Everything’s fine?

For those of us working in care settings, it is our duty to care. Although our loyalty and responsibility are to our clients first, our trained and innate tendency to care means that we are more likely to notice when something is “wrong” with our coworkers.

In a high-stress environment where a culture of fear prevails, an attempt to show our concern may be seen as a threat. While having a supportive pre-existing relationship may help, it isn’t always beneficial. When you notice something isn’t right with a coworker who happens to be a friend, how will the dual relationship affect your judgment? One CNA has highlighted in her blog why it’s bad to date your coworker. I think becoming friends with your coworkers can be challenging too.

One rule of thumb is that if it’s not interfering with their job performance, just let it be. But is that truly possible when it is a friend and you know that in the long run her poorly managed depression is going to cost her the job, for example? While it may be possible to address it gently without relating it to the work context, perhaps work is the only setting where the depression manifests itself?

What if it is a friend of a friend? How about a relative? In rural settings where everybody is potentially related to everybody else, dual relationships are almost impossible to avoid. Let’s suppose nobody befriends anybody else at work, and therefore dual relationships don’t exist. Is it possible to not be affected by their issues when we are spending this much time with these people at work?

The likelihood that a staff will “flip out” and kill someone or him/herself accidentally or intentionally at health care settings is rare, but it does happen. Whether it is a case of accident, suicide, or, well, homicide, it is going to hurt everyone. In fact, management sometimes will tell its employees to be their eyes and ears.

At some settings, those of us whose professional role is perceived to be more “supportive” or “nurturing” may be informally “encouraged” by upper management to “deal” with interpersonal or emotional issues. A social worker friend of mine used to be pulled into that role a lot and she didn’t want any of that!

Most of us know that dual relationships are bad. Many organizations have a mechanism to identify and support troubled staff. What about something more transient and not sufficiently “serious”?

I am not saying it is acceptable behavior in front of clients but every holiday, there are staff members who become more irritable than usual. Those with young children may be upset that they don’t get to spend it with their family. Do you try to remind them not to be so irritable in front of clients? Do you ignore it? How about a coworker who has recently lost a loved one and is feeling sad as the holiday approaches?

We aren’t the only ones who notice. Our clients aren’t blind. It always amuses me when one of them points at a coworker and says, “Honey, go give her a hug! She really could use one!”

If only it’s that simple.

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About C

If you consider volunteering at a luncheon for older adults as my first exposure to the field, I have been in geropsychology for at least twenty years. As family, friend, volunteer, trainee, and professional, I have found myself in adult day care centers, senior centers, senior living facilities, nursing homes, medical and psychiatric wards, hospice, and personal homes of older adults. Wherever I go, be it an orphanage, a museum, a prison, an airport, or a random corner in the neighborhood, issues related to aging and mental health often come to mind. I used to think that I could make a difference only if I became a top-notch researcher, educator, or clinician. As I continue to follow this meandering path, it dawns on me that as a nobody in the field, I can still add my light to the sum of light by sharing what I know. Over the years, I have "converted" a few very dedicated individuals to focus on aging-related work within their respective disciplines and encouraged a handful more to stay in this field despite its winding course. I believe by bringing aging and mental health issues to the foreground, we will amass a stronger force to promote advocacy, research, and quality care.
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