Managers/ Clergy; Dont take advantage of your youthworkers passion!

At the recent Federation of Detached youthwork conference in Leeds last weekend, Tania de St Croix presented insights from her Phd work, which has subsequently been published (a copy is here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Grassroots-Youth-Work-Resistance-Practice/dp/1447328604/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1479844846&sr=8-1&keywords=tania+de+st+croix

In it she interviewed a whole load of youth workers, mostly part time ones, and found that, maybe unsurprisingly, youth workers intimated the Passion they had for their work. They were passionate about getting to know young people, passionate about being able to have significance, they used phrases like ‘heart’ or ’emotional’ to indicate that not only did they ‘do’ youth work, it was something that they ‘felt’. They were, and youth workers are generally passionate.

The passion that youthworkers show for young people is as equally shown in their desire to ‘fight’ to protect good services, youth clubs on the brink of closure’ or try and fight for the change that would enable young people to flourish. It is undoubtedly not just a head game, but a heart one too.

Tania goes on to describe how a youth worker , who is passionate, is likely to undertake a path of least controversy in the practice of youth work, for the simple reason that their passion for the young people (and dare i say it in a faith based Setting, coupled with their passion for God) takes a precedence over the politics and organisational structures that are causes of stress. In situations where Management and the Ideology of measuring outcomes in youthwork has taken over, some youthworkers play the game in order to comply, and thus maintain funding for roles, thus ensuring that they continue to maintain being a face to face youthworker. As Tania argues, barely any youthworker resists the onslaught of figures and outcomes, rationalising it as a necessity for funding (p112).

I want to ask a slightly different question however from Tania’s work and insight.

Does a youthworkers passion for their role have an impact on their own self care?

A few weeks ago i posted a blog about self-care in youth ministry, basing it on Stephen Coveys 4 aspects of life such as , Social, Physical, Mental and Spiritual which, for an effective person ( in Stephen coveys ‘habits of effective people’) need to be acknowledged, sharpened and renewed every now and then, if not weekly.

It is worth bringing in the professional boundaries that are also a factor in Youthwork. I would say these are especially worth considering given that youthworkers is a practice which self-orientated to places between other structures, in the borders. This means that its guidelines for practice, though are not vague, but that youthworkers in their dealings with young people will be making on the spot and ethical decisions on an ongoing basis.

They are likely to want to ‘go the extra mile’ for a young person, or work an extra hour on a funding bid, all of which could be sourced from the passion that they have for the young person. As an addition would it be fair to say that youthworkers by disposition are likely to be the ‘kind’ of people who are selfless, who have a desire to be helpful, have a naturally generous personality?  This coupled with their passion for their work, their ministry, their young people, their faith even – might mean that they naturally forget their self care.

When i say forget, i might also mean neglect, or ignore, or deem it unimportant. Now, who is going to help a youthworker look after themselves?  their manager? their supervisor? their friend (if they have time for friends) – it is most likely to be the youthworker themselves.

But their passion for their young people, their ministry, their future career, their creativity, their team building, their faith – though all commendable, though all important, though all essential to be maintained – might be the very thing that prevents them from thinking about themselves.

I have seen too many Gap year youthworkers suffer burnout two months before they were due to end even a year of full time experiences to know it isnt just Part time, full time paid youthworkers, it is volunteers too.

Maybe in youthwork/youth ministry we need to create cultures that are prophetic, that endorse the times that are quiet as valuable , and encourage people to being off to recharge in their own time, and endorse constructive ways of filling that time to recharge.

Maybe those of us in the position of management of a youthworker need to realise that it might be also our responsibility to push, to create cultures, and encourage, not just model, a work with young people that recognises the need for positive self care in youthworkers. A youthworker might not recognise it before it is too late. They might have been riding the crest of adrenaline for far too long, or using the excuse that they love their work, and its fulfilment of it, has kept them going, when in reality this only lasts so long. They might also be very eager to please when we as those in authority over them give them tasks, we may if were honest as managers sometimes take advantage of this.

So, might a youth workers passion cause them to forego dissention for the sake of vocation, probably, might that similar passion mean that they also forget themselves and their own self care, probably. If a youthworker is likely to forget about their own self care, then it is up to those around them, personally, and for those can create a culture of the work/ministry to value the importance of this.

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4 comments

  1. Hi, a Thought provoking article…I’m a retired Youth worker, I managed both centre based and Detached youth work teams (Detached work being my greatest passion). Knowing first hand about the stresses involved in Detached youth work, I had, for me, a quite simple solution to manage the stress and angst of coping with the passion felt by members of my teams. Simply put, it is SUPERVISION, SUPERVISION, SUPERVISION ….and I don’t mean Management supervision I.e Task orientated. The model I used was very person centred, it wasn’t about the management boxes ticked, it was all about the worker, the frustrations, feelings, working out practical solutions and managing the PASSION.
    I built into each team members work schedule one session per month (at least 2.5 hrs) some sessions went on longer !! Extra supervision, if needed, was available on demand. That was well over the recognised JNC recommended guidelines, but for me as a manager, and the team…it worked well. I was able to keep a finger on the pulse of the workforce and the community we worked in. The PASSION was harnessed and controlled (maybe the word Channeled should be in there ?) so that it didn’t stress the workers and cause them damage… as I said, it worked well for us. Unfortunately the supervision I got wasn’t like that at all and I retired 6 years early due to me being burned out…it was MY passion for the job that undid me.
    Anyway James, and other readers, apologies for waffling on, I just felt the old passion stirring again as I read the post (as I do all of them). I still miss the involvement with the Federation Of Detached Youth Workers, particularly the regional meetings, and working with the most excellent WEST HULL DETACHED TEAM…….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks James, you make some great points. Youth workers’ passion can definitely have negative implications for our self-care. Youth workers (in the interviews and focus groups I did for the book) told me how they would work on their days off, work ridiculous hours each week, and work for very little pay – because they cared about young people and loved the work, but also because the structural conditions were not there to protect them. Few were paid on JNC terms and conditions, and many were on zero hour contracts and working on ‘payment by results’ project. It was clear that passion and love for youth work, and care for young people, were also protective factors (our positive emotions help us cope with the demands of the work), and in some cases they motivated youth workers to fight to keep youth clubs open or to join with others to campaign against things they felt were wrong such as intrusive information collection.

    Liked by 1 person

    • thanks Tania, i hope i was representing the gist of your research clearly enough, and thats a good point about having positive emotions about our work that help with endurance, though i do wonder if this only lasts for so long?! thanks for your positive comments.

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