Serials: Part IV: Hiring an Arm and a Leg

In Part IV of this series, I’d like to talk about effective ways to supervise a new PA or a temporary (fill in/backup) PA. The assumption in this article is that the PA is not someone who is familiar with the job and has not helped you frequently. There are common issues and pitfalls involved with this.

When I deal with a backup PA, it is important that the PA perform at a fairly effective level due to the extent of my disability. I can’t politely pretend that I can manage if the PA doesn’t do a task. If it’s not done while they’re here, it remains undone and I have to live with the consequences of that, whether it be a dirty kitchen, no clean clothes, etc. I have to balance issues of “quality control” ( e.g., dishes aren’t cleaned and are put back dirty; laundry is put away wet; food is not prepared/cut up and I miss meals) against the plain truth that I can’t expect a backup or new PA to function as well as my regular PA.

Bottom line, it’s also important to note that a new/backup PA is on a steep learning curve. They don’t know where you keep things or how you like things done. They might be nervous, feel rushed and stressed . What may appear to be poor work might be easily fixed if you can anticipate these things and make their job easier. So what can we do to help them help us? There’s a number of things.

Consider writing out several lists. There can be a list of what needs to be done on a regular basis. This list can be put on the refrigerator and then you and the new/backup PA can review it together to make sure everything is getting done. A second list can be drawn up for things that need to be done biweekly or weekly. I find that many PA’s feel relieved when they can cross off tasks on a list as they go along when they’re working for an unfamiliar person.

You can also make it very clear to them that asking questions is anticipated. Start off by saying “I know it’s hard to work in an unfamiliar place, so let me know if you have any questions.” Don’t plan on getting much work done when you have a temporary PA because when they are there, you will be working with them almost constantly until they get the “lay of the land” – unless you luck out and get a very confident and experienced person. I caution you not to act annoyed if you get lots of questions – if you do, be prepared that the person will hesitate to ask further questions and in the long run tasks just won’t get done as effectively or the way you might need them done.

Do not lecture the person if things aren’t done the way you like them – this is unnecessary and feels demeaning to a PA. They aren’t mind readers. If you have certain preferences about the way things are done, speak up but be reasonable. This is not the time to tell a PA that you don’t like the crust on your pbj but you better tell the PA that your skin is sensitive to laundry detergent A 0r B or you’re allergic to eggs. It’s surprising how much we take for granted that our regular PA knows and whenever it’s related to our health, it’s important. Serious medical concerns should be reviewed with your PA. Do not assume a PA knows about your disability – a PA may, but you don’t want to wind up in the ER because you made an assumption. Keep emergency contact information on your refrigerator or in a visible place. This should include the name(s) of your doctor(s), family members, etc.

Don’t lose your perspective out of your own fears that things won’t get done. It is true that you might wind up a bit uncomfortable while the person is learning the ropes, but that’s not the end of the world. Remember – it’s very important to show appreciation for what the person does right. Stay as relaxed as possible. I remember once a new PA was helping me transfer and when the doorbell rang started to leave me unattended in a precarious position. Instead of screaming at her, I calmly said “You have my permission not to answer the door right now.” Don’t forget to keep a sense of humor.

Now that I’ve said all that, you’re probably left wondering if any PA could fill in. And you’re probably thinking it’s a lot of work. It is work and it does take planning. The most important thing to remember is not to sweat the small stuff, keep in perspective what your basic needs are and play it safe when it comes to medical issues/concerns.

And just think -after you go through this experience with your new or backup PA , you now have another assistant available to you for the long haul.

Copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan

One response to “Serials: Part IV: Hiring an Arm and a Leg

  1. Ruth,

    I have really enjoyed this series. I actually own a PA business, so I found this article great for educating people about what a PA can do for them (as little or as much as needed). I really enjoy helping people manage their time and lives, and I find my business very rewarding. I love that you address how to make these relationships work and also reminding all parties involved to treat the relationship with the respect it deserves.

    All the best to you!

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