Education, Emotional Intelligence (EQ), Humanity, Social Work/Helping Profession/Mental Health

Compassion and the Importance of It

I came across this article on LinkedIn: Compassion at Work: What is It?

We all could have a different definition of compassion, but this is the scenario I came up with to describe its meaning;

“Compassion then, is empathy with action.” Imagine being in a meeting with a colleague and all of a sudden they tear up or make a comment that someone they were very close to just died. Compassion is acknowledging this statement and offering to have lunch together to discuss further. Over lunch, you find out it was their best friend from high school that died. You listen patiently, you suggest that this colleague maybe put their thoughts down on paper…you become a person that cares…

I am a social worker who works as a case manager with older adults. I work in a social services department with 30 other staff who perform various roles from Intake to case management to group facilitators, mental health case manager, transportation, supervisors, etc…We are a team and not just a department. Our ages range from young 20’s to late 60’s, mostly women.

Compassion, empathy, caring are in us already or we would not be in this field. “When leaders model and reinforce values that encourage employees to build closer relationships, workplace empathy will increase. Leaders who demonstrated compassion were more likely to foster employee engagement, motivation, and productivity.”

Now, this makes sense to me. We cannot just go to work and focus on work. We support one another as staff, we learn about each other’s personal lives to the extent we choose to share and we become friends as well as colleagues. To me, this fosters compassion and makes the work environment happier, peaceful, caring. Staff wants to go to work and be at work and when relationships between colleagues are good, the work performance is better. Compassion further flows into relationships with clients and their families.

To me it is win-win!

Thoughts? Examples to share regarding compassion?

Career/Job Advice

Old Age: Barrier To Employment?

When you are twenty-six, but look nineteen, your youthful looks can be a detriment to finding meaningful employment. Oh sure it becomes relatively easy to get some entry-level jobs, but the real career jobs are harder to come by because few take you seriously believing you too young to grasp the responsibilities.

At the other end of the employment spectrum, there are people who wish they looked to others to be in their late forties instead of being in their mid-fifties. Feeling that they are being dismissed because of their greying hair, these people often need employment and all it means. But if we are to believe many reports, we’ve got an aging population upon us whom over the next five-year period will represent a rather large majority of the overall population.

Now all those older people in their sixties are either not working nor interested, working still and about to retire in their near future, or be out of work and looking for employment. I have found in the last two years a most curious thing in that people younger than me are listing old age as a personal barrier to employment. Really? Does hitting a specific birthday define one as old, or does it really come down to both self-perception and how others perceive us?

Now me personally at 55 years old, I’m don’t find myself thinking about age a great deal. I guess it’s because I’m working and – no wait – it’s about HOW I’m going about working. You see I could do what the younger generations are stereotyping older workers of doing; slowing down, getting in a rut, playing out the string, talking of retirement that’s still years away for me, but I don’t.

You see, I’m one of the older people on my team at work. However, I’m extremely creative and always looking for different ways to communicate job searching tips and tools to clients. I’m the one called upon by others to write-up teaching manuals and hand-outs. I’m the one who is often putting in the extra effort with clients not just to make a resume for example, but to make a resume that is rich and stands out. My attendance is either perfect in the case of last year, or I’ve missed a single day which is good enough to win an excellent attendance award which I’ve done for the last seven years or so. I hardly have the health concerns then that younger people think the older workers have.

And that’s at the crux of this whole age issue; whitewashing an entire population where every individual must have the characteristics of the majority in that group. It’s saying that all workers near their sixties are in bad health, work slower, don’t pick up technology quickly and take afternoon naps at work. And this is about as accurate as saying all Human Resource Department people in their thirties and forties are prejudiced against hiring older workers; neither are truisms.

I do believe one thing most vehemently however, and that is if you yourself buy in to feeling old and discriminated against because of it, you will be thought of that way by others too. After all, if you feel your age is a barrier to employment, it’s easier to agree with you then it is to change your opinion by pointing out reasons you’re not. And to be honest, I often think that when an older person starts feeling discriminated against because of their age, perhaps that is because when they themselves were 20 years younger, they too had prejudicial opinions about older workers but have become one!

