Being an Essential Worker in a Malignant Social Psychology

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Being an essential worker, in a care home, hospital or other line of work, is only recently becoming valued within many societies. Prior to the recent pandemic being a care home worker for example, like several other essential services, meant being undervalued.

The work of people such as Tom Kitwood 1997, Dawn Brooker 2007, identify the malignancy which exists within a poorly supported care environment. Where agism abounds, basic level task focussed care is provided and `good enough’ is seen as the norm.

Is it just people living in care homes that experience this malignancy? Or could that attitude also be experienced by other people as part of everyday life for example. It’s taking an unreasonably long time to bring the quality of care in care homes and hospitals to a standard that we can truly call personal centred. Is that because we are not yet person centred human beings in our everyday life? Do we demonstrate kindness, thoughtfulness to our fellow human beings?

We read about bullying, stabbing, hate crime, domestic violence, children starving, food banks! In a society where these stories are now no longer shocking is it any wonder that we are taking a long time to teach our care teams how to show kindness, love and warmth to people who need our care and support as they age?

Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic there has been a praising of the virtues of our essential workers. The world is finally awakening to the fact that we have valued wealth and status above dedication, skill and love.

Within the care world we recognise that care teams are famous for saying – `I’m just a care worker’. Or, `I’m just an administrator in a care home’, `I’m just a hospital cleaner’.  There is a genuine belief held by many essential workers that their contribution is less valuable to society than other people. They are stigmatised by a media that rarely reports positive news from care homes or hospitals They are disempowered by the financial management that controls pay, rewards, staffing ratios – which are low.  I generalise of course and note that there are exceptions. But the exceptions are not the majority. These realities perpetuate the myth that care work is less valuable than other work.

How can we teach ourselves to offer warmth, love, respect and kindness for one another in everyday life? By learning the language of positive social regard in daily life we can adapt to learning the skills of person-centred care work which is so needed within our care services.

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Associate Consultant and Trainer

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