Square pegs and round holes: mental health at work and knowing when it is time to move on

It feels like a betrayal, having started this blog as a local authority lawyer, to now be telling you that I am no longer working for a local authority. But its true. The blog will continue, but my day job has changed.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a little while, you’ll have come to have a bit of an understanding about who I am, even whilst I have been anonymous. I care deeply about the importance of social care and the need for society to care for its most vulnerable. Every time I have thought about leaving local authority, I have been wracked with guilt thinking about my colleagues, many of whom I would now call friends, in social care who I will be leaving behind in these difficult times.

But the truth is, for me, the job had become something of an unhealthy relationship. I liked many of the people I worked with, and some days I would go home at the end of the day feeling fulfilled because I had a part to play in helping someone who really needed that help. Those days became less regular though, as time went by.

Until recently, I had always thought that the metaphor of square pegs and round holes was just a euphemism used by unhappy employees or employers to disguise a significant problem. But I finally understand that this may not always be the case (although, of course, sometimes it is).

Because you see there was absolutely nothing inherently wrong in my job, my colleagues or the workplace culture. Indeed, it worked very well for a lot of people. But it never really felt like a good fit for me.

For a long time, I tried to change things around me to make it a better fit. It was little things, the way I spoke to people, the way I filed documents and a few bigger things like what the confines of my job actually were. But there was very little space for me to do that, without encroaching on others. And we all now public authorities are known for the willingness to change and adapt.

So I couldn’t really change the space I inhabited, so I tried to change myself to fit the space I was in. I am sure you can all guess how that went.

In truth, I made myself really quite unwell before I came to accept that I was a puzzle piece that just didn’t fit this particular jigsaw. It didn’t mean I was a problem, nor that the workplace I was in needed to change. I was just in the wrong box.

I would be lying if I said this was a decision I came to easily, or that I haven’t second guessed myself a number of times since I made that decision. But I know it was the right decision for me to take. Even if my new role isn’t a good fit either, having reached a place where, emotionally, I have become able to make decisions based on what I need, and what is good for me will undoubtedly make me a more resilient and effective lawyer, better able to identify and avoid the dreaded burn-out.

Rest assured I will continue to post on here about issues or cases relevant to adult social care work, in a way that I hope continues to be fair and balanced. No doubt you will all let me know if I am not.

Do bear with me though, as I might be a bit quieter than usual whilst I settle in to my new role.

In case it isn’t obvious from the fact that I have not identified the organisation I now work for, or the local authority I did work for, the views expressed in this blog are my own and I do not speak on behalf of either of those organisations.

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