Charity staff have 'issues' - just like everybody else

Life can be complex and cruel, and people in any walk of life can have to deal with hard experiences, writes our columnist Martin Edwards

Martin Edwards
Martin Edwards

Someone recently told me, from his lofty position in one of the scientific professions, that a higher proportion of people who work in caring or charitable professions have major personal issues in their lives than is the norm, and that we choose our jobs partly to avoid confronting our psychological flaws.

Resisting the urge to punch him and thus prove his point, I simply said that, having worked in the private and charity sectors, my experience did not support his assertion. This led to a strained discussion in which he stuck to his belief and I felt patronised and besmirched.

I realise that outsiders are prone to sound off about the charity sector, especially if their intellect and emotional intelligence are inversely proportionate. But I still wondered if this oaf had a point.

Confidential counselling

At my charity, Julia's House, we provide all our staff with an employee assistance programme, which includes a confidential counselling and expert information helpline. If someone does have a major difficulty in their life, it makes sense for employers to provide help sooner rather than later. Apart from being a kind thing to do, it also helps to minimise staff sick leave.

But we provide an EAP not because we are a care charity and assume that we therefore employ people with 'issues', nor even because we look after children who will die young, which is inherently hugely upsetting. We provide it because life in general can be complex, confusing and cruel. People in any walk of life can experience divorce, debt, stress, addiction or grief.

Fractured souls

I very much doubt that our staff have any more personal crises than the norm - or, if they do, it doesn't seem to interfere with their ability to do their jobs.

But for those who really think we are fractured souls, as long as we can mask our many flaws and maintain this pretence that we are fully functioning human beings, you will be grateful. Because one day, mate, when you are debt-ridden (most unlikely), grieving (more likely), addicted (no comment), ill or in need of the human touch in some other way, you will be so grateful that someone will be there for you with not only the knowledge to help you but also some empathetic experience.

Are we flawed? You bet. But aren't most people? Probably, if they are honest enough to admit it. For we will all fall ill someday, in the body or in the mind; people we love will die; and life will be horribly unfair at least once in our existence.

We bear our share of those scars, for this is the human condition. But we also carry great joy and satisfaction from doing the jobs that we do.

You know what? We care. We cry. We laugh. We cope. We carry on caring on. Get over it.

Martin Edwards, is chief executive of the children's hospice Julia's House

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