First and foremost I encourage you as an chronologically older person to think about what you have control over. You may not be able to control the number of candles on the cake, but you can re-master much. For starters walk with purpose instead of sauntering. People who walk with purpose and some jump in their steps ooze energy. Don’t move as if you are trying not to disturb the cobwebs between your legs. You can also control your hair style and colour.

When you talk to people; co-workers, employers, interviewers, recruiters or employment advisors, sound energetic. Be enthusiastic, smile, shake hands with some strength. You’ve probably had many years of experience so you should be able to relate much of that experience to the jobs you are going for now. If you are changing careers because the work you performed was too physical to do now, you should still be able to identify and promote the transferable skills you have.

You are in a better place to promote yourself for good or ill than anyone else. And so if like I say, you believe you are over the hill, why would you expect others to see you any differently? If you challenge others perceptions of being an older person by how you act and what you are capable of in addition to what you say, then you have a good chance of being perceived as still capable of making a valuable contribution.

You may have only so many years of employment left to go, but you can still market yourself to your advantage. Be positive, act confident, be friendly, take pride in your appearance, get active, be visible and network. Finding or keeping employment is a full-time job no matter your age. Like Ringo Starr sang, “It don’t come easy!”

By Kelly Mitchell

*Re-posted with permission. Original can be found at:

Social Work/Helping Profession/Mental Health

I’m happy: A social worker’s story

A wonderful post written by a social worker who is happy they are a social worker. It is not too often that one reads this. Quite often when I am on LinkedIn and Twitter, I read how unhappy and unfulfilled many helping professionals are.

This is a mindset of the professional. Circumstances, finances, bureaucracy can make one unhappy-but there must be something one likes about their job for them to show up each day to engage and connect with clients/patients.

Why did you choose the profession? Think back to your early days as a social worker. What did you like about university, whether undergraduate or graduate?

Have you found your niche? Do you like youth, adults, seniors? Do you want to do direct practice or management?

Perhaps volunteer as a way to engage with a different population than what you currently work with. First, it gives you experience, but more importantly, you are filling a need-volunteers are always needed!

Using myself as an example, I always thought I would work with youth. My 2 internships were with youth in school social work and a community county mental health program and yet I have worked with seniors for the past 14 years. This is my niche. It took working with youth for 3 1/2 years before I figured it out though. I also always thought I would be a therapist and yet after 1 1/2 years and having to diagnose kids in order for the insurance companies to reimburse the agency I worked for, I realized not for me. I went into case management, which I have worked in for the past 15 years.

I also do group facilitation which I very much enjoy and I write. So, life changes as does your interests and this is OK.

Find your niche population. Find your passion. Collaborate with other professionals, and do not be afraid to make a change!

By Victoria Brewster, MSW

*original post of: A social worker’s story-

Career/Job Advice, Social Work/Helping Profession/Mental Health

Demand the Best of Yourself

Set your own standard of elite performance and rise to meet it each and every day, with each person you interact with. Give it your very best. Set the bar. Excel in your workplace whether anyone is around to witness what you do or not.

Do you personally have a standard of work that you demand of yourself? The very best employees do and they do it without being reminded of it by their boss. It’s as if their ethical work compass is set at north all the time, but the symbol ‘N’ on their compass stands for, “Nothing less than the best.” And here’s the interesting thing about being around such people; they tend to bring out the very best in others. So instead of lording over others, you find that just being around them causes you yourself to raise your performance to another level you may not have been aware you could achieve.

The really great employees do this. They have an internal work ethic that can’t be taught, but which they themselves learned from observation of others and making a conscious decision at some point to internalize. They treat others as they would wish to be treated themselves. They do their work without compromise and they do it consistently, not just every so often or when the spotlight is on them. Even when they are working independently and no one is around to pour on the accolades they go about their business with the same high personal expectations they have for themselves.

And on top of all the above, they can acknowledge their superior performance, but do it in a way that is humble, sharing credit with others when that credit is due, and when they are solely responsible for something truly outstanding, they don’t necessarily draw attention to themselves, but point to the outcome, not themselves as the focus.

