Wednesday, April 20, 2016

When Work Impacts Other People's Lives


I don't share great details of my job on this blog, and try to separate my paid profession with my  unpaid, for now,  blogger profession. Basically I have a long background in nonprofit social services focusing on children and families, and have transitioned into the public sector in the last 14 months, generally in the same arena. For mental health reasons, but also for work related reasons, I have pretty much severed my job and personal life. I don't mean that I never bring work home from the office, and I telecommute a few days a month. I have friendly relationships with coworkers and we share tidbits of our home life over coffee or a shared drive to a work meeting. No, my severing has to do with a shift to work time being work time, and personal life is just that. 

It has become easier in time making this separation. However, yesterday in a conversation with a colleague, it smacked me in the face on how much my work decisions, actions, and directives impact the personal lives of others in society. It was a bit overwhelming. We were looking at some new policy implementation, not policy decided by either of us (outside of our scope), but we would each be doing the oversight in how the policy actually would be carried out. Relatively minor changes in an interpretation meant some people would benefit from the policy while others would be left out. A subtle change in another direction would impact another group of people. 

I have spent close to 25 years immersed in the work I do, consider myself extremely knowledgeable about the subject at hand, and am able to use data and analysis to inform actions. I don't just throw options in a bowl and pick one out. Yet, whenever there are finite resources involved, there will always be those that receive, those that need to wait, and those that will not be eligible. I'm a gatekeeper to who get's through the fence. I'll be the "they" when someone complains, or someone is in tears, saying, "They denied me. They cut me off. They said I didn't qualify."  What I do, to a certain extent, is set the parameters on how a pot of resources is divided out, then write those parameters down into a rule, manual, and guide, for others to follow that deliver services in communities. I create the physical tool for awarding or denying the benefit to someone. It is critical that it is followed, becasue once there are gaps in interpretation, a system breaks down, order breaks down. There cannot be an exception say for example, to income guidelines or a geographic boundary, or those become meaningless.

I try to remember this when in my personal life, if I or my family members do not qualify. I'll push to understand and know all the options, but once known, and if  I truly am not able to access said benefit, I do not ask for an exception to be made. If I feel strongly enough that the policy is just plain bad, I will go to another level, or write a formal complaint. Even if it can't be changed, it provides another perspective the next time policies are revised, or directives are created. This happened a lot with dealing with elder care issues for my parents. I worked with some incredibly kind and empathetic individuals that helped me see what options might be available, even though how I wanted my parents to access services wasn't possible. I also got curt, no's  with no valid explanation or reference, and pushed further.

For work, I take those kind of calls and emails seriously, and use as real life examples of how my work impacts the lives of others. It keeps me grounded and pushes me to understand the larger systems my work is a part of, and how I can better collaborate and coordinate resources. This is where my work and life intersect, remembering that my work is impacting the day to day lives of others, and never taking that for granted. 

4 comments:

  1. So many people would remove themselves from trying to see it from all sides and being fair. They are lucky to have you but I can see how it would bring you to the point of being burned out.

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    1. I've grown thick skin to help me deal with the anger and upset, and that it is the situation, circumstances, not me personally they are angry with. I've always made sure to make well vetted decisions, and I've learned documentation is the key to feeling confident in those decisions.

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  2. My work over the past 15 years before I got out was within children and families services in the NHS. By the end I was burnt out miserable and depressed. I now feel I have got my life back and I'm happy and contented. However I still admire those who are still contributing in this arena wherever in the world. Reading your blog and those of others I read frequently feels like I'm getting to know some incredible people you are one of them Sam, however look after you and don't end up like me lol

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    1. I stopped direct service with the program recipients when I moved more into administration. I think I would have burned out had I still been in the direct line of implementing. I try to remember that in doing my work in a way that supports front line workers-not being another thorn, but I know sometimes I am, but it's the nature of the work, having to answer/explain/defend to multiple stakeholders.

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