12th April 2018Category: Working Carers
Support in the workplace can take on different forms - from flexible working to allowing you to have your mobile phone on you in case of emergencies.
There is one type of support that can change your experience of being a working carer and this is peer-to-peer support. This week we will look at what peer-to-peer support actually means, how it works in practice and the benefits.
Peer support involves people drawing on their personal experiences in their daily life. Everyone in the group provides knowledge, experience, emotional support, practical help, and social interaction to help each other. It creates an ongoing support system for people facing a similar life experience.
This is different from other types of support (e.g. counselling) because the source of support is others members of the group. Peer support is also a two-way street. The act of helping someone else as a way of paying back for help previously received, or just simply sharing the experience gained, can be a deeply rewarding and a therapeutic experience in its own right. It is unique as it is led by members of the group rather than professionals.
Peer-to-peer support works well when it is driven by what participants want and need (i.e. practical support). As well as the people in the group being treated as equals. It is a successful type of support because it recognises people’s resources and the positives in people and their situation.
Peer support can take many forms. It does depend on the size of your organisation and the resources available. It could be a weekly gathering for an hour as a group (most common), Skype calls one to one or group (helpful if you work from home regularly), online forums or a private Facebook group.
People like Carers Champions as part of their role can promote the setting up of a carers peer-to-peer support group. It can start a conversation in the workplace about caring, and show the organisation’s interest in supporting working carers.
The issue might be getting people to go initially as there are many reasons why someone may or may not want to go. They may lack confidence about opening up about being a carer, might think they ‘don’t qualify to be a carer’ or don’t even see themselves as a carer. They might not see the benefits of going so lack motivation to make it a priority.
It should be noted people are much more likely to engage when:
The sessions will need to be led to start off with, so people understand what the sessions are about. A Carers Champion might do a short introduction to explain the process then leaves the room (unless they are a carer of course). Or someone might volunteer to keep the session moving so everyone gets an opportunity to talk if they want. The important thing is, professionals don’t lead it, and it is a fellow carer.
It can feel incredibly lonely being a carer. Sometimes you feel you are a doctor in training, learning the entire medical lingo with a new condition the person you care for has. You hope there is a carer’s manual hiding in the back of the sofa with 1000 tips to get you through the week. Then part-time magician, multi-tasking everything and somehow wearing matching socks.
Internal networks or peer-support groups in a workplace can help individuals in similar circumstances to connect across an organisation. This is particularly helpful if you work in a large organisation where you don’t get an opportunity to meet other colleagues in different departments. It is really about ‘connection’. As Katherine Wilson, head of Employers for Carers, says:
“People enjoy the peace of mind and the feeling that they are not alone. It helps to make them feel less vulnerable and that there are other people who have been through a similar situation.”
That connection created in these groups can help lower the feeling of loneliness as well as reduce stress.
The mixed experiences of caring, and people with different jobs in a peer-to-peer support setting means it can tackle mindset issues around caring and working. If a senior member of the organisation is discussing their caring role, it can show others that you can still be successful in a career whilst caring. Former carers should also be engaged in the group as their experience will be invaluable as well as help others understand and learn about what changes they face if their caring role changes.
Talking and supporting one another without judgment in a confidential setting can feel alien to a lot of people, especially in the workplace. Creating a circle of trust around you and other working carers means you can be honest, open up and about what is happening and how you really feel. Most people think they need to bottle up at work or that their colleagues won’t care. Peer-to-peer support is all about being able to talk about it, and they support you and then you support them.
That carer’s manual I was mentioning earlier doesn’t exist but put a group of working carers together and I am sure they can come up with fantastic useful ideas and tips. Talking with others who are or have gone through similar experiences means you can learn from them and make things a little easier.
Spending time with a group of people who are going through a similar experience can be reassuring, calming and refreshing. People who understand your struggles but also understand your goals and aims. It must be a tribal psychology thing but a sense of belonging can be hugely positive and brings you closer to those involved. Plus you might get some new friends out of the experience too.