Staying Alive

Staying Alive

How to stay emotionally healthy when working as a change agent.

How to stay emotionally healthy when working as a change agent.

Burnout, the total depletion of one’s physical and mental resources, was first recognised as a syndrome among professionals in the helping professions: teaching, nursing and social work, for example. Small wonder, then, that Change Agents, Organisational Consultants and Human Resources staff, whose jobs are concerned with people and their problems, are prime candidates for burnout.

To help organisational consultants combat burnout in themselves and those for whom they are responsible is the goal of our regular Reflective Consultancy Group. Counteracting stress symptoms that lead to burnout involves building supports that help one manage the inevitable stress of consultancy work. To build such supports, one must first recognise the need for support, acknowledge the potential for burnout and then set realistic, achievable goals.

Managing your anxiety when working as a change agent or organisational consultant is not an easy task.  The pressure to be taken off task and lose your position on the boundary can be intense and emotionally challenging.

In order to be an effective consultant, you have to build a good working relationship with the client. This requires you to be open to the emotional climate of the system and the individuals within it. The capacity to absorb the inevitably conflicting and turbulent feelings in the system is key to formulating a working hypothesis that will help you achieve change.

But there can be a big cost to you. Being overwhelmed by the anxieties and powerful feelings can put you at risk. The risks can be that you fail to see and work with tricky under-the-surface dynamics that then come back to bite you. Or the powerful feelings prevent you from seeing more subtle issues of resistance to change. Or you absorb the stress of the system and become unwell yourself.

A healthy working relationship with the client will entail some conflict. Here you will need to be both supportive and confronting at the same time. If you are overly responsive you may become part of the client system and your usefulness will diminish. You may end up as an advocate for part of the system and become increasingly enmeshed. If you are working on a technical solution the powerful feelings engendered by the system change may mean you remain too detached and uninvolved and therefore miss valuable emotional data that needs paying attention to.

To remain effective you have to maintain your position on the boundary. Here you can observe, experience, take in and digest the complex emotions and technical problems that the client system is working with. By taking in these thoughts and feelings you can then offer containment by helping the system tackle their difficulties. This joint collaboration with the client system from the boundary helps the client take ownership of the variety of dilemmas that they face.

In order to maintain a position on the boundary that is both involved but not enmeshed is not easy. The need to maintain a capacity to think and reflect should be seen a vital aspect of your professional development.

If you would like to participate in a regular Reflective Consultancy Group that explores the roles and tasks of organisational development and change consultants and examines how you will take up these roles and tasks within your practice, then please complete the application form.

For a no-obligation conversation about the programme, contact Anabel: a.navarro@tavinstitute.org

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