Therapy – session #1

hehp9749061Going through a rough patch at work at the moment which is predominantly due to workload. I’ve been at the company 14 months and I can’t quite believe how fast it’s gone. When I started this blog, I was still at the old job and about to make big decisions on where to go to next. I came here. For the first 10-12 months it did feel really good and I really enjoyed it. I still maintain that these are the best colleagues I’ve ever had. I’m mostly talking about my peers, those my age, level equivalent, rather than the ‘old guard’, the ‘lifers’ who have been there 10+ years who are deeply precious and protective (though they’d deny it) of the ‘old order’.

Even in 14 months, a lot has changed. Too much to go into on this blog.

Anyway. They’ve recently introduced a rather bizarre (at least I’ve never experienced it at work before) ‘teaming’ thing. Everyone in the London office has been arbitrarily split into groups of about 8 people. These groups are meant to be near totally random but are adjusted to ensure that all levels of staff are in the group – directors, consultants, support staff (PAs), other back office, etc.

The teams’ modus operandi is to be a kind of support network for one another. As the company has grown, the old ‘family feel’ has weakened considerably and engagement levels have gone down quite a lot (as measured by staff surveys). So this ‘team’ philosophy is to bring back some of that family feeling (I think). There are no formal work outputs required from the group; it’s a support network thing. And the groups won’t change for a year.

The teams operate under Chatham House rules – i.e. what is said in the room, stays in the room. All participants are expected to keep 100% confidentiality within their groups.

So we met for the first time last week for one hour. Someone in our group dialled in from our other UK office. We had to pass the phone around (she was also on speakerphone) as we didn’t have one of the starphones (conference phones) in the meeting room we were in.

And so it began. We went round the room each talking about how we were feeling. It could be anything. Work, home life, highs, lows, worries, achievements, problems, etc.

The girl on my left was asked to start. The room fell silent and all eyes were on her. There was an unnerving sense of anticipation of what she might say – especially as the first person. She proceeded to speak with candour about the breakdown of her relationship with her boyfriend of 3 years who is in the army. She’s finding it hard to deal with. She became quite rheumy eyed, as you’d imagine. People supported her.

The next colleague, also a member of the support staff, spoke about her return to the company following her second maternity break. She remarked on how much had changed. She also inferred, quite strongly, that she didn’t know how long she would want to stay back at the company. She is committed to motherhood and misses her (very young) children far more than she thought she would. She reflected on her relationship with her boss, someone very senior. She said the relationship had weakened. It was once very strong.

The next colleague, a consultant, about to go on maternity leave – spoke with particular candour about how she feels like she doesn’t belong. She has done 1.5 years at the company and she still feels like an outsider. She puts on a confident mask but beneath that she feels very isolated. She is worried about her prospects at the company and admitted she would be ‘exploring options’ (very brave thing to admit to, I thought, seeing as there was a director in the room). I could empathise with what she said. The company has an inner and an outer track – the long-termers who are part of the furniture – and those of us who came later who seem forever to feel on the periphery.

The next person, the director, spoke about her parents and the huge burden they were to her now as they were really quite old. The onset of senile dementia, etc. Was sobering to listen to. How much of a sacrifice she has made (she is single and childless, in her late 40s) to look after them.

It then passed to another fairly senior person, a guy, who spoke about the ups and downs of work, of his two sons, etc. Nothing too heavy.

Then it passed to our remote colleague dialling in. She said the small office she worked in could be suffocating. She had nobody to speak to. She really, really missed the buzz of the London office, with lots of people. The pressures of a very small office she found intolerable. She said that this new forum (the team sessions) would be invaluable for her.

It then passed to a colleague on my right who told us that her relationship with her long-term boyfriend, which had been rocky, was on better ground now. Having called off their engagement a year or so ago, they’re now talking about it again.

And then it came to me. I squirmed quite a bit throughout. It’s not that I don’t like being candid (I am most of the time on this blog, after all) but talking about feelings in a work context outside my chosen peer group takes me right out of my comfort zone. Also, the formality of it; all eyes on you. I hate that feeling. You could see the expectation in their eyes (“what will he say?”). So I talked about how under pressure I felt at work. How I felt I was juggling too many balls and expected to deliver on multiple projects without adequate support or resources. I intimated quite strongly that I felt the role had become one of drudgery and something of an endurance test – like being on a conveyor belt. In a non-work context, I spoke about my flat and how it’s been totally renovated and decorated with a view to going onto the market fairly shortly – and how excited I am about that, and of moving. And I spoke about my deep, abiding need for change. How I can’t stand still.

