Sunday, December 12, 2010

Holding Back From New Staff

Social Working Mom recently wrote about ranting in front of new staff. She poignantly commented about possible repercussions of ranting about "unfixable" issues. From my understanding of her post these issues relate to the system (relating to public policy/benefits) that staff and clients work in. It made me think about how I approach and behave with new staff.

When I begin working with a new case manager I think about his initial impression of the agency and clients as he settles in. Venting or ranting without holding back from the beginning sets a certain atmosphere -- one that may quickly become toxic -- in an environment that's already tough, because of what clients deal with, because of our challenges with clients or amongst staff. In terms of general challenges I'd likely not hold back from commenting about issues I have with public policy, drawbacks of social security or public aid, but I would temper my words initially. This is tough, I would say (i.e. navigating public aid system), but on the other hand we have a contact who is able to help/share a contrasting point of view to try and balance the issue out.* I'd share training literature I've gathered over the years and with time more in depth discussions about these issues would come about. (Granted of course this is more appropriate for case managers who're new to the field and have less experience and familiarity with the system). Ranting about other clients or staff is another matter.

At this point, having been at Empoder for over three years I think I'd be extremely cautious about ranting in front of a new worker about other staff members. There's little point in it and it only nurtures further division between staff. I would choose my words carefully with a case manager even after she has been at Empoder for a few months. No need to ignore that working with some staff members may be challenging but no point in dwelling in it. I'd likely set the stage by offering tips on how to approach other staff members about certain issues instead of making a straight out negative comment.

As for ranting about other clients -- as staff we're working with and to support these folks and we need to remember that. I direct this foremost to me as this is something that I need to continue and keep myself in check in front of new staff. It's hard not to express frustration in front of a new worker but it needs to come from a removed setting and intensity with which it's shared needs to be kept in check. At times when I complain about a client unchecked I may want to say, "Why is John doing this to me?? Why is he not appreciating what I did to help him and sabotaging his opportunity?" while I have little to do with this equation. I shouldn't make it personal. 

I also have an inkling that I may appear scathing in my vents and rants and seem genuinely angry when I'm simply genuinely annoyed. Even if I speak in frustration and with intensity it's likely because I only need to let out the negativity for a minute or so before discussing it more reasonably. Also, sometimes I just vent about something small and petty (like a casual remark by a coworker that rubbed me the wrong way) that I just need to get out but new staff shouldn't hear that. 

I don't color a world of no conflict or struggles to new staff but I work hard to share these challenges soberly and not angrily. For more honest or angry vents I save my thoughts to those staff members who're in my personal support group, who've known me for the better part of the last three years, can handle it, troubleshoot or listen as needed, and after that if they don't have a vent of their own we seamlessly go back to work.

* Defending public aid office on something, yeah I know, who knew I'd do that. Even if these comments often go along the lines of caseworkers have very large caseloads and work under a bureaucratic system that sorely lacks money, this still doesn't make the job easy. Though if a person is going to be working with the public, particularly an underprivileged segment of society, it's shameful if he doesn't do his job sensitively and with understanding. It's clear when some case workers take an extra step compared to others who don't.


Btrflygl said...

Wow, great post!!! Thanks for writing it :).

Anatolia said...

Thanks Btrflygl, and thank you for your post that sparked my thoughts.