Working with troubled children and young people is real work. It’s hard work. It takes its toll, if we’re not very careful.
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So we need our work place to be supportive, not macho…
What exactly is a “macho culture”?
But some working cultures aren’t healthy. They pressure us to appear capable, to cope alone and quietly. To keep our feelings to ourselves and “get on with it.”
Here’s an example – I recall the episode very clearly:
We had just been involved in dealing with some very challenging and aggressive behaviour from a teenaged boy.
During the incident a colleague of mine was assaulted – he was punched squarely in the face. Very hard. I know it was hard because I heard it from 20 feet away when my back was turned. I also saw the welt above his eye afterwards.
I could see that my colleague was not only physically affected by the assault, he was also emotionally affected. He was shaking. He couldn’t stand still. His voice was emotional.
This is all normal and to be expected.
What wasn’t normal – or at least shouldn’t be – was what happened next.
I suggested that he take some time out and have a coffee – at the very least. Or, if he needed to, that he should go home and rest. He was still shaking.
This is what he said:
The curse of the “macho culture”…
This incident took place in an environment where there was an unspoken pressure to cope. To admit feeling shaken was to admit weakness. To go home following such an incident was tantamount to failure.
Here are some of the reasons why we must challenge such workplace cultures:
- Setting a good example to children – if we are to really help troubled kids to recover, we should model normal responses. This must include normal emotional responses. Not that we should bare our feelings in front of kids. But for them to know that this man – this strong, muscly, capable man – was upset and needed some time out – would have balanced the macho assumptions beautifully. instead it was hidden.
- Good self-care – if we are ever properly to be sensitive to children, we must also be sensitive to our own needs. Reflection is one of the greatest assets a practitioner with troubled children can have. Knowing when you’re affected is a safeguard for the children and for ourselves – it means we’ll be more likely to stay the course and be healthy doing it.
- The kids need us to be healthy – looking after ourselves ensures we’re rested, ready and available to respond to their needs. With high need children, we all need to be on our metal. All the time. That way the young people get the best possible service we can offer.
There are also some good strategic reasons to foster a caring culture at work:
- Duty of care – agencies have a duty of care to all staff. Those with management responsibilities should bear this in mind when addressing their workplace culture.
- Sickness absence – looking after staff and fostering an openness about worker stress will alleviate pressure and lead to healthier staff teams. This in turn will reduce sickness absence. Once again, young people benefit from the consistency this brings.
- Spreading the load – the best people to empathise with impact issues are our colleagues – they work in it too! But when people are off sick the burden falls on those left behind, increasing their load. This is how sickness cycles begin. Absence begets more absence – wise management will avoid this by promoting a caring culture at work.
So there are lots of reasons – personal and strategic – why macho work cultures should be challenged.
Take some time to reflect on your own working culture…
Does it foster openness about the impact of the work on staff? Do colleagues discuss these challenges openly?
If so – great! Make the most of the benefits this offers and, in doing so, strengthen and deepen the culture.
Or is there an unspoken but real sense of having to “cope quietly and get on with it?” If so, it might be time to think about how to challenge it. Check out this post on worker grief for some ideas.
Help is at hand…
For a more thorough look at self-care, check out my eBook: Looking After No.1 – Self-Care for People Working with Troubled Children…
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© Jonny Matthew 2015