Thursday, 21 April 2011

Autonomy at Work

I have been taking my autonomy as a practitioner for granted the past few years. I didn't realise this. Until today.

I have just had two weeks off sick. I left in haste and, unlike when I go off on two weeks planned leave, I did not get time to sort out my in tray and make sure I had finished all those little stray jobs. You know, those niggly little jobs which make your list really long but only take a few moments each.

While I was off my team and manager tasked themselves with sorting through my outstanding work to make sure there was nothing urgent. Understandably, because of the way I left, things were more untidy than usual. I am fortunate because I am part of a lovely team. But I still feel threatened.

I am unaware of anybody checking through my tray on a regular basis. No one checks the work I do. I have a yearly appraisal, I attend clinical supervision, I speak to colleagues when I come up against a problem outside my scope of competence. But I am not micromanaged and I own my clinical decisions. Usually if I am off people will sort through my post, field my calls, liaise with my schools. We have a joint folder where we keep information on our main clients - this really helps when the caseload holder isn't in. I would happily sit there and talk my way through my caseload with my manager (if I had time!) but I feel distinctly uncomfortable about my work being sorted through in my absence.

On the one hand I was glad of the time off, I badly needed it and I wasn't fit to be in work. It is great that my colleagues made it possible for me to leave and that they supported me. On the other hand, I feel protective of my workload. I control it. My colleagues have not done anything wrong. They have not stepped out of line. But it challenges me. It challenges my perceptions of myself as someone who can cope with pressure. It makes me feel exposed, for example: what if one colleague finds my clinical decision to be wrong and I am not there to defend myself? What if my being away from work has changed my colleagues' perceptions of who I am and how I do things?

I have received some positive criticism as a result of the way my team found my work when they checked through it. It is making me question myself and my clinical actions. I haven't done anything outright wrong or dangerous but I have discovered things I can improve on. It has been a good experience from that point of view. But I have not enjoyed it. And I do not feel liberated by it.

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