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Performance Factors of Self-care: Work Relationships and Organizational Culture Part 1

Posted on July 28, 2017

Performance Factors of Self-care: Work Relationships and Organizational Culture Part 1

We have reached the final few posts in our self-care series. We started this exploration in mid-December and delved into a six-month examination of dangers to our health and self-care strategies. The length of this series shows (I have a lot to say on the topic!) the complexity and importance of self-care. I want to end our journey with a longer post on one of the most important aspects of our health as helpers, work relationships, and organizational culture.

We examined the power of social connections and networks in the post about the power of social connections in our personal life. Just as members of our social network impact us, our emotions and behavior effect the physical and emotional health of our clients and co-workers.  In organizations whose work puts staff at risk of burnout and trauma, co-workers play an important role in both the health of their co-workers and the overall organizational culture.  Co-workers support each other’s ability to handle the high levels of stress and demands of helping clients in need and crisis.

When co-workers support each other, great things happen both for the collective health of the organization and the quality of services provided to clients.  The benefits include:

  • Fewer mental and emotional health issues
  • Lower levels of illness and absenteeism
  • Increases in job performance
  • Greater sense of purpose
  • Lower stress
  • Faster recovery from setbacks
  • Increases our intellectual capacity (Christakis & Fowler, 2009)

The collective health of the relationships within an organization or team creates an organizational culture. According to Sandra Bloom and Brian Farragher (2011):

“Organizational culture arises out of the history, memory, experiences and formal structures and personnel of the organization and helps to determine the health and well-being of the individual worker.”

In creating a healthy culture, the goal is to create an environment where we can do our best work and clients can heal, change harmful behaviors, and grow as people.  Over my years of working with the trauma paradigm, I have come up with three areas of focus to help individuals and organizations move toward a trauma informed culture.

The first is knowledge of trauma.  Knowledge of how trauma impacts clients and communities helps people create programs and services that meet the needs of traumatized clients. The second area of focus is emotional team support.  Emotional team support requires a work environment that maximizes well-being, quality, and motivation. Third, a trauma informed culture is a collective focus on excellence and achievement, in other words, a collective growth mindset.  Focus on excellence is a set of strategies that maximize individual and group cognitive potential.

Integrity is foundational to a trauma informed environment.  The concepts that establish integrity in organizations and teams are honesty, trust, and safety. Relationships that have these characteristics promote emotional regulation and provide the psychological safety we need to do our best work. Strong relationships not only make people feel better and safer, they also increase efficiency and effectiveness at work.

Integrity starts with honesty.  Most of us have experienced how difficult it can be to give feedback to a co-worker or to hold each other accountable. We must be honest with one another and feel safe enough to address behaviors that might be inappropriate or not aligned with our culture. If feelings of anger and frustration are not addressed in a respectful and immediate way, we start to shift our focus away from the quality of care we provide the client towards negative feelings about our co-workers.  To create strong teams, people must establish honesty as a team value and be willing to share feelings and feedback in sensitive yet direct ways.

When a person knows that someone is being honest with them, it opens the opportunity for trust to be established.  I define trust as the assured reliance on the character, ability, and strength of the person in which confidence is placed and the ability to predict the quality and consistency of the person’s behavior.  Trust is developed or destroyed through a combination of the personality of the person and their behaviors. Interpersonal trust allows us to regulate our feelings better emotionally and gives people more capacity for higher level thinking and creativity.  Without honesty and trust, there is no safety and without safety, there cannot be a trauma informed culture.

Safety, in this context, is defined as freedom from hurt, injury or loss.  There are two levels of safety needed in a trauma informed culture. The first level is physical safety, which gives us reassurance that the organization and the people in it will be there to protect us if a situation gets out of hand and someone becomes threatening or violent.

Psychological safety provides us the confidence that others will respect our feelings and emotional well-being.  This kind of safety allows us to take appropriate risks in expressing our feelings about something or proposing a new way of doing things without the threat of ridicule.  Gossip and organizational politics have no place in trauma informed environments as they destroy trust and honesty.  Without social safety, the brain will classify certain co-workers as threats and become hyper-aroused in their presence limiting our intellectual capacity and creativity.

Finally, moral safety gives us the assurance that the organization will not operate against the best interest of its workers or clients.  This is connected to the content presented earlier about expectation burnout.  When our values or expectations about how an organization should treat staff and clients are not met, it creates a great deal of anxiety and fills our cup quickly, leading ultimately to burnout.

We have a choice between doing the hard work in creating and maintaining healthy cultures or letting burnout and dysfunction characterize our interactions.  Both healthy and dysfunctional relationships are self-reinforcing cycles. Once either integrity or toxicity are introduced into the system, it will get stronger and stronger over time ultimately defining the system for better or worse.

Toxic emotions associated with dishonesty, lack of safety and gossip decrease morale. Morale directly impacts a person’s individual performance, decreasing productivity and quality.  The result of many individuals’ performance dropping creates a similar decrease in organization performance.  Since people do not feel comfortable in a system that does not provide quality services to clients, they become more reactive and emotionally unregulated, releasing more toxicity into the system and the cycle continues

The other option is to replace toxicity with integrity.  Systems with honesty, trust, and safety increase morale which increases both individual and organizational performance leading to higher levels of integrity as people build confidence with one another.  Both cycles are usually operating within every system.  They can influence each other.  The toxicity cycle can destroy integrity and integrity can eliminate toxicity.  We have a choice about the energy and information they bring to their work and give to their co-workers and clients.  It’s important to work together as a team to collectively build integrity and address toxicity. Simultaneously, individuals must take on a high level of individual responsibility for the consequences of their own actions, emotional responses and how they impact others (Lewis, 2006).

My question for you this week is what effects have you seen toxicity and integrity have on organizations and your own ability to stay healthy in your work?

2 responses to “Performance Factors of Self-care: Work Relationships and Organizational Culture Part 1”

  1. Joseph Eaton says:

    A management style where levity with loving-kindness and a smile prevail keeps the 2nd Story respite “chuggin’ up”

    (P.S. Yay! We found a 5 bedroom house in Aptos to move 2nd Story to after over a year of “being on hold”!

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