Now you may or may not feel some kind of jealousy around these folks, but their humbleness and consistency of performance at a high level will, if you admit it, have you admiring their work ethic and abilities. Small people will always wish others worked down to their level instead of demanding more of themselves and rising up to higher levels of personal performance. If we worked harder and smarter with more personal accountability, we too could be more than we are. Can we – could we – do better as we go about our daily jobs?

You know you’ll often find that even outside the workplace these same people have this internal compass for high personal expectations and working to do their best. So you’ll see some parents coming home mentally spent because they gave it their all in the workplace, but they find new-found energy to spend time with their kids playing outside, they invest their interest genuinely in finding out how their spouses day has been, and they contribute around the home with a sense of responsibility.

Now do these people have times where they don’t achieve the results they’d like? Most certainly they do. Despite their best efforts, things don’t always turn out the way they’d hope. But the good ones, the one’s of which I speak find lessons in these moments. They make no excuses, step up to take the responsibility rather than blaming others, and take great pains to not repeat whatever they did previously that resulted in anything less than what they come to expect as the best result possible.

And yes these people do exist. If you are a sports enthusiast, you’ll likely recall a very few who in your opinion and in the minds of others who play that sport, stand out above the rest. Just this past week the world of North American hockey mourned the passing and celebrated the life of Mr. Jean Beliveau of the Montreal Canadiens. He epitomized class and excellence. Not only did the man have his name on the championship trophy 17 times, he did as much off the ice as he did on it. He turned down the Governor General position of Canada because he wanted to put his own family first after all those years they gave up so much for him and allowed him to play the game he loved.

But this article is not about Mr. Beliveau. It’s about you; you and me. Are we the very best we can be on a consistent day-to-day basis? Do you even want to raise your level of personal expectations to the point where your personal accountability and the results you achieve are greater than they are today? Maybe you do and maybe you don’t.

When we say, “Well, at least I gave it my best shot” is that the truth? What might we have done differently or better to achieve an overall result that would be more satisfying? Does every customer we deal with leave having got an exceptional experience from us that leaves them feeling satisfied and happy to return?

If you are up for it, take this challenge to raise your standard of performance this one day. Start with a single person, a co-worker, a client, a customer – anyone – just start. Push yourself in that single interaction to look them in the eye as you speak with them, give them your full attention and make their need your own. Leave them better for having spoke with you. When you’re done, repeat.

Demand your best of yourself.

By Kelly Mitchell

*Re-posted with permission from:

Aging/Gerontology, News

Stuck in a Job- Issues/Frustrations for those Close to Retirement

By Kelly Mitchell-Guest Blogger

Here in Canada, a trend that is currently happening is that a large number of people are moving quickly toward retirement. This is a massive number of people, and as such, there is going to be an equally large number of jobs becoming available in the next 10 – 15 years as those people make individual decisions to give up their employment. For many it will come with some disappointment that they are no longer working at jobs they loved, while for others it will come with great relief that they can finally walk away from jobs where they’ve been stagnating for years.

One of the harsh realities for many people is that in their late 40’s and early 50’s, they come to realize that their current jobs no longer bring them the happiness and opportunities they once promised. The climb to the top has stalled, the job becomes routine, the days a repeat of previous days, and the likelihood that things will change diminishes.

Now personally, I know of 8 people who are in this situation; some are my best friends, and some are colleagues. What’s more is that I’m willing to bet that if I really went out of my way to ask other people I know, I’d see this number rise even more.

What all 8 of these people have in common is a sense of growing frustration and acceptance, and a diminishing of their capability to do anything about it. Can you identify with them? For example, one is a Senior Manager in a large corporation who is only using a fraction of the skills and knowledge he has to do his job. It’s not that he wouldn’t like to do more, it’s because his superiors are holding him back out of their own ignorance. They don’t have his training, and as things are running just fine in the company, why introduce change where change is not needed in their eyes? So just keep doing the same thing they’ve always done, running it the same way its always been done.

