12 Skills and Characteristics
See also: Types of Empathy
Necessary to be a Carer
There is currently a carer shortage, which is set to worsen, leaving the UK short by approximately 380,000 care workers by 2026. As a nation, we are in need of enthusiastic carers who are dedicated to the industry. In this area, you can experience a truly rewarding level of professional fulfilment and job satisfaction, and you can make a huge difference to the lives of many by providing support and companionship. But not everyone is cut out for a job in caring. On top of this, even if you manage to land a job in care, you won’t necessarily last.
Welfare professionals suffer from extreme levels of stress — according to a 2017 report, more than 4% of welfare professionals reported work-related stress, making them among the most stressed of any industry.
Stress is a part of everyday life for many carers and it can seriously affect their health if not handled well. In fact, extreme pressures mean that, during recent years, care agency staff are leaving the profession at an alarming rate.
Turnover rates for the profession are high at 27%, which is nearly twice the average for other professions. 58% of home care staff leave their jobs in less than a year, while a remarkable — and shocking — 73.5% leave within two years.
Before you get started as a carer, you should take the time to find out if you have the necessary skills and traits to make it in the industry. Below are a few of the most important characteristics you should possess to give those you care for the attention and support they deserve.
1. A Natural Passion for Helping Others
If you are going to be a carer, this should be at the top of your list.
You need to have the natural inclination to put others’ needs above your own — something that definitely doesn’t come naturally to a lot of people. Carers need to be supportive, understanding and sensitive. You will be dealing with people at their most vulnerable and helping them with personal care, such as going to the toilet, taking a bath or dressing a wound.
You will need to get the hang of operating wheelchairs and mobility scooters for old people if they are not able to deal with it on their own. You will need to accompany them to the doctors and empower them to be as independent as possible. You can’t ever let those you care for feel embarrassed or ashamed. If you are truly passionate about your career as a carer, you are more likely to do it well and with the necessary degree of compassion.
If you are naturally compassionate towards others, you will be rewarded with the knowledge and satisfaction that you have made the individual you care about happier, or made their life easier in some way. The caring profession needs passionate professionals who aren’t just looking for a job, but for a vocation.
2. A Willing, Flexible Nature
Carers need to be dependable and reliable. They need to be able to work unusual hours or change their schedule to suit the needs of their client. This is especially true of live-in carers. As your client’s needs change, the hours you work or the nature of your work will also change, so there’s rarely a great degree of predictability in your role. Before you commit to a life as a carer, you should decide whether or not this arrangement is suitable for your lifestyle and is something you can cope with.
3. Great Communication Skills
If you are going to be taking care of someone else’s needs, sometimes around the clock, you will need to able to engage with your client and respond to what they want.
You need to listen and intuit at times, while respecting their wishes and preferences. Some clients will require careful communication, such as patients with dementia. There are plenty of resources online that talk you through how to communicate with someone with dementia. Bear in mind that you will need the ability to alter the way you talk depending on the particular needs of the client.
4. A Willingness to Listen
We all need to be listened to. Sometimes we don’t pay as much attention when people get older, and it leaves them feeling frustrated and neglected. A good carer pays attention. They also need to listen in more ways than one — they need to be observant and look out for signs of depression, anxiety or other illnesses.
5. The Ability to Organise, Plan and Multi-Process
As a carer, you will become responsible for certain aspects of your client’s home, including food planning, shopping and cooking, doing household chores, paying bills, posting letters and making sure your client turns up to their medical appointments. You will also need to ensure your client’s home environment is safe, warm and comfortable. This is a lot to deal with, so, as a carer, you need to be organised, such as by using lists and having a good memory.
6. The Ability to Keep a Cool Head and Be Patient
The life of a carer can be difficult and — at times — thankless.
You will likely be under a lot of pressure and, as the organisation UK Care Guide states:
“If you are looking at how to become a care worker, patience is, of course, key when dealing with patients and service users with diminished capabilities. Sometimes they may be slower at moving about or explaining what they need. They may also be difficult or frustrated, [and] prone to taking that out on their carers [...] remaining calm and patient, no matter how stressful the task at hand may be, is truly a skill and is incredibly important, as anger or irritability can affect a care worker’s ability to do their job and can, of course, upset patients.”
If you’re quick to lose your patience or you are unable to handle situations in a calmly, you should reconsider your prospects. If, however, you are able to remain calm and collected, you might be perfectly suited to be a client’s rock.
7. The Ability to Think on Your Feet
The nature of care means things can change quickly — this is especially the case if your client has particular medical needs or allergies. For this reason, one of the most important traits of a carer is their ability to think on their feet while dealing with unexpected, difficult situations. Doing so might save a life.
8. High Levels of Empathy
This is one of the most difficult parts of the job.
As a carer, you need to have empathy and put yourself in your clients’ shoes, but at times, this can take a serious emotional toll. Carers can end up taking their work home with them, and finding a delicate balance to maintain mental wellness may be difficult, taking even years to master.
Ageing can be a difficult, confusing and, at times, painful process. Everyone needs an empathetic person by their side to help them through it — someone who provides solidarity and companionship.
According to Doctor Gawon Chung, those in a position of care should “try to empathise with residents by asking themselves how they would feel if they had limited physical ability and had to leave their own home and family [...] by putting themselves in the shoes of residents, [you] can also win residents’ trust and acceptance into their lives.”
9. Reliability Is a Must
As mentioned, as a carer, you will be one of the most important people in your client’s life, providing stability and security. As such, you must be a reliable person, being there whenever you are needed. You must also ensure that a client eats and drinks, takes medication and makes appointments on time. Remember, not doing these things can come at a high price.
10. A Sunny Demeanour, Come What May
A good carer lights up a room and makes their client feel a bit brighter. Many older people suffer from depression or bouts of low mood, particularly during the festive season. These moods might cause your client to become uncooperative when it comes to eating, drinking or even bathing. If you are a bright, positive person, you are more likely to soothe your client and elicit cooperation. It’s also been proven that positivity creates a domino effect, improving people’s mental and physical wellbeing.
11. Carers Need to be Highly Observant
If you’re caring for an older person, you need to be aware that their physical or mental health can dramatically change in a short period. A good carer needs to be insightful and observant, picking up on the signs of deterioration early. This can include anything from low mood, decreased appetite and weight loss or gain to increased confusion or irritability. The quicker you take action, the better the outcome will be for your client.
12. First-Aid Training
If your client has an accident, first aid training basics mean you can keep calm and concentrate during an emergency, before getting your client medical attention. Knowing you have first-aid training will also give your client peace of mind that they will be well-looked-after.
Further Reading from Skills You Need
The Skills You Need Guide to Getting a Job
Develop the skills you need to get that job.
This eBook is essential reading for potential job-seekers. Not only does it cover identifying your skills but also the mechanics of applying for a job, writing a CV or resume and attending interviews.
About the Author
Robert Hohler is a carer and owner of Companions of London, a company that provides families across London with introductions to professional and reliable care agencies. Robert has a particular focus on dementia, and he is passionate about providing vulnerable individuals with the support they need.