Pain or Pleasure: What do You Feel When You Go to Work

Maybe I am a hopeless romantic, but I believe that workplace environments are akin in many ways to romantic relationships. If we spend the majority of our time in a certain place, doing certain things, we should love it, just as we should love a romantic partner.  Both need some degree of give and take and require mutual effort in order to thrive.

Relationship Between Work Environment & Job Satisfaction in an Organization for Employee Turnover by David Ingram defined work environment as follows.

“A work environment is made up of a range of factors, including company culture, management styles, hierarchies and human resources policies.”

Here are four smart questions to help you to determine the quality of your work environment.

Do I feel safe, stable, and secure?

Consider the physical environment of the workplace. Building maintenance and upkeep impacts the feeling of safety. Is the building constructed of strong materials? Is it constructed in a way that limits damage during inclement weather? Does the ventilation system provide adequate fresh breathing air? Does the heating and cooling system provide protection from the temperature fluctuations? Are structural problems repaired immediately? Is the office space clean and pest free?

This question addresses the basic human need for safety. The location, type, and maintenance of the workplace all impact one’s feeling of safety when at work.  Many social workers practice in areas of great need. The buildings are often in financially impoverished areas. Some offices are located in places labeled as high crime areas.  Many social workers travel to their clients, so the “office” is where the client happens to be at any moment. We meet clients under bridges, in wooded areas, or in homes. The actual location may not be as important as the measures to maintain as much safety as possible for both workers and clients.

Another aspect of safety involves the stability of the employer. This addresses whether the agency or organization is financially sound with strong support, as well as if the leadership has a vision for the work and communicates the vision clearly. The organization’s actions and behaviors toward clients and employees should align with the stated mission, and employees should be assured that they will have longevity in their employment. The sense of security is reinforced when employees receive adequate benefits and paychecks are distributed as scheduled.

Can I be my true self?

This question goes beyond individual personalities. It requires an in-depth assessment of style, mode of operation, as well as personality, on an individual and corporate level.  Every workplace environment has its own collective personality. Think about where you currently work. Do you feel as if you fit? Some work environments have suit-and-tie, serious personalities. Others have a looser and more playful character. These descriptions depict opposite ends of the continuum, but most work environments fall somewhere in the middle. Your comfort level plays a role in your effectiveness at work. Comfort promotes confidence.

Think about your interactions with co-workers and colleagues. Do those interactions cause you to feel welcome and important related to the organization’s mission? Are disagreements handled with reasonable discourse and discussion? Does the supervisory team focus on the mission of the organization or on their own professional rise in the organization? Do employees work as a unified team?

Can I realize the full extent of my skills, abilities, and interests?

Before answering this question, social workers should have a clear understanding of their skills, abilities, and interests. We become frustrated when we cannot use or expand upon these aspects of self. A lack of challenge causes boredom and complacency as we resign ourselves to accept the droll of stagnant repetition.

Workplace environments that encourage employee growth cultivate loyalty.   Some social workers may only think about how their skills, abilities, or interests enable them to meet the requirements of their jobs. They should, however, think about the impact these qualities have on their capacity to meet and exceed the mission of the organization. Insightful leaders in an organization will understand and use all available resources to meet the organization’s mission. This includes allowing staff members to do what they do best.

Are we working toward the same outcome?

Do you share the vision and mission of your organization? Does the result you are working towards match the result your organization expects? These are crucial questions for social workers who have been on the job for at least five years. You have worked in the organization long enough to know whether your goals align. If you are or have been in a committed relationship, think about the dissonance that occurs when the individuals disagree on joint goals and desires. No one is happy and the relationship suffers.  Employment is not very different. You will commit to the organization’s stated outcome and method for achieving it when you work in your ideal work environment.

Burnout: Who’s Taking Care of the Care Takers?

 

burn-out

Stressors are a given in the helping professions such as social work, teaching, and nursing which can often lead to burnout. These can include intense and long work hours, low salaries, mismanagement, lack of appreciation and support, lack of job autonomy and security, lack of professional development and growth opportunities, politics (both interagency and governmental), and even personal risk at times. As a result it’s highly important to establish and implement procedures that reduce and/or eliminate stressors in order to prevent burnout and ultimately employee turnover which negatively impacts the organization and those served. 

Burnout is preventable. However, helping professions haven’t typically focused on their employees in the same way they’ve focused on their clients. Reducing and eliminating the stressors that contribute to burnout would ultimately require a total revamping of society. Many of the standards set by organizations are established by outside sources that are often disconnected from the reality of service provision.

This can lead to organizations placing a greater priority on those standards rather than addressing and supporting the needs of their employees, which also directly affect the needs of those they are helping. In an attempt to meet particular standards, organizations often have limited resources to reach their objectives. This can manifest as low salaries as well as significant overtime due to limited staffing due to limited funding while occurring within a societal framework that often fails to provide sufficient vacation time, healthcare, or other programs to support well being.

Contemplating a complete overhaul of society is overwhelming and contributory factor in creating the circumstances for burnout. There are many protective factors helping organizations and employees as individuals can do to promote change. Many in the helping fields advocate for others as individuals and overall societal change, but often have difficulty advocating for themselves. Some of this is a result of societal traditions and some of it is a result of a lack of education on the issues that directly impact them. This is particularly evident in regards to pay.

Employees in the helping professions are often underpaid and since money equals value in our society this communicates how little our society values the services these individuals provide.  Of course most don’t go into their chosen field to make a ton of money. However, if one has a major financial burden due to the profession they chose, this can contribute to burnout. At a societal and organizational level, those in helping professions need to advocate not only for higher pay, but also shorter work hours and increased vacation time.

Research has demonstrated that working overtime has a direct correlation to decreased productivity while employing flexible hours has a direct correlation to increased productivity.  Such policies also promote overall well being in all aspects of life, therefore, they should be taken into consideration and ample time off should be provided to recuperate. This could also provide opportunities for more jobs in these fields thus decreasing the unemployment rate.

These changes alone could move the meter tremendously towards eradication of burnt out helping professionals. Additionally, there are smaller changes that can be made until organizations and society buys in to the value of taking care of its employees and citizens.  Since increased job autonomy and social support within organizations are directly linked to increased job satisfaction and decreased stress, organizations should create an environment that promotes this. Supervisors need to be mindful of providing praise as well as allowing room for employees to create aspects of their job duties.

Many enter into their chosen field passionate about certain areas and when they aren’t allowed to be involved in their passions, lose enthusiasm for their job.  Encouraging employees to incorporate their passions can significantly improve job satisfaction and decrease burnout. As well, creating promotional opportunities along with salary increases adds to employees’ motivation to be productive and satisfied. Along with all of this, providing opportunities for professional development in areas of employees’ interests will promote growth that will benefit both the individual workers and the organization. Included in this should be stress management workshops because no matter how many of these changes are made, stress will still exist in the helping professions.

Employees and organizations need to constantly educate and empower themselves in order to most effectively advocate for those they help, their field, and of course, themselves. At first, it may appear selfish to advocate for oneself when many working in helping professions have been socialized to operate within society’s parameters. By instituting protective factors for helping professionals, it will not only benefit the employees and their fields, but society as a whole will also reap the benefits. It’s time to stand up for health and well being for all including those who traditionally provide such opportunities of empowerment.

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