Sunday, March 18, 2012

Personal Space

It's been six weeks since we opened the satellite clinic where I work. At that time, we began with a limited staff, and only two programs - adult partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs for eating disorders. In the last few weeks, a whole  additional team of staff has joined us in the space, and began their program - adolescent intensive outpatient. We've also added a program director to manage the whole clinic and all three programs. Suddenly, what once felt spacious is feeling pretty crowded. 

Two other clinics the agency opened last year demonstrated how important it was  for morale that staff felt like they had a place to call their own. In limited quarters, communicating and sharing effectively was the key to making sure that no one felt left out, pushed aside, or like their toes had been stepped on. The agency has tried to learn from these earlier experiences, and involve everyone in deciding how best to allocate, arrange, and use the available space. As a result, the multiplication of staff and programs has gone relatively smoothly...but, as with any transition, there have still been hiccups.

We expected to have to be creative about where to meet individually with clients, especially when both staffs are present. This will likely cause some challenges when multiple clinicians assume that a shared room will be available, only to find someone else is using it. It is already challenging because only one of the shared consultation rooms used to have a computer and phone...which have now been moved into the adolescent program staff's office. As a result, the members of our treatment team who are not there every day - namely, the prescriber and dietitian - do not have a readily-accessible phone or computer. The full-time direct-care staff have also recently learned that they're sharing one desk in the chart room, with one computer and one phone. Both shifts have resulted in some sense of displacement, and perhaps even a feeling of being less valued. 

Full-time clinical staff have our own desks, computers and phones in shared offices. This has worked out well so far - I think that just having a designated space allows us to feel secure, settled, and somewhat organized. At least, that has been the case for me. However, when we got new furniture and my desk wasn't facing the way I wanted it, I was perhaps unreasonably unhappy. My office-mate doesn't love the way I have it, but it's important for me to feel comfortable, and she got to choose how her desk would be. Facing a different direction is a small thing, but would be an unnecessary distraction. Amid the chaos of this kind of work, I need at least my desk to be the way I want it!

It's actually remarkable how much our surroundings can affect our mental and emotional state. My old roommate used to say that her messiness would expand proportionally to her stress level; another friend quipped: "my room's a mess = my life's a mess." Having a few personal objects, at summer camp or in your office, provides a feeling of belonging, a tangible anchor that is soothing in a new or chaotic environment. And remember the feeling the first time you got to paint and decorate a room for yourself? While we could theorize how and why we are so influenced by our "personal space," I find it more useful simply to recognize, and hopefully make use of this influence. If satisfaction goes up simply by having a little area to call one's own, we should prioritize this as an easy way to improve - rather than diminish - morale.

How do you connect to your space to feel anchored? How do you arrange clinical and personal space? When has space been an issue for you?


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