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No matter what our job, respect from employers benefits everyone

Hazel worked alongside JRF for two years designing solutions to tackle in-work poverty and improve job quality. In this blog she explains how every job can, and should, be a good job.

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For years I worked in the care sector, supporting others to improve their health and well-being and enable them to live independently at home. I felt valued and appreciated by the people I cared for, but I did not feel the same respect and support from my employers.

I absolutely loved this work and the people I worked with. I felt valued and appreciated by the people I cared for and their families. But I never felt valued by my employers. I felt I was just there doing my work and if I were to leave tomorrow, I would easily be replaced.

I was always told to treat the clients with respect and dignity - to treat each one as an individual, look at every situation differently and act accordingly. Thinking about it now, why wasn’t I treated with that same respect and dignity?

I felt like just a number

Working in the care sector on zero-hours contracts, I felt like just a number to my employers. It didn’t matter to them that I was a single parent with a family at home. Flexible shifts, to enable me to be there for my sons, were never possible. Meals were mostly eaten when driving to the next house; toilet breaks taken when we were bursting and had no choice. I was constantly expected to work extra, work longer. I missed so many events with my sons, as well as dentist and doctor’s appointments, due to my ‘commitments at work’.

I felt if you refused working extra hours you were penalised for it. As it was a zero-hours contract, the employer could split the hours between the staff as they wished – some got exactly what they wanted, others got too much, and those not willing to cover or take on more got the scraps.

Working inconsistent amounts of overtime had a huge impact on my finances. The amount of housing benefit I received each month depended on my earnings the previous month and as this fluctuated so much, I never knew what to expect in terms of housing benefit, and ended up building up a huge amount of rent arrears.

Most people who choose to work in this sector have the same values as I do: we care, probably too much, and this can be taken advantage of by some employers. The appreciation I got from the clients and their families is what kept me there, in the job.

The only appreciation we needed - or so I thought

Working in the care sector, in nursing homes and out in the community, was exhausting. Not just physically, but emotionally and mentally too. Supporting patients that we grew close to and created a bond with, then to see them deteriorate, and care for them and their families in their final days and hours, was heart-breaking.

But my well-being or mental health were never considered. I was expected to go from one house where a patient had passed away, and I carried out their last wishes whilst supporting their grieving family, straight to my next client, with not a minute to spare in between. No consideration was taken for my state of mind or ability to continue with my work: no respect was given to me.

I was there to care for the patients and their families, offering support during all sorts of situations, but who was there to support me? No one!

I left this line of work a few years ago, as it had such a huge impact on my health, physical and mental, that felt I had no choice but to step away for my own well-being.

I realised the importance of support and recognition

It was not until I started work with the company I am with now that I began to question respect and dignity at work.

I now work for a utility company as a sales support executive: a complete change from my previous jobs, but I felt I needed that.

I work in an office where I have a set shift pattern, unless I choose to work extra. I have set breaks, which we’re encouraged to take, and can go to the bathroom when needed. I can plan appointments and work around them. I have a much better work / life balance.

I feel valued and like I am an integral part of the team. I know my skills and knowledge are missed when I have a day off, and I believe I’ll be difficult to replace should I decide to leave. Apart from my voluntary roles, I have never felt so valued and respected in a job as I do here.

I find this very difficult to comprehend. In a position where people’s lives were at stake and I had so many responsibilities, I felt like a number, like a nobody to my employer. My health and well-being were never considered, even though I had such a physically and mentally challenging job to do.

However, in this job, not only do we have first aiders on shift at all times, we have mental health first aiders too. We have 24/7 access to mental health support, financial / debt support, bereavement counselling, family support, and access to online counselling for all sorts of concerns we may have.

In this company, employees are treated with respect and dignity. We are treated as human-beings and not just numbers. We all have an important part to play within the company, and if one cog in the system is struggling, it has an impact on the whole system - so everyone is here to support and enable each other.

Overtime is never expected, and if we do overtime it is paid at time and a half. Our breaks and lunches are mandatory – as is time away from our desk regularly.

Coffee, water, and fresh fruit is supplied free of charge. We recently began a free food cupboard, which is like a small foodbank for staff, and the company provide free sanitary products in all their bathrooms.

Although I am aware this will not have a huge impact on poverty or the cost of living, it definitely makes me feel respected and treated well within my work.

We get ice cream during hot days in the summer; strawberries and cream during Wimbledon; and in the winter hot chocolate and cream is available to keep us warm. Although very small gestures, these show we are valued and respected.

Flexible working is also available, and I can work two days per week from home if I choose to. This makes a huge difference for some employees, especially those with children or with a lengthy commute, saving on childcare or ridiculously high public transport or fuel prices. It also makes it easy to make and attend appointments.

All workers, no matter what their job, should be treated with dignity and respect

It doesn’t cost anything to show thanks and appreciation, but the outcome from showing it can be huge.

The difference between both lines of work was staggering. I would have expected to feel more valued and more respected working in care. It’s a very challenging and demanding role which has a huge impact on the employee’s health and well-being – and this needs to be recognised.

I think that all jobs have the potential to be good ones: that’s why I worked on a two-year project with JRF designing solutions to in-work poverty, to make sure every job is a good job, whatever sector you work in.

Respect and dignity at work should be a given. Staff will stay around longer, meaning lower turnover; staff feel valued so work better, meaning more productivity - the list of benefits is endless.

No matter if you are a road sweeper or a CEO of a multi-million-pound company, you deserve the same respect from your employer / employees.

Thank you for reading my blog.


We think all jobs should be good ones

To find out more about our recommendations for improving jobs, please see our final co-design report. JRF also works alongside our partners to improve job quality across different sectors of the economy. To find out more about improving job quality in the social care sector, please see the Living Wage Foundation’s Living Wage in Social Care toolkit, funded by JRF, which includes insights from social care employers committed to improving job quality, and practical recommendations for employers and commissioners. Campaigns like the Future Social Care Coalition also bring together recommendations from across the sector on tackling the structural challenges in social care to ensure all social care workers get access to good quality jobs.