How to become less emotionally invested in work?
October 6, 2011 11:12 AM   Subscribe

How do I manage emotional investment in my work?

I am a few months into a new position that is best described as non-government social work. My manager and I seem to have a lot of tension. My manager has blown up at me and even a client and does not have any care for process, rules, protocols, etc. My manager also asks a lot of questions about my personal life (which I shut down) and shares this info with clients and makes some other very weird management/social mistakes. My manager is very impulsive and not a big picture thinker or strategist. The way the program is designed, we are going to end up failing most of our clients, crushing them emotionally and setting them up to expect success, only to have them need to drop out, not receive financial assistance and thus end up losing their dreams. This is a brand new program and very, very important to our organization and our funder, too.

In our small team, one co-worker has since quit (because he feels the program will fail) and another is thinking about it. I must admit I am thinking about it too. My co-workers share my concerns.

My manager is new to the organization, has little in the way of work experience (having admitted that they fudged their resume) and the manager above is almost non-existent.

I am in therapy and spoke briefly to my counselor about this, as we have been discusisng the issues with this job for many weeks. She said we could work on me being less emotionally invested in my work and talk about what that would mean for someone like me, who cares a lot about the work they do and the meaning for others/society too. While I look forward to discussing that further, I wondered what those at Mefi can tell me.

I don't know how to be less emotionally invested, when I think what we are doing (setting people up to fail) is unethical. It's partly that my manager is kind of awful, but I don't mean for it to sound like I think I'm always right. I've never had this problem in any work situation before. I know part of it is that I have no respect for my manager and that I think they are going to blow up our program, our organization (this means major funding from an outside agency) and our clients. I do know that the rest of my team shares my views and is worried sick about this.

Is there a way to be less emotionally invested without feeling like I am going to fail dozens of fragile social work clients and also be involved in totally crappy social service delivery, not to mention probably costing our organization its major source of funding (as if the program fails, it will not be renewed)? I seem to be missing that "thing" that allows other people to work through work situations like this.

Again, I don't mean to suggest that whatever I think is "right", but, honestly, I have 20 years of experience and I have never seen anything like this. I really feel sick about crushing dozens of fragile people and being associated with this. But I imagine this happens in social work-type stuff all the time. My core values involve being true to myself, delivering outstanding work and taking care of other people, for what it is worth. I get that, in social work/counselling kinds of fields, there are always limits in terms of program design and funding, but this feels more difficult than that and not like anything I have had to do before.

I know I can go get another job, but I'm reluctant to leave something so soon, having just joined the program and not wanting to look flakey.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats to Work & Money (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I really feel sick about crushing dozens of fragile people and being associated with this. But I imagine this happens in social work-type stuff all the time.

...Why on earth do you imagine that?....

I'm wondering whether there isn't some kind of "higher-up" manager you could speak to?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:15 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ouch. Been there, burned the t-shirt. In a social work program with this type of systemic toxicity, you really only have a couple of choices:

1) figure out how to not care. I don't know how to tell you to do this. And I don't think it's an okay thing to do. I have always believed that when you can't cry anymore, it's time to get out. (I'm terrible at following my own advice, see my previous askme about burn out.)

2) get the heck out of dodge.

3) continue on, be an advocate for your clients, and fight the system. Your bosses will not like this. They will find a way to make your life hell and might even figure out a way to fire you.

4) not a particularly ethical approach, but a satisfying one if you can pull it off. Stick with it. Do everything you are told. Be so good at your job that you cannot be touched by management. Find a way to sabotage your administrators and get your hands on the reigns so that you can make the changes needed. One of the necessary tools for this is patience. This can take years or even decades.

memail me if you want and we can chat about the specifics of your job a bit. I might have some other insights if I had more info.
posted by dchrssyr at 11:35 AM on October 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think the single most important thing you can do right now is tell HR that your manager told you that s/he lied on his/her resume.
posted by juniperesque at 12:07 PM on October 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

tell HR that your manager told you that s/he lied on his/her resume

This. HR can then go back and verify the details of the resume, and if there are obvious, problematic lies, will bring it to your boss's boss. You have good odds of the boss getting fired or moved elsewhere. If that doesn't work, you can still quit.
posted by fatbird at 12:42 PM on October 6, 2011

Can you submit the whole program for an overview with someone higher up? Can you ask the person to quit to tell someone in the organization why they quit? Basically, is there anyone outside this particular program that has a vested interest in it succeeding that can be shown what is going on?

As to letting go emotionally, maybe there is some work you can do outside of your organization that helps people and would 'even' things out.

Lastly, if you do look for a new job, it has two benefits. One, you are out of this situation. Two, you can notify the proper people to get this investigated without risk to your job.
posted by Vaike at 12:46 PM on October 6, 2011

I have 20 years of experience and I have never seen anything like this.


But I imagine this happens in social work-type stuff all the time.

Trust yourself- trust what you have seen over 20 years over what you imagine might be happening. This place is bad, and you should get out.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:14 PM on October 6, 2011

Response by poster: I should clarify that my 20 years of experience is in other areas, both business and non-profit, and not specifically in social work.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 1:37 PM on October 6, 2011

Your therapist was asking you to numb yourself to keep your job. That's a tactic for the corporate world, not for nonprofit social work. You're doing social work because you actively care about your communities and want to contribute to the welfare of others, so in my eyes, it makes perfect sense that you are "emotionally invested", and ought to stay that way.

The strategy that juniperesque recommended seems appropriate.. how on earth is this person fronting this project if they are unqualified and have explicitly admitted it?
posted by dolce_voce at 5:56 AM on October 9, 2011

I'll add that your willingness to remain "emotional" and sensitive to the human realities in the workplace are a precious asset, and fuel your capacity to act when things go wrong, which they definitely are in this case. I can barely fathom the reality of business conducted by those who are quite numb indeed, and crush lives as a regular practice. We need you.
posted by dolce_voce at 6:05 AM on October 9, 2011

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