Need A Supportive Work Environment?


Would it be a safe assumption to say that all of us hope to work in environments where we feel supported as we go about doing our jobs? I mean, if you’re going about your work and in the course of your duties you experience an unusual amount of stress, would it bring you comfort to have another employee pick up on a change in your behaviour and ask if you were okay?

Whether it was your boss or a co-worker, suppose someone did pick up on your observable behaviour and after learning what was affecting your performance they offered to take over for a bit or trade off some of your heavier tasks for some of their lighter ones. Would you be grateful for that offer of help or might you in fact feel even worse that what you thought you were masking well has been discovered?

Maybe the answer to the question depends upon the field you’re in. I suppose there are some people who feel that to expose themselves even slightly as not being at the top of their game might jeopardize their jobs. There have been for example, reports of police officers who felt they couldn’t admit or share their mental health issues because the culture they work within doesn’t have a place for people perceived as weak. Anyone coming forth might be told to, ‘suck it up’, ‘deal with it’ and could be threatened with re-assignment. The fellow officers working with such an employee might feel they can’t trust their colleague to have their back in a high stress situation where police training needs to be followed.

Contrast this kind of work environment with someone who works in the field of Social Services or Mental Health, where the norm is for people to help each other out, self-care and team care are promoted; where an employee might be encouraged to walk in and say, “I’m not at my best today; can you help me out?”

Now whatever environment you yourself work in, there is a limit to the capacity of any team to take on the responsibilities of a person not working at their typical efficiency. There’s a big difference between someone who has one or two times a year when they’re not able to function at their best, and working with someone as part of your unit who is continually unable to work at the level of the rest of the team. Striking the balance between showing compassion on the one hand and expecting everyone to pull their weight so others don’t go down is critical.

De-briefing is an activity that some companies promote when their employees experience stressful encounters. So if Counsellor listened to a client who shared some particularly troublesome images and thoughts, or a customer berated a Sales Clerk, both might need 20 minutes to breathe, share in confidence and then emerge refocused.

So okay it’s a fair question for you to ask, “You normally blog about getting and keeping your employment. Where are you going?

There are a few points in here that I want to make with you my readers. First of all, finding the right environment where you feel safe and supported is critical to your own mental health. Just because you have the skills and qualifications on paper to compete for a job doesn’t mean you can perform the job as well as you’ll need to. Secondly, you might be more than able – even great – at performing a job when things go well. However, if your job has those moments when you are faced with adversity and you don’t handle adversity well, you should seriously contemplate a change for the sake of your own mental well-being.

Sometimes the wisest thing you can do is recognize your strengths and your weaknesses, and improve on those weaknesses. However, sometimes it’s equally valid to seek a better personal fit; and that’s not an admission of weakness whatsoever, just recognition of needing a better-suited atmosphere to work in.

Now where I work, I recall one co-worker whom I thought had the skills and abilities to thrive in the role she took. She didn’t last long however, after coming to realize that her personal needs and those required of the job description weren’t compatible. She opted to apply and return to the job she held previously, and the experience didn’t diminish her as a person in my opinion whatsoever. In fact, she’s happier in her present role than she was previously, and she has a first-hand appreciation for the job I have and what it entails. There’s no ‘weakness’ at all in this equation.

It’s important in your job to understand what’s expected and hoped for but not intrinsically written down in the job description; one of these things being to support and be supported by your peers. Teamwork doesn’t just mean pulling together to meet a deadline. Teamwork implies looking out for each other; having each other’s’ back. Having a co-workers back might mean saying, “I’ve got this, relax” every so often.

Good advice when you are looking for work, or looking to relocate to another department or team, that you examine the degree of support that workplace will provide – especially if you know you’re emotional and stress triggers. This isn’t something people typically voice when they are looking for employment, but it can be the single most important thing to being successful.

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