Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What Does it Take to be Successful in Our Work?

I have asked myself this question many times and the answer is not as clear or as straightforward as I would like it to be. Over time, what did become clear to me was that I was getting burnt out. How could I be good at what I did if I did not feel good about it?

According to Gallup Organizational Research, the characteristics of my “burnout” self is defined as “unengaged”. In a typical organization, 55% of staff members are unengaged, they demonstrate lower commitment, less connection with co-workers, more focus on activities instead of outcomes, and high stress. Engaged staff show support for each other and find more effective ways to accomplish their roles. Looking back, orientation is the ideal time to gain and maintain engagement in new staff.

I was aware that over the years there was little community nutritionist turnover and so there was no push to have formal development or evaluation of orientation. The role is equivalent to working as a sole-charge dietitian at the health unit without a practice leader providing leadership and support. As part of a Frontline Leadership course, I decided to survey my colleagues on their thoughts about their orientations and their perceptions of success at their work. Ten out of eleven nutritionists working with the adult population responded to a 10-item online survey.

The survey findings revealed the following perceptions about orientation:

  • 50% were not satisfied with the amount of orientation time

  • 70% felt that orientation did not prepare them to do their job

  • 50% felt they did not have clear expectations of their role

  • 70% felt they did not know what their coworkers expected of them

  • 50% felt that they knew what best resources or contacts to use when there were questions

  • during their first three months of work, 50% had weekly questions and 30% had daily questions re: their work/role

  • 90% felt having a mentor during the first year of work would have been helpful.

Respondents reported needing from one to five years to adjust to and to feel confident in doing their work. They had no concerns with the nutrition-related content aspects of their work; contextual considerations such as learning about the organizational structure, procedures and how the position related to other organizations and initiatives took longer to learn.

Lessons Learned

An orientation subcommittee was struck and suggested the following:

  • Establish consistent content and implementation of orientation.

  • Establish processes for providing initial and ongoing support.

    • Identify key contact person/coach.

    • Be able to check in regularly with the key contact person; have more opportunities to be together at the same site.

    • Develop a community of practice of dietitians (identify who can provide what kind of support and when).

  • Develop a list of competencies to provide the basis for development of individual learning plans.

We created a list of competencies specific to our work by combining examples from the Public Health Nutrition Framework and the College of Dietitians of BC Standards of Practice. Each competency outlines suggested activities to help enhance each skill area that a new hire can use to develop personal learning plans.

The project has uncovered areas around orientation never before addressed, in particular skill development and job satisfaction. After sharing the results with other community nutritionists working with other populations or programs, many identified similar experiences with their orientations. This led me to wonder how other community nutritionists without practice leaders address orientation and what kind of, if any, ongoing support they receive and/or provide.

Being successful in your work relates to being engaged. In turn, role clarity, clear performance expectations, positive environments, appreciative healthy relationships, and work enjoyment all influence engagement. These factors all impact client engagement, staff/peer relationships
and workplace business. Although the program managers (non-dietitians in our case) are responsible for providing information about what is required to succeed, orientation to facilitate success in the position, and coaching (including identifying strengths, areas for development and actions required), in reality they cannot. As community nutritionists, we need to take on these responsibilities to support each other and to do so on an ongoing basis. One way is to create a community of practice that fosters an environment of relationship building, and sharing of learning and innovation from like-minded colleagues who share common interests, challenges and expertise. Engaging in a community of practice can help those working solo to increase their understanding of their practice, and to develop strategies and knowledge more quickly and effectively.

Since completing this project, I have started a new position. Knowing what is needed to transition to a new job helped me direct my own orientation that included exploring communities of practice. I encourage new hires, particularly those in sole-charge positions, to advocate and implement the above strategies if they are not already in place. For me, having the awareness and the tools to maintain engagement is a small success.

Endsley S, Kirkegaard M, Linares A. (2005). Working together: Communities of practice in family medicine. Family Practice Management. Available at: www.aafp.org/fpm/2005/0100/p28.html


Vanessa Lam, RD
Vancouver Coastal Health
T: (604) 321-7051 (3331)
E: mailto:vanessa.lam@vch.ca


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