It all started with the usual office whisper of an impending inspection, and the subsequent speculation of a possible ‘inadequate’ result.
In all honesty, that rating would have been a true enough picture of our service due to the usual high caseloads and a conveyor belt of ever-changing managers. So, what happens next?
The ‘hush hush’ management meetings begin, often taking hours and always at times when you need the managers most, like on duty days.
As frontline workers, it is blatantly clear that at this point we will not be privy to any information until it is deemed necessary, so we just sit and wait with prickles of concern growing about those cases that may be drifting just a little.
Then the fun begins. It is often kicked off with the ‘team meeting’, for which everyone is directed to attend with a curt email which requests justifiable reasons be given for any non-attenders.
Following the agenda of tedious items, the manager then builds up to what is commonly known as the ‘s**t sandwich’. ‘I would like to say a big thank you for everyone’s hard work recently through this challenging time, but for the next few weeks we need a real push on getting all our cases up to date so please focus on this! We’re a great team and can do this!’
First comes the immediate need for supervision with all staff on all cases. Supervision that some of the team have not seen for months. Don’t be fooled, this is not a chance to reflect and analyse your cases with an experienced senior worker. This is solely a data collection/management oversight activity and your reflection and thoughts are not required or welcomed.
Emails and lists
The emails from the team manager begin at a steady pace with various requests to check visits, plans, health and dental checks. At this point they seem quite helpful and actually remind you of some things that you may have missed. This doesn’t last long. The emails quickly pick up pace with numerous ones from all levels of management often stating the same thing.
To ensure that we don’t miss anything, the use of CAPITAL LETTERS is then used, and also the occasional red underlined words with dramatic exclamation marks!!
There’s also the name and shame emails, with our names displayed for all to see how behind we are. Alongside this the never-ending lists are circulated on our desks each day, with the ‘out of dates’ and the ‘not done’.
While all this takes place around you, you see your colleagues struggling, looking tired, grumbling and downright miserable. You want to offer some of the less experienced workers some support but you yourself are just about managing to keep afloat.
I normally manage through these times by keeping a focus on the children and a clear distinction between what is truly important and what in the grand scheme of things doesn’t really matter (although not so much from a manager’s perspective).
‘Inflict their own pain’
But not this time. It’s Sunday evening and I begin my usual evening routine, in which I attempt to make headway on the week’s work before it has even begun. As I open my laptop the emails begin immediately, thick and fast pinging up on the screen: visits not done, plans out of date, assessments on 43 days, and on and on. It is clear the managers have been busy all weekend…working to inflict their own pain on us as soon as we hit the week ahead.
My head begins to spin and I immediately feel overwhelmed. I stare at the screen and the list of children for what seems like forever and cannot even think of where I could start. So I don’t. I close the laptop and go straight to bed. It’s 6pm.
That night I slept very little, manically thinking about each case and what needs to be done. I could feel my chest tightening throughout the night and felt physically ill. It was clear that my anxiety had taken over, and that returning to work that Monday was not going to help.
I called my manager, and as I said the words ‘I’m really sorry but I don’t think I’m going to be able to come in today… as I feel…’ the tears cut me off. And so my first ever stress related sick leave began.
As the days went by, I began to understand what I was anxious about.
For me I wasn’t worried that a dental visit wasn’t on the system, that my plans are not SMART enough or that I didn’t follow the correct template for visits. It was about the way I felt pressured and harassed by managers to focus upon systems, data and processes, which was ultimately taking away from the work that really needed to be done with the vulnerable children in crisis and in need.
I came to understand that I am constantly burdened with a level of guilt and worry about each young person and what was not getting done in their best interest. This is only because I truly care about the children and this is why I chose this career path.
I ask my service – when it’s inevitable and understandable that an ‘inadequate’ outcome is on its way – why still push the workers to breaking point? A breaking point which will make some leave their jobs, while others end up on sick leave and the rest just feeling overwhelmed, undervalued and just unhappy. Is it really worth it?