This post is the second in a series on how your work, paid or unpaid, affects your resilience. The first post was “Work and Resilience.”
How doable is your job?
Does your work add to or detract from your resilience? Part of being resilient is believing in your own competence. A sense of, “I can manage.” In dealing with long-term stressors, part of resilience is having enough energy to keep on going. Your job’s “doableness” (is that a word?) impacts both your sense of competence and your overall energy levels.
What happens when the job is not doable? Have you had a job where there wasn’t enough time, resources or authority? Consider these questions:
When you add up the hours at work and the tasks that need to be done is there enough time?
Example: A friend took a job that was 2 days a week. She was constantly behind schedule and felt incompetent. Finally, she talked to colleagues about how much she was struggling. Turns out the person who had the job before her worked 4 days a week. Once the conversation was out in the open the team agreed to shift some responsibilities. She also clarified priorities with her supervisor and quit trying to uphold impossible standards. Most importantly she quit beating herself up for being “inefficient.”
If you sit back and do a time map of your tasks, do they come anywhere close to fitting into your working hours? Are you rushing all day long? In an ideal job you would have some time to reflect on the next task, to eat a meal and take breaks. This allows you to be your best self at work, increasing your competence and not leaving you depleted.
When you weigh the challenges to be met, and the resources you are given, do you have enough?
Example: An increased number of clients meant an increase in quarterly reports that were required to be printed and put in a file. However, there was still only one cranky printer that had to be babied or it would jam. The secretary was told to be a “team player” and figure out how to spread out the printing until a new one could be ordered.
Lack of resources often creates trouble over time. You try to “make do”, “get creative,” or “find a substitute” but all the energy spent there takes away time and energy from the primary job. Without basic resources jobs can’t get done or safety standards can’t be met. It is hard to feel good about a job, and therefore about yourself, if you can’t get the job done. Being aware that you are lacking basic resources allows you to give yourself a break rather than judge yourself.
When you consider the goal to be accomplished, do you have the authority to get the job done?
Example: A founder of a small agency was not comfortable delegating authority. Every day 3 or 4 managers were hanging out in the lobby so they could get approval for their day’s plans. She would berate them for wasting their time yet also got angry if she hadn’t approved any changes. Managers heard “You need to take care of this!” with no authority to make day-to-day decisions.
Jobs where you are micromanaged, expected to do it the same way it has always been done, or that require you to constantly check-in before you can move to the next step are exhausting. These situations can lead to constantly feeling like you don’t measure up. The small agency situation was improved when managers were given a budget for small purchases that didn’t need prior approval. Are there aspects of your job where you could get the job done more efficiently if you had more authority to make decisions?
Work can be tiring, resulting in a need for rest or a change of pace after work. But what if it is exhausting to the point of leaving you worn out or in pain at the end of most work days? Jobs with reasonable support and expectations give you the time, resources, and authority needed to complete the tasks assigned without draining or blaming you. Does work leave you enough energy to cope with the rest of your life?
In what way is your job doable? Are there gaps? Many helping professionals are working in jobs where the entire industry is short on time, resources, and authority. At the most basic, you can acknowledge your own competence in the face of these shortages. In the long run, we all need to advocate for better resources for the sake of the clients and the helpers.
Being resilient requires adequate resources and a work-life balance. One way that work can contribute to this is by being doable. How else does work add to or detract from your resilience?
We will explore other topics in the next few posts. Be sure to sign up for our email here so that you receive the whole series. We will also be sending an invitation to join a live Zoom conversation about your insights.
Laura A. Gaines