Archive for July, 2013

5 gripes and a learning

So I am one of those people who thrives on complex situations, stress, high pressure and lots of things happening at once. I bitch about them at the time, but they keep me focussed and on the ball. As long as I have some down-time afterwards, then I’m ok. I realise this now, in a period of lull where I do not have departmental overheads or pressing deadlines, also after a period of sickness! Which has made me slightly bored, and thus I’ve decided to be a little more proactive around service development (mainly policy) in-house, and also reading some blogs and articles. I actually could be doing a number of other things, but none of them are particularly pressing, and none of them are particularly interesting.

I have a great many things to reflect upon. Today, I have discovered I have many tiny little pet hates as a worker. Some I actually didn’t know I had until quite recently. Let me share some with you, I wonder whether any of you have the same gripes and annoyances. <edited to add: these are fairly superficial and simplistic to be honest, I didn’t want to get political although there are pet hates that fall on the macro level equally>


  1. Being interrupted.
    You have case notes to write. You have a report to write. You have emails to write. All while fielding phone calls (most of the time unavoidable) and answering every little question that comes flying your way from other workers (avoidable, but only if you want to come across as the moody boss with no time for anyone). When I worked in the homeless sector in outreach, the little time I spent in the office I would bash out notes at 100 miles an hour, all the while wrestling with a fragile, dodgy and unstable client management system (database). This would cause me to shriek out in frustration, swear under my breath, or make some extreme criticism of the IT department to absolutely no-one in particular. Often I would have people in the rest of the room (also facing their computers, but working silently) ask me whether I was talking to them. I didn’t realise it at the time, but my god I must have been annoying them to hell and back! Then there are other circumstances where you are roped into discussions that have nothing to do with you at all, but it is oh so incredibly hard to ignore someone who is clearly wanting to engage in conversation, whilst being busy completely consumed by your own work.
  2. People/organisations taking credit for your own hard work.
    This has happened on a number of occasions and it never gets any easier. Made all the more frustrating when it is a funding body or has a political agenda (looking at you, local council) behind. You put time and effort into a project, excursion, group or you just put in hours upon hours working with a client, then it either goes completely unrecognised or taken advantage of. It is generally seen as incredibly unprofessional to pull them up on it too!
  3. Being told you aren’t doing anything
    Ok, let’s face it, clients do this with us all the time. Providing education, advice, support, or doing advocacy work in the background, often gets ignored as “work”, because it’s not always tangible, or doesn’t provide an immediate outcome. I find this most problematic with clients from CALD backgrounds, where in their country of origin social work is not actually recognised as a profession, or has a different definition/permutation, and some may have expectations that problems will get resolved when we step in. There was a time where I used to defend myself, outlining what it is that I have done, but now I try to make it clear and abundant from word go what the limitations are of my role, and what sort of support is provided. It’s as important to define your role as it is providing the service. It’s useful having an in-house policy on what service provision entails as well, and keep it on hand to pass to clients. Even then it may not go all the way in resolving the “What have you done for me lately?” question; but then again recognition that you have done well can be rare in this industry, depending on the cohort of people you work with.
  4. Workers who don’t respond to their emails. At all.
    We live in the 21st century. I respect some of us practiced case work prior to the advent of the internet, but you’ve had long enough to get used to it. I was one of those people whose parents got onto the technology bandwagon very early on, so have been quite exposed and consider myself tech-savvy. Sadly, there are many that have failed to come to the party, choosing the comfortable (?) confines of their caves over technological evolution. Often a convenient communication method (especially in outreach or in times when you work from home or part-time), one of my biggest gripes is when you write an email and do not get a response for days – or, more commonly, not at all.
    Sometimes, you get a pleasant surprise. I sent an email out to 3 police officers about a certain client, received a timely response from the Senior Sargent (the one officer I was least expecting to hear back from). 2 weeks later, on the same day, I received a call back from the other 2 officers, keen to chat, meet and discuss – turns out one was outposted, the other on leave and they weren’t able to respond to their emails.
  5. Workers who prefer to send an email than call.
    Let me make this clear. This is not the reverse of #4. This particular situation occurs when there is actually something quite urgent or important to follow up, and an email is sent rather than a phone call. Dismiss this if the phone call was made first.
    Over the course of my professional life, I’ve had emails stating “you need to follow up on this ASAP”, with very scant details of what it actually is that I’m meant to be following up, and no evidence of the worker attempting to contact me via phone. If it’s so urgent, surely you could call? Likewise linking into a service for the first time. As evidenced by #4, often people won’t answer such emails.

Do you know what else I discovered about myself in the last 2-3 months? I have developed a hard-ass shell and exercise boundaries. It’s funny how only in management I’ve been plasticising this with client work, when it should have been the norm from the start. Call it assertiveness or boundary-setting, sometimes I fear it comes across a lot stronger than that. Co-workers are quick to defend me. A situation I had recently where a client was refused a service from us. There were many reasons behind this, but the main issue was risk to staff. He had previously made threats to staff, and had pulled a knife on a worker in another organisation. We recently found out from another client that he was using ice (crystal methamphetamine). The client presented and I was quite firm with him that we could no longer provide him a service. Things escalated, when he refused to leave the office, yelling and screaming and the police were called. Throughout the entire situation, he only directly responded to me (I was his main worker). At the time I was summoning up every ounce of bravado I had, and repeated ad nauseum the same things over and over again, in a calm, considered, but direct and straight forward manner. At least, that’s what co-workers later told me! Sometimes the voice you hear yourself uttering is different to what others hear you use, heavily influenced at the time by litres of adrenaline.

I will need to balance this entry out in the coming weeks with something more positive, in line with my goals this year of highlighting positives and downplaying negatives!