Sick burn(out.)

16 09 2013

So often, the only way you get what you need in this field is to kind of be a pain in the ass. No one wants to, but you have to. Lots of people don’t check their voicemail. Or they don’t answer their phone. Or check their email. They might not even go here.

So you have to be “proactive.” That’s the nice way of saying “stalker.” It’s fine, no charges have ever stuck. But it’s the way things get done.

I’ve even been guilty of it. Sometimes phone calls slip through the cracks, as much as I pride myself on actually responding to those who reach out. I love getting surprised “oh, thanks forgetting back to me!”s. And it happens routinely. I’m always astonished when other service providers actually answer their phones and I don’t get to use my pre-rehearsed voicemail message. “Hello? Oh, oh my god. Yes, hi. Why was I calling again…” I would be more coherent if I ran into Ryan Murphy on the subway and he asked me to originate the role of the singing sex educating social worker on Glee.

Not that I’ve considered that. Anyway.

You need to stay on top of people. When I get a new referral, the first thing I do is call the new client. Then I call the referral source. Then I email the referral source, copying her supervisor and my supervisor. Then I call the referral source’s supervisor. And of course I write all this up.

When I started here, I would’ve thought this was obnoxious. But it’s a matter of course. People are busy, and you need to remind them that you’re waiting and that you’re invested.

Sometimes, though, people aren’t prepared to deal with it.

Again, I’m guilty myself. I got annoyed recently when a guidance counselor called me. The first call didn’t bother me. I was in a meeting, and called her back within a half hour. I left a voicemail, as she didn’t answer. She happened to call back when I had stepped away to pick something up at the printer, and I called her back within two minutes. “Oh, finally!”

Hmm…all right. Do not appreciate your tone, lady. Though I get how it is when it’s your emergency.

But then…later that same day…

I had referred a family for a mental health evaluation, and hopefully, follow up services, for the teenage son. The hospital wouldn’t admit him, but he had a pretty serious history of violence and self harm. The mother told me a very believable story of phone tag with the mental health agency’s intake worker, explaining why the appointment hadn’t been scheduled yet. The mother got through to her once, but the intake worker said she was too busy and would call later in the day. Then three days want by. It was so believable as I’d been involved in a similar delightful game.

I wasn’t “it,” but I called back anyway. Proactive, remember?

“Hi, this is SJ from Anonymous Agency, I referred this child last month and just wanted to follow up and see if his intake was scheduled.”

3
2
1

SJ: “Hello?”
Worker: “I’m looking, give me a minute!”

Oh, ok. Normal functioning adults ask others to hold, but you’re doing your own thing. Cool. Follow your heart.

“Ok, I left you three voicemails!”

You left one, and I returned it, twice.

“I called the mom, but her phone was disconnected.”

Weird, she always answers for me. And I remember when clients have working phones.

She then started aggressively telling me the phone number she called for this mother. She told me my phone number. Halfway through her barking out the family’s address, I realized we had gotten off track. I wasn’t calling to question her outreach efforts. I was calling to make sure this family got the services they need.

She didn’t take that statement in the spirit it was intended.

“Well their referral is closed for the next three months. Send them somewhere else, I don’t know.”

I seem like a real sarcastic asshole, I know. And often I am. But not to clients, and not unprovoked.

There is no reason to talk to people like that. What cause do people have to answer the phone ready for a fight?

People love to talk about how busy, or stressed, they are. One of my most important lessons of adulthood has been–who cares? You’re not special. Everyone is busy, everyone is stressed. Very few people you speak to are sitting at their desks, feet up, luxuriating in a lack of paperwork.

I can deal with some rudeness. I write snarky blog entries and bitch to my coworkers. But if she’s talking to me like this, why wouldn’t she be talking to clients the same way?

That’s why my supervisor called her supervisor. It might sound like juvenile tattling, but we absolutely cannot let these things slide. If people are this miserable, they need to move on. Work at Starbucks and passive aggressively fuck up latte orders if you really hate the world that much. Don’t put yourself in a position where a child is denied needed mental health treatment because you’re too grumpy to do your job and engage with people.

Burnout and frustration happen. We have to learn to keep them in check. This wasn’t my first experience with a service provider like this. I hope maybe it can be the last, though.

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