"....... for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust" Psalm 103:14

Birth pains (or why it's hard to love my job right now)

Photo by Alex Hockett on Unsplash

A few weeks ago I had a not-so-great day at work. My job is with a large disability service provider, and our organisation is well and truly experiencing the birth pains of transitioning to the new model of funding for disability services in Australia, otherwise known as the National Disability Insurance Scheme, or NDIS.

Here in Western Australia, we are actually working within 3 different funding models right now (and have been for a while), all of which have slightly different requirements. For the last couple of years we've had our own local version of the NDIS (known as the WA NDIS - of course it is!!) for some of our customers, as well as the national version of the NDIS for others, and the old funding model, which is still in place for many of our customers (but fewer and fewer as time goes on).

More pain, less gain
Birth pains describes it well actually. Right now it's far more about the pain, and much less about the beautiful "baby" that we're all being promised will arrive at the end. Everyone is just a little on edge, to put it mildly. There is so much frustration with "process". So many teething problems. So much uncertainty about how things will look in the future. So much need to soothe customers' (and therapists') concerns and confusion. So many administrative challenges to overcome. So many unanswered questions. So many hoops to jump through.

Everyone is constantly counting hours, and worrying about hours running out before the requested interventions are completed. As customers transition from the old funding model to the new, or even as they transition from one year's "plan" to the next, there is a lot of "falling in the hole" happening. Days, and sometimes weeks, where funding is suspended until all the boxes are ticked, the "eyes" are dotted and the "tees" are crossed. It can feel as though someone just yelled "FREEZE" and we all have to stop in whatever posture we find ourselves, and hold, hold, hold, hold........... until the music starts again.

We all hope that in time things will get better, smoother and less lumpy, more streamlined, and feel more like a comfortable slipper. For providers and customers alike.

Handling the pressure (or not)
I work in a team of about 20 therapists. We have a number of team managers who are constantly walking the tightrope between what they know to be the challenges for therapists, and what is required of them as managers in the organisation. Frankly, I wouldn't have their jobs for any money.

Frustrations have a way of spilling over onto other people, and managers are sometimes culprits, as we all can be. Their teams know they are under the pump. Everyone is, really, but managers so often have to consider those they manage, as well as those to whom they answer. It's a constant balancing act. Nevertheless, irritations and frustrations get the better of everyone at times.

This particular not-so-great day, I found myself suddenly on the receiving end of a snappish comment from a manager, in front of the entire team. I knew he was under pressure, and it happened at the start of what was always going to be a tense meeting as he updated us on yet more changes and restrictions. He'd given us all a handout that he was planning to go through, and as he waited for everyone to finish getting coffee and settle, sitting directly opposite him I turned the first page and glanced at the second, with a perplexed look. That's when he snapped at me not to "read ahead". Ouch.

My initial response was surprise, and then I apologised. But I have to confess I felt a little teary at the injustice of it all. I knew I hadn't earned the irritated comment, and I certainly didn't feel it was appropriate to be "red-lighted" in front of my colleagues. What it felt like, in fact, was that I was back in primary school, being reprimanded by my grade 5 teacher for winding my watch while she was talking, and then the humiliation of having her take it away from me for the rest of the day. (Yes, that really happened. Obviously it scarred me because here I am more than 40 years later remembering it and writing about it).

I took my still stinging wound home later that day and talked it through with my husband, who always brings a wise and helpful perspective. I understood that this particular manager didn't want us to read ahead before he had a chance to explain the details, and I was reminded of the enormous pressures on everyone trying to do the best they can in the current climate. I had four days until I was to be back at work, and the break helped too. I was able to forgive this manager for his short temper, for allowing his frustrations to boil over and for making me the target.

In forgiving someone else it always helps so much to remember how sinful I am too.

Solidarity helps
Not long after, this post titled "Dear NDIS" appeared on the blog of A Simple Warrior, a website focusing on disability sector supports. I didn't even know this blog existed until a colleague and friend shared the post on her social media, which prompted me to read it and share it also, as did several other colleagues.