Anyway. The whole thing felt very much like a group therapy session to me. People found it cathartic. A means to unburden themselves. To let down the happy mask we all must wear at work. I think it’s a fairly innovative thing to do as it allows people to increase trust in others by sharing their own vulnerabilities and personal feelings. If it wasn’t mandatory I don’t think people would choose to go. But making it mandatory probably made sense.

We meet again at the beginning of March.

10 thoughts on “Therapy – session #1

Add yours

  1. Interesting. Hubby was in a group of similar business people and they have forums set up to share things in a similar confidential way. He was very skeptical at first but found it very helpful. It seems a very un-British approach I think but it can be beneficial. Interesting to see how it pans out. Do you feel more of a connection with the people in your group now that those things have been shared?

  2. I think this is interesting – a bit scary. Belonging to the company that I do? I would always suspect that there was another agenda afoot – but then I tend to think that about most things tbh! šŸ™‚

    I think you’re right in that making it compulsory was probably the only way to get people involved – what would you do in your group if there was someone who refused to share? How would you view that? Do you think it would ruin the group?

  3. Normally I hate this sort of “team-building” corporate crap. It’s usually something that *might* have started out as a good idea in theory but in practice is just a horrible waste of time. This, however, sounds like it actually may be something that could work — especially if the confidentiality rule is honoured. Having it be compulsory is absolutely the only way it could have worked.

    It’s interesting that one of your commenters says it’s a very un-British thing to do. It isn’t a particularly American thing either, even if it may seem like one. At least it’s not something I’ve ever heard of in an American corporation. (It *definitely* isn’t a Boston-area kind of thing; if I were to imagine it happening in this country I’d imaginine it happening in California.)

    Interesting post! šŸ™‚

  4. I would find this very difficult. I either clam up or let rip, there’s no real middle ground for me. I would feel better getting it off my chest, but I wouldn’t particularly want anyone else’s opinion.
    I suppose if you can at least vocalise your problems/issues then it gives them a validity.
    I hope the confidentiality is respected by everyone. Where I work the walls seem to have ears..

  5. Well it sounds like a good idea, but it makes me feel very uncomfortable. There’s a bit of an element of danger there. Definitely one to be very careful with.

  6. How odd. I don’t think I’d be game for this type of exercise, even if mandatory. If forced, I’d keep any catharsis confined to work-related subjects. I don’t much believe in spilling one’s personal life at work, unless it’s done privately to one or two chosen confidantes who exist as part of one’s social circle outside of work.

    Maybe I’m old fashioned, but personally I like the idea of punching the clock and then going home without dragging my personal affairs into the office. If I wasn’t able to keep these separate worlds, I’d go insane. Work would become home, and home would become work.

  7. Birdie – yes I do feel something of a connection as the group has decent people in it. There are other people in the company I would NOT particularly want to end up in a group with. I have friends at work in not such good groups who really didn’t like the experience much.

    MrsBN – re: the agenda, they did a staff survey and found morale / cohesion lower than they’d expected / wanted so they’re trying to find approaches to dealing with that. Many people felt isolated (to be fair the nature of the work can make it feel like that anyway). Once a month is not very often though so not sure how effective it will be.

    Justin – it doesn’t feel too contrived (re: team building). They were adamant at the outset that there were no expected outputs and that it would be fluid. Nothing is reported back to senior management team, etc. So we’ll see. Guess its success (or not) will become clearer after several months.

    RO – yeh, is hard to know how much to say at these things. I don’t think anyone truly let rip but most people signalled quite strongly around the things they wanted to let off steam about.

    Vic – oh completely. I would never be totally candid at a think like that (or even, with any one person at the company). Not that I don’t trust people but remember the gross misconduct thing I blogged about? All a bit too awkward when you are told things you’d rather not know. Becomes like a burden.

    Ryan – I prefer the punching in/out thing also. Unfortunately, this place is SO not like that (one of the reasons I don’t see me staying beyond 2 years). Too many people too emotionally bound to the company is very unnerving. Never seen anything like it. Very little new blood and lots of people part of the furniture with no plans to leave. Not healthy. Deeply eccentric (that’s the polite way I tend to describe it).

  8. I had a similar experience in high school. I was in Peer Leadership and one day, they asked us all to meet and share something personal. So we went around the circle and shared something, which in effect meant that we talked about something bad that happened to us. The only reason I felt awkward is because I feel like I’ve been very blessed and I feel bad when people are going around saying the worst thing that ever happened to them and I can’t think of one. I’m an optimistic and thankful person and tend to not get upset over anything really. So many people have it A LOT worse. So hearing these high school students talk about how stressed they were just seemed kind of frivolous to me.

  9. Enrico – we didn’t have stuff like that when I was at (high) school. Not sure how I would have found it. I agree with you re: ‘we don’t have it so bad’ which is the best outlook to have on life.

    Mancais – yeh, wasn’t the most straight forward thing to do.

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