This post first appeared on Medium.
I recently applied for a job that asked me to write a 500 word essay on what an organization of my choice can learn about change and how they should do it. The essay I wrote in response ended up being a (true and) decent story that I’ve decided to share more widely.
The impact this course and this professor had on my business school experience is a larger one that I give credit for. After taking this course I switched direction entirely within my business degree to focus my energies on everything I could relating to strategy and change management. In the jobs I’ve had since graduating, I’ve never really had the opportunity to work solely within a strategic or change management role. In the spirit of change, let’s see if this essay can help with that.
One of the courses I had to take at business school was called ‘Organizational Psychology’. I had taken numerous variations of psychology subjects as an undergraduate (think abnormal, social, developmental, neurological) but I had no idea that ‘OP’ existed as a standalone discipline. I was fascinated by it and particularly by the research being done by my professor.
My professor was researching people exactly like me – allied health professionals and the impact their work had on their perception of a range of areas including job demands, job control, support, satisfaction, commitment and psychological distress.
At the time I took this subject I worked for a large public health service in Australia – a large organization with over 14,000 employees and millions of episodes of care occurring inside large hospitals every year.
In this role I had the amazing opportunity to help people with communication and swallowing disorders, every single day. But after 10 years the job wasn’t making me happy anymore. Lots of what my professor was researching I had experienced myself – isolation, emotional depletion and compassion fatigue. It was like this professor was holding up a mirror to how I felt about my job and couching it within a proper research framework.
My professor’s research included suggestions for healthcare organizations on how to improve the wellbeing of workers like myself. Sensing I had an opportunity here to shine the torch on my own unhappy working existence and potentially help others in a similar situation, I wondered how a single person like myself could bring about any real change or cultural impact. I talked to my professor about my options.
He suggested coming to the hospital to give a guest lecture to get the issues out in the open. I was hesitant because I knew much of what he was going to say wasn’t what upper management wanted to hear. There was a tendency to deny and discredit burnout like a pile of discarded hospital scrubs. But we went ahead and did it anyway. My professor came to the hospital and gave a hard-hitting presentation about all the reasons why my working life sucked, and the research evidence behind it.
During the presentation I sat next to my boss’ boss – one of the most powerful people in the organization. I was nervous she’d interject, stand up and argue, or worse, get up and leave. Instead I watched her furiously scribbling down notes from the slides that described what organizations could do to better support people like myself.
In the months that followed my professor reached out for an update on the organization’s progress. I was happy to report that one of his key suggestions (implementing peer supervision sessions for allied health professionals) was in the early stages of pilot implementation.
This entire exercise taught me that it is possible for one person to bring about organizational change, even in a small way. It helps to collaborate, have an authoritative figure in your corner, solid data evidence and the courage to do so.