'Humour, self-care and coping with public sector open plan office suffocation'
Irreverence, humour and collective, face ache inducing laughter were essential for me to be able to cope with working in the stifling conditions of a previous public sector role.
A role of responsibility, with a high case load and a multitude of process, paperwork, box filling and managerial dictations.
A place where any reflective comment, or professional view was labelled, ‘negative,’ or ‘unhelpful,’ colleagues suffered from stress, often through lack of personal agency, or voice.
I’m lucky, I escaped this workplace environment of oppression and low morale, but prior to effecting my escape, I reflect back on how I coped in the latter six years of that role.
How do you practice self-care in such stifling, oppressive environments?
Humour. As a group of intelligent, hardworking and articulate colleagues, we practiced humour regularly to bring relief to the closed windowed, closed minds of our workplace. One of our dear colleagues was prone to moan, constantly and repeatedly, bringing us down further in morale. How to address this with kindness, but to stop it?
After discussion, we introduced “Whinge free Wednesday.” We made and displayed posters around our work station within the open plan environment, we ‘shushed’ each other with a smile when anyone uttered a negative comment and encouraged other office colleagues to come and say something positive, kind or uplifting in our vicinity.
We intermittently made each other cups of coffee in personalised mugs, marked ‘I love my Job,’ and we had short breaks from our screens of boxes filling to read a short chapter from our copy of, James Finn Garner’s Politically Correct Bedtime Stories. Surprisingly swiftly we all grew to love Wednesdays.
We bought cake or flowers for each other regularly and although I hadn’t heard of the term, Self Care at that time, it was surely what we were doing. Around our fabric padded desk enclosures we started to put humorous photos and motivational images around us, I started to take photographs of my feet in places that made me happy and bring these into work - “Feets”.
Irreverent? sometimes, belly laughs? frequently, self care? undoubtedly.
Beverley Gilbert is a Senior Lecturer in Domestic Violence at the Centre for Violence Prevention at the University of Worcester. She is also Founding Director and Operations/Risk Manager of Cohort 4, a women’s survivor peer support organisation in North Warwickshire. Beverley is currently undertaking a PhD examining peer mentoring of women with multiple and complex needs, and in her spare time loves pear drops and sewing with a 1954 vintage, hand crank, Singer sewing machine. @Cohort4Women