ManThinkingVicarious transformation. It’s not a phrase you hear a lot. These days everyone is talking about vicarious traumatization, compassion fatigue, and burnout.  Yet one of the most powerful reasons that people continue working for our agencies and even stay in this field is their sense that the work is changing them as a person in positive ways. Vicarious transformation does not negate or erase vicarious traumatization. Instead, both happen. Personal growth is created by the difficulty and pain of our work, and by its joys and satisfactions. If a treatment program is working well, the staff are growing and changing as much as the clients. That sense that your whole self is involved with and affected by your work is one of the most deeply satisfying benefits of our jobs.

If personal growth can be one of the most powerful ways to retain good employees, what can we do to maximize it?

The most important thing is talk about it. We have to acknowledge that the personal growth of our employees is a legitimate and primary function of the company. Employee development should be discussed in individual supervision. Talking about the staff member’s reactions to clients, how it relates to their own lives, and what aspects of the work mean to them helps develop a reflective, self-aware culture. Teams can consider how they can help each other grow.  Employees will experience the most personal growth in a culture that encourages open discussion.

Celebrating growth is also important. Of course we can publicize and congratulate milestones, such as getting a professional license or acquiring a new treatment skill. We can also praise employee when we notice them doing something better than they might have in the past, or stepping up for a new responsibility.

Many companies have specific programs to develop aspiring leaders, which include readings, discussions and mentoring. Staff have to apply and be recommended to enter these programs.

Budgeting money for staff to attend training, and offering professional training on site are also ways of promoting employee growth.

Time to think allows creativity and new ideas to emerge. If staff are on the floor interacting with clients or doing required paperwork every minute that they are at work, they will not be able to reflect on their experiences and make meaning from them. Having a chance to talk with others and consider what has happened that day allows integration and learning.

Many of these ideas seem expensive or perhaps impossible. But think of the expense of job turnover, of unhappy staff, of staff without hope. Then investing in staff growth becomes a cost saving measure!

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