Recovering from inspection at work
June 16, 2012 2:55 AM   Subscribe

The organisation I work for recently had an inspection from Ofsted. We came out as well as could be expected, but I (and a colleague) am now finding it difficult to recover from the anxiety of the period. It has made us feel unconfident about what we do and we are finding it hard to focus.

The inspection itself was painful. We worked long hours and had to put aside other priorities we had hoped to finish by now. Senior staff were very stressed and there was a lot of anxiety around. We tend to be a defensive and sometimes blaming place and the inspection increased this.

The final report had positive comments about our team's work, but I can't get over the feeling of being judged and found wanting. I and my colleague both feel anxious about whether we do is useful and the possibility of making mistakes, and are finding it particularly hard to concentrate at work. We have both taken some leave since the inspection, but that does not seem to have helped. I am in counselling and have discussed this with my counsellor.

If you have experienced a similar work situation, how did you move on from it? How can we regain a sense of control over our work after feeling derailed by the inspection?

Posting from sock account because of the possibility of my employer being identified. If people want more details, please ask and I will answer what I can, or MeMail me.
posted by toenail to Work & Money (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
How recent was this inspection? I experienced something similar and felt like I would feel that way forever, but after a while (couple of weeks or so) things were quite different.
Taking time off has probably helped you a bit in recovering from the exhausting aspects of the inspection, so that's a start. But what helped me most was simply doing my 'regular' job again, setting my own priorities, working within the boundaries you're used to.
posted by Ms. Next at 3:15 AM on June 16, 2012

Is this like an audit in American English?
posted by k8t at 4:19 AM on June 16, 2012

Ofsted is the school inspecting body in England, as I understand it they look at both teachers and the school as a whole. So yes, it's an audit of sorts.
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:28 AM on June 16, 2012

Response by poster: I'm not sure what an audit is in US English, I'm afraid. If it helps, here's Ofsted's statement of purpose:
Ofsted is the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. We report directly to Parliament and we are independent and impartial. We inspect and regulate services which care for children and young people, and those providing education and skills for learners of all ages.
So not just schools. It was over a month ago and I have had two non-consecutive weeks of leave since then. The inspectors were on site for two weeks.
posted by toenail at 4:35 AM on June 16, 2012

I think the problem is not the inspection, it's being "a defensive and sometimes blaming place." I know it's always hard to be judged and criticized, but you have to take this for what it is: an assessment that recognizes the things you are doing well, and provides you with the opportunity to improve the things you are not doing well. You can't get better at what you do unless you acknowledge that there are places where you can improve.

It seems like the most obvious thing to do would be to take action on something that the report suggested or implied you should take action on. That could give you a sense of control over the situation.

I work in higher education and I've been through four visits from accreditation bodies in the last five years; I try to look at them as opportunities to clear the air and get a fresh perspective on the organization from outsiders.
posted by mskyle at 4:57 AM on June 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

Whenever you catch yourself being too self-critical at work, try to put it into perspective: write down what's bothering you. Unless it's a major, major thing, continue working on what you had been doing previously. Then at the next natural stopping point, look at your list. Prioritize them. Delete small things that are perfectionism talking (or at least give them lowest priority). By writing them down, you're not dismissing your worries, but by not indulging in them right away, you keep them from taking over your life.

My first or second year of teaching happened to be the year my school was being evaluated by the licensinit entity, WASC. It literally took all of our on-site non-teaching time to gather all the necessary documents and meet with the liscensing team for a full school year. Like you, it stressed us all out to no end because every single thing you did was under the microscope, and it can be hard to get out of that habit after a few months (yes, reflection is very important to good practice, but there's a limit). I feel for you.
posted by smirkette at 10:22 AM on June 16, 2012

You may want to have a mini-retreat of sorts where you get out of the work environment and try to reach consensus about your department's mission and progress based on your own internal standards. When you have a better grasp on what you all believe you're trying to to and how well you're doing it, rather than on whether you're being externally judged, you'll probably be able to handle moving forward more easily. It will also help to have a group/team consensus.
posted by dhartung at 1:15 PM on June 16, 2012

The hospital where I work recently went through the every-three-years Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations accreditation process. Part of JCAHO's process includes two unannounced full site surveys, 18 months or so apart. As you can imagine, this is unsettling. It sounds like you have the added complication of your internal school culture being one that looks for something to pick apart, rather than banding together in the face of external judgment.

One thing that our hospital has done is to pick out two things as the year's focus (for example, in a healthcare setting, perhaps you might choose patient falls and discharge planning; in a school, it might be disciplinary visits or exam passes at a certain level). The other thing is to figure out how to manage administrative processes now to simplify things the next time the inspectors show up. If you're tracking things, you can show them that you've noticed trends and have done something to fix/encourage the behavior (where "you" equals either everyone, or a selected team who continue to oversee the process even though it won't happen again right away).

But mostly, get some sleep and get out of the school environment as much as you can. I'm glad you're in therapy and can talk about it there.
posted by catlet at 7:13 PM on June 16, 2012

Most problems arising during an audit are not the product of errors by a single individual, but rather errors in process. Receiving incomplete information at your station means you pass on incomplete information to the next stage, and so on, until it becomes a very complex problem down the line. Even when "blame" could be squarely laid on one individual, it is again a process in that they are most likely insufficiently trained on that single detail. Auditors are carefully trained to look for that one detail that is not quite right, and leap on it with both feet.

In either case, the responsibility for the error in process belongs to the senior administrators, and they should acknowledge it and take ownership at once, not cast about for an individual to blame.

Also remember that auditors are primarily looking for examples of cooperative malfeasance, toxic management environments, and entrenched poor practices at a local level, and those should be the scope of their observations and suggestions.

It may often feel targeted and subjective, but it should not be, unless you are at the highest level of management. Should a senior staff member approach you with a single instruction, act on it quickly and decisively. That is your responsibility. The rest is theirs.

The fact that it has been a month seems to suggest that the Sword of Damocles is not going to be falling. Painful remedies usually come quickly.

It's always hard getting blasted out of your comfort zone, and that's generally what these are. Continue taking stock with your counselor, and utilize some of the tools outlined above to improve your work situation. I hope that you are able to get your existing projects back in line quickly and move through to a satisfying resolution. I'm sure you will.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 9:55 AM on June 17, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks all. It sounds like there may not be an easy solution apart from time and continuing to try to take control of our own work. We are not a school and the answers to some of the serious and morally complex issues we have are not easy to find, so I suppose there's a sort of bafflement about where we go now which doesn't help.
posted by toenail at 11:04 PM on June 18, 2012

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