of staff who want to give the people they are caring for that additional time. Life has been very different during this pandemic and our staff have ben furloughed. The six of us have spent Lockdown together going to bed late and getting up late, watching the skies at night for shooting stars, full moons and the SpaceX spacecraft shooting past us. We have baked cakes, done lots of arts and crafts indoors and in the garden, had virtual discos with friends, we’ve baked more cakes and generally had fun…but we are so looking forward to getting back to seeing friends in real life again rather than virtually. I really hope this slots us into the number 5 category as that is our aim!

    • Darren Johnson

      Wednesday, 14 Oct, 2020

      Amanda – thank you so much for sharing your story with us. What lovely memories you have – which you have carried forward today with exactly the right attitude. Pleased you have been able to make the most of lockdown together. Let us know if you fancy any #NoBedtimes stickers and badges to share! email me at darren@stayuplate.org with your address and I’ll get some goodies off to you all.


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