Work, work, work

6 December, 2021

Recently, we were meeting together with a friend and fellow professional from another public service. Our friend told us that she was feeling frazzled. She had been working hard, covering staff vacancies, dealing with out of hours crises, trying to maintain the high standards that she is passionate about in the service of young people and their families.  She was telling us that she was feeling near the limit of what hard work could achieve, and was concerned about what would happen next.

Her story connected with me. I am also a hard worker. It is something that I have felt proud of at times. I have enjoyed the burn of the exertion, and the strength I’ve found in myself. It is also something that has taken me to some great places in my job. It has helped me to do some really good work. But with my turn into middle age, with a big job, young children and lots of responsibilities, I sometimes find that that the old standbys of brute strength and energy let me down. I sometimes look to make a withdrawal from my energy bank to fund my hard work habit and find my balance is lower than I had expected.  Although reaching these limits could feel like something of a catastrophe, thankfully, it turns out that it can also be an opportunity to discover that there is more to good work than hard work alone. That is to say that hard work can be complimented by wise work, and that way, good work can be achieved.

Whenever we can pull it off, some of us can tend to use hard work as a go-to response for everything. Although the capacity to work hard can undoubtedly be a resource, it might also be useful to acknowledge its potential limitations. For instance, those who always tend towards hard work may struggle to let things lie as sometimes just letting the dust settle and moving on to better ground is very helpful. Those who are married to hard work may find that they are not very good at resting and allowing the time that it takes to let their first idea evolve into their second, third and fourth ideas. Taking a while to remain still also works when we’re in too poor a relational position or emotional state to be effective; it might be better to just stop and be quiet for a moment until we are back in a better place, and then our work may become much more effective. The option to bide our time can be a mind-blowing possibility to hard work acolytes but it can be a preventative action against the suffering and loss that is burnout.

For us, public sector services have always been extremely fertile ground for pretty wondrous work to take place. There is much to love about our public sector contexts, and we are convinced that our MyST service would not have become what it is anywhere else. But just as any context has its pros and cons, so our public sector context might both benefit and suffer from too strong a reliance on a hard work approach and the hard working tendencies of those it attracts. The endless need for services, combined with what is at stake for service users, means that it can be difficult to step back and consider the many ways in which good work can be generated that are beyond a fixation on hard work alone.

At MyST, we try to practice a way of being which says a ‘yes’ of acceptance to whatever happens. For instance, when we reach the limits of what hard work can produce, or when we find ourselves limited by some of the drawbacks of reliance on hard work alone, instead of berating ourselves, we try to say ‘yes, ok, this is happening’… and … ‘what else can we do to still bring about good work?’. Maybe this could be a useful question for you too?

Jen & Jael

A Gwent Partnership Board Service