Dawn Murphy works on reception and manages resident services for Selwyn St Andrews Village in Cambridge. INsite asks her about how she got into her role, what she loves about it and what she’d like to see changed for New Zealand’s senior citizens.
Q: How did you get into the role you’re in now?
Dawn: Ninety per cent of my working life has been in some form of a Customer Service role. From the age of 11-year-old I would help my Aunt in her Fish & Chip shop in the small Yorkshire Village where I lived on Friday evenings as that was Bingo night at the Village Hall (mostly attended by pensioners who would love to have a chat). Everyone would call in to get their supper on the way home. I remember one lady in particular who I used to visit every day after school, Mrs Withers, a lovely old lady in her late eighties whose family lived some 20 miles away. I would go to the shop for her, make her a cup of tea and ask if she needed anything. I used to make knitted squares for her to use when taking the kettle off the range (yes, she still had one of those)!
When I was 19 I joined the RAF and was a Medical Secretary until I left three years later. After that I married, had children and went to night school to learn how to type and use a word processor; yes, this was the start of what we take for granted nowadays! This, along with previous experiences, enabled me to work in a wide variety of customer-focused roles until my current one as Receptionist/Resident Services at Selwyn St Andrews.
Q) What does a typical day at work entail?
Dawn: A typical day at work will start with checking the answer machine to see if there were any calls since the previous day, checking the diary for any activities that day that require any setting up, checking emails, checking the mail and actioning invoices, and so on. Sometimes a resident will report a light bulb needs replacing or the doorbell is not working; in these cases I will go along and remedy wherever possible. Some days I will be researching ideas for future village outings, organising these and printing off notices/flyers and distributing to our residents. Some days residents just pop in for chat as they are passing and share their news with me.
Q) What do you love most about your job?
Dawn: The thing I love most about my job is the people, as simple as that. You need to be a “people person” in this kind of role; not only that, but you must enjoy the company of those older than yourself and show kindness, understanding and empathy. If you don’t then you are quite simply in the wrong job.
Q) And what are the most challenging aspects?
Dawn: The most challenging thing in this and any job, is trying to please everyone all of the time, which as we all know is pretty impossible. Sometimes trying to get things done in a certain time frame can be very frustrating when there are delays. In the end, all you can do is your best, keep trying to introduce new things and most importantly, never stop caring.
Q) Have you taken any training or professional development which you’ve found particularly helpful to what you do?
Dawn: As far as professional development goes I have attended a couple of seminars by Age Concern which I found very interesting and helpful. Other than that, I believe it is mainly the ‘university of life’ that teaches us the many skills we need to interact with others.
Q) If you could change one thing about New Zealand’s aged care or retirement industries, what would it be, and why?
Dawn: Oh where do I start on this issue? Raise the amount of the state pension would be the first place to start. In the UK, pensioners get heavily subsidised electricity and gas, dental treatments and free doctor’s visits. It seems only fair that New Zealanders are afforded the same considerations. It greatly concerns me that those living purely on the state pension are struggling to make ends meet. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have been able to “put a bit away” for retirement. Many of our senior citizens have worked all their lives but sadly have no savings; surely they deserve more than to simply “get by”.
There is another issue that I find rather disconcerting: that is the amount of people in their seventies and over desperately looking for a home to rent within a retirement village. I have seen these enquires escalate alarmingly over the past two years and can only see this will get worse over the coming years. The need for suitable, affordable housing for retirees must surely be an issue to be addressed firstly by the council.
Q) When you’re not working, where can you be found?
Dawn: When not at work you will usually find me at home in Ohaupo where I live with my husband and youngest son. We have two dogs, two cats, five chickens and at present 11 sheep. I have a small veggie patch which yields mostly treats such as strawberries, cherry tomatoes and peas for our seven year old granddaughter! The gardening and weeding of the driveway is a constant mission so between that and the usual day to day running of a home I am kept busy but content.