Distress at work

I had wondered about how the work of Menzies would apply to the probation service whilst I was in my first job in Sheffield. I came to reflect on a number of aspects of this informed later not just by the way Menzies understood the emotional impact of an agency’s function but also by the way in which the reflection process articulated by Janet Mattinson could also be applied to organisational life. Working across a range of organisations in the new city provided me with plenty of material to extend how I understood what drove people’s behaviour in professional roles.

It is a striking feature of all kinds of agencies working with people in trouble that the fact that the work is distressing and anxiety provoking is not only hard to acknowledge but also to acknowledge this fact feels like a sign of weakness. Staff find it hard to be ‘tender’, and such emotions can attract real hostility within helping services. We are well used to seeing this phenomenon in for example the armed forces or the police but it is no less a feature of many probation and social work settings. What this means is that the distress and anxiety of the work has to find expression in other ways than straightforward acknowledgement. This is what Menzies understood.

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