Dora was dressed in a purple cardigan and had a beautiful lilac tint to her hair. She is in her eighties, and her daughter was on holiday, and Geraldine was making sure that Dora had a mid-day meal. I was accompanying Geraldine on her visits that day, and chatted to Dora about her grandchildren, whilst she ate her cooked salmon and vegetables. Dora’s daughter had arranged for Dora and Geraldine to go out for lunch as her favourite pub the next day.
“Remember not to wear your uniform” were Dora’s parting words as we left.
Geraldine is a qualified nurse and wears a nurse uniform and smart jacket, her colleagues in Caring Hands also wear a uniform of a navy tunic and trousers. Last week we explored the issue of uniform with the new wellbeing team.
The wellbeing team was partway through their induction and had shared their personal histories, and we had explored what matters to each of us. One of the underpinning principles of a wellbeing team, is to ‘bring the whole self to work’. As we started our discussion about uniforms, we looked at the reasons why Caring Hands chose to have uniforms:
“families like us to look smart and professional’
“it is easy for people to recognise their carer”
We were clear that it is not a hygiene issue, often stated as a reason for having uniforms, as people are expected to wear disposable aprons and gloves if necessary.
In my early working life I was an occupational therapist and wore the familiar green trousers and white tunic on hospital wards. When I worked with people with learning disabilities, no one wore a uniform, as the medical model had been replaced with a values based model known as ‘normalisation.’
Sally Knocker from Dementia Care Matters is very clear that “a uniform is seen by many as a symbol of power and control, reinforcing a sense of “us and them”.
Uniforms can convey a professional distance that as James, one of the wellbeing workers pointed out, is at odds with our principle of bringing the whole self to work. It would seem strange to be encouraging the wellbeing team to talk about what matters to them, be prepared to share their interests with people and yet expect them to dress the same and hide that individuality.
We explored how we could still inspire confidence and look professional to families and individuals, without wearing a uniform.
Being a tribe and being recognisable
People like to feel like they belong, are part of a tribe or a group that stands for something. Part of me loves the seduction of smart branded cars and uniforms. I personally would prefer not having to think about what to wear in the morning, and this was a benefit of wearing a uniform as an OT.
My friend’s mum is supported by a premier home care company, who have colourful branded cars and uniforms. I asked her what her mum thought about it. She said,
“I don’t think mum would want to be identified as someone who is receiving services with a branded car or uniform. If she was out with the person she would prefer people to assume that they are a friend.”
I think this was behind Dora’s request to Geraldine not to wear a uniform when they went for lunch in the pub.
When I tweeted about uniforms last week, Sally made a point I had not thought of:
At the end of our discussion the question we were left with was:
Can we combine an easy way for people to recognise us, whilst also expressing individually and being warm and approachable?
We decided that having a smart dress code, but wearing our own clothes was important. We explored the poloshirt with logo idea – but this is simply a different kind of uniform.
We agreed that we wanted a jacket, that everyone would have, in the same colour with a discreet logo of the wellbeing team. This would be a way for people to recognise us initially for the first few visits as required. We would wear it between visits, but not if we were supporting someone in the community.
I am keen to hear what people think about uniforms and home care. Please share your views.