The article resonated powerfully. In particular, quotes like these:

Many of us had originally fallen into the sector by accident - and found our passion and satisfaction for supporting people to reach their potential regardless of the challenges they faced.

We learned to be person- and family-centred.............. to move away from a medical model to an inclusive, participation model which saw us leave our clinics and target practical solutions where people actually live, work, study and play.

We celebrated successes with the people we supported. We became frustrated with ourselves when we couldn't find the answers................ We cried at the funerals of those we lost along the way.

And then this:

Your representatives insult and disregard our professional opinions. They tell our clients that we are greedy and that they should find a student to deliver their services instead. They don't take the time to ask us for more information or clarify our reports.

Our enquiries go off to Planet Escalation never to be seen again. Hours are spent on the phone and email.

And, sadly but not uncommonly, this:

We began to farewell our colleagues who were burned out and over it. Many left for other sectors, taking decades of experience with them.

The reason my colleagues and I all shared this article so enthusiastically is because to all of us alike, it read as though someone was speaking our very thoughts. It felt good to be reminded that we aren't alone in the struggle.

Encouraging words
Reading that blog post helped me to get the necessary perspective not to hold a grudge against the manager who spoke so sharply to me. We are all battling with the same NDIS juggernaut.

I have two quotes above my desk at work, right where I can see them whenever I look up from my computer. One is from Elisabeth Elliott, author, speaker and arguably one of the most influential Christian women of the 20th century. This is what she says:

This job has been given to me to do. Therefore, it is a gift. Therefore, it is a privilege. Therefore, it is an offering I may make to God. Therefore, it is to be done gladly, if it is done for Him. Here, not somewhere else, I may learn God's way. In this job, not in some other, God looks for faithfulness.

I stumbled across this quote a while ago on a Facebook post from The Gospel Coalition, and the timing was perfect (which should come as no surprise), just as all these work changes and frustrations were starting to rear their heads. I printed it and pinned it in just the right spot. It's always a timely reminder.

The other quote is from God's Word, in Paul's letter to the church at Thessalonica:

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.
(1 Thessalonians 5:16 - 18, NLT)

When I remember the reason God has placed me in my job in the first place, and the immense satisfaction I get from assisting someone to live more independently in spite of their disability, all of that more than makes up for the temporary (we hope) administrative challenges and frustrations.

Both quotes remind me that my job IS a gift, a privilege and an offering I may make to God, in it I can learn His way for me (to be joyful, to pray, to be thankful), and in it I can learn faithfulness.

No matter what the NDIS brings my way.

4 comments

  1. It sounds like you are going through a stressful transition in your sector. I work in social services as well, here in the U.S. I'm familiar with the vicissitudes of funding and some of the questionable decisions which guide changes at the federal level. I hope things smooth out and, most importantly, that your clients are well served.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's definitely a challenging time Kristin, and nobody is really sure yet what the end result will look like, but compared to the funding model we've had for many years it's not stacking up too well! Thanks for your thoughts xx

      Delete
  2. I worked for an Aged Care provider for a year and that was more than enough for me Sue. The constant changes to funding, the changes to roles, the changes to job descriptions, the KPI's, the performance assessments, the hiring and the firing. I really didn't enjoy it at all. I think I fit better into private practice where it's a smaller environment and you know who the buck stops with. Still, no job is perfect and we all have those days when we wonder why we do it - fortunately they're fairly few and far between if we're where we should be.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It can certainly be a challenging sector to work in Leanne, as I'm sure aged care would be too, especially in more recent years. I think that even when those difficult days are more than few and not so far between, it helps for me to remember why I'm there, that God has gifted me with skills, that I have many years of experience and acquired knowledge to offer to my customers, and that as you say, there is no such thing as a perfect job! I am where I am, for the moment anyway, until God sees fit to guide me elsewhere. I think I may just see out my working days in this job, so it's always in my best interest to be thankful for it and to remember Elisabeth Elliot's and Paul's words, even (especially) in the struggle! Thanks for your comment xx

      Delete

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this post. Please feel free to leave a comment!