Satisfaction comes first and foremost from an inner calling or sense of purpose. People who are happy in child and youth care work are driven by a fire in their belly, a gut feeling, a mission to be with and help empower children. In this extract from his book Job Satisfaction for Child and Youth Care Workers, Mark offers a number of characteristics of satisfied child and youth care workers, and then offers some tips for increasing satisfaction.
They maintain their passion and commitment. Although their feelings change over time and they go through periods of highs and lows, they never forget their initial excitement or lose their desire to help.
Sometimes after a hard day, Jack wonders why he chose youth work. The pay is not good and the work is tiring and demanding. Beneath it all, though, he knows there is nothing else he would rather do or that would be more fulfilling. He is here because he wants to be. When he doubts himself, he talks to others and renews his commitment.
They find satisfaction in small things: a smile, a quiet moment sitting together with a child, a youth combing his hair, a good try, an expressed feeling, making a bed, etc.
Ken records with excitement the following changes in his log notes. "Willy combed his hair for the first time. John said hello today instead of 'fuck you.' Tony and Maria played together for the first time without arguing."
They learn from adversity and struggle. Unlike other workers who burn out or get bogged down in problems, satisfied workers view child and youth care work as a challenge in which they learn from successes and failures. They enjoy overcoming obstacles.
Greg has just finished breaking up a fight. The two boys are off to the side, cooling off. He is angry and still a bit frightened, but he is thinking already about how he will prevent it next time.
Their alertness, awareness, movement, play, and interaction are enhanced by good physical health. They get lots of rest, eat well, and stay in shape.
Maria jogs three times a week before coming to work. In summer, she bikes on weekends and in winter she cross-country skis. She watches what she eats and gets the proper amount of sleep.
They plan and prepare in advance to ensure positive interactions and outcomes.
Nadia comes in early to organize her day. She goes over her notes and thinks through what she wants to accomplish on her shift.
They find enjoyment in learning about themselves and others, and from peers, clients, mentors, classes, workshops, books, and articles.
Erika listens to her colleagues and the children. She gets engaged in discussions that challenge her to think about herself and the way she does things. After hours, she tries to stay abreast of whatís being written in journals and books. Whenever she can, she attends workshops. Sheís eager to learn as much as she can.
They take pleasure in the process as well as the outcomes of interacting with children and families. They enmesh themselves in activities. They love the action.
On most days, Jeff canít wait to get to work. He likes to play, swim, work, joke, talk, and just hang out with the kids.
They find fulfillment in carrying out and learning from decisions that they have helped make. They seek autonomy and consensus.
The team members at the neighborhood center like their autonomy. They enjoy making decisions about everything from daily activities to budgets. Sometimes, their decisions donít work out, but they are able to learn from their experiences.
They view the achievement of short-term personal goals as part of their long-range plan of professional development.
Kathy has high expectations for herself and the children. She knows, however, that to achieve these expectations, she and they will have to go through a series of steps. Thus, she has developed a clear set of learning objectives for herself and for the children.
They laugh together, at themselves, and with the children and parents.
Often the workers at the center tell funny stories about their experiences. The humor provides the energy boost they need. There are many humorous events at work. They are careful, though, not to laugh at the children. They laugh with them and at themselves.
They are assertive. They know what they want and have the capacity to articulate their wants in a fruitful manner.
"Iíve thought about how we can change our work schedule to better meet the needs of the children and allow us each a few more weekend hours off" Daniel says as he passes out the schedule he worked on for several days.
They believe in and have tremendous pride in what they are doing.
Nick sweeps the floor at night and plays basketball with the same enthusiasm he displays when telling others about his job.
They are open and approachable.
Mary listens intently as Louisa suggests that she try ignoring Tony when he is trying to distract her. "Okay," Mary says. "I think I'll try that. It sounds like a good idea."
They leave their problems from work at work. They try to resolve disagreements or solve problems before they go home.
Pam walks over to BilI at the end of their shift.
"Can we talk a minute?" she asks. "Sure," he responds.
"When you jumped in when I was trying to discipline Alicia today, I was upset," says Pam. "I appreciate your willingness to help, but Iím trying to establish my own authority with the kids and that sort of thing undermines it. I think it would help in the future if you waited until I asked for help."
Their lives outside of work are satisfying. They have many other interests.
On her day off Linda spends time with her boyfriend or her sister. She also likes to read. She looks forward to her own time as much as, if not more than, the time she spends at work.
If you want to increase your job satisfaction, consider the following suggestions:
Take time periodically to renew your commitment.
Savor special moments and learn as much as possible from interactions with children and your colleagues.
Talk to supervisors or experienced workers who seems to be enjoying what they are doing and watch and learn from them.
Pay attention to your physical health, stay in shape, and eat and sleep well.
Be prepared. Take a little extra time to plan.
Play. Become enmeshed in activity.
Challenge yourself. Learn a new skill, pursue new ideas, and be creative.
Go after what you want. Think it through, develop a constructive proposal, and try it!
Focus on the good moments with the kids and laugh with your colleagues.
Join a professional association and meet others
who have made child and youth care their mission (see Chapter 5).
This feature: Krueger, M. (1996) Job Satisfaction for Child and Youth Care Workers. Washington DC: CWLA. pp. 1-11