Another guy is at the top of his franchise. The only other place for him to go is head office in another city or leave the company entirely and take his skills somewhere else. His problem is very complicated with financial commitments and not being able to uproot his family and move to another town. Marital break-ups can do that to a person. And to be gender fair, I know a woman who is in 2014 stuck lacking the courage to take a big leap of faith by quitting and doing something boldly new. She’s been stuck for 5 years now feeling unfulfilled and spinning her wheels. She doesn’t want to get promoted because she doesn’t want what comes with that job, and her own job is something she could do blindfolded and in her sleep she feels.

Now I’ll tell you this; as an Employment Counsellor, I have had 1:1 talks with some of these people. They know what I do for a living and they know they can count on me to listen to them and support them if they seriously want to make a change. But I know too that I can’t live their lives, and their choices are their choices to make. Even not making a change is still a choice; a choice to keep things the same and carry on.

In a perfect world, wouldn’t we all do things that we find stimulating and interesting? We’d be paid increasing salaries as we grow, and each day when we did whatever it is that we do, we’d come home feeling good and fulfilled giving thanks for the wonderful jobs and careers we have that bring us such satisfaction. Well maybe for some. For others, a perfect world would mean we only work 3 days a week or some variation, and we enjoy the other days doing our own thing with enough money to live the way we want.

Are you stuck in a job or career where you need the money it provides and there’s little opportunity to change much? Feel trapped? Despite the outward appearance each of these people show to the world, when deep in conversation on a one-to-one basis each gets very serious and I can easily pick up their discontent. It must be frustrating to know you need a change and yet feel change is the very thing you cannot do or will not risk.

The issue in one’s 40’s or 50’s is the commitments one has at that point. There’s spouses and children, parents that need supporting, social convention that says you should have made it career-wise by now, mortgages and financial obligations, and a growing realization that only a finite number of years are left to build that retirement nest egg. With so many other people looking for work, not only would your job be filled within a week, the number of other people you’d be competing for other jobs with is alarming. And the result is keeping the status quo.

The danger in all of this is growing despondent and depression setting in; a feeling of failure and a life of unhappiness ahead. That’s what they tell me. As a colleague and personal friend to some, I feel for them. This column doesn’t come with easy fixes either. While I could dispense ideas and advice, this time around I just want to highlight the situation.

*Original post can be found at:

Book Review

Book Review: Fire Up Your Profile For LifeWork Success

I very much believe in finding work and a career you enjoy along with updating your skill set to stay up-to-date in your respective field or to enter a new one. Nancy is a career counselor and creativity coach who makes good suggestions to the reader. Her focus is on: learn your strengths; communicate effectively; expand your network; make a flexible plan; and take the required action. Your resume, biography, LinkedIn profile and website ‘about’ page should show case your unique strengths, values, and interests.

Questions/ideas to think about include, what are you passionate about? What is your preferred form of communication (written, verbal or non-verbal)? What are your strengths? What are your best skills? What type of job do you want (freelance, temporary, part-time, full-time, volunteer work)? Are you willing to update your skill set through training, online certification programs, a university course or degree, webinar or workshop? She delves further and asks one to think about all areas of their life using a holistic approach.

A wonderful list of characteristics, strengths, skills, opportunities and more are offered for the reader to describe oneself and begin the ‘About Me’ section which is important in order to know which jobs one should seek.

For individuals seeking employment, looking to change careers or jobs, wanting to learn more about oneself and to update or create a resume, this is a great book!

It can be found at:

You can contact Nancy at: or visit her website at: for more information.

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By Victoria Brewster, MSW

Social Work/Helping Profession/Mental Health

The Importance and Value of Social Work

What I love about summer is the relaxed pace of life. The days seem longer as there are more daylight hours. I am a reader and over the past few weeks have lost count of the number of books I have read either for pure fun or work related reasons.

I just finished The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. This was chosen as a light read (meaning not work oriented), but the topic itself makes one put their own life into perspective and appreciate living in North America. The book is about Kamila Sidiqi and other women of Afghanistan before, during and after the Taliban’s rise to power. The book is about a young woman who reinvented herself as an entrepreneur (becoming a dressmaker) to provide for her family while bringing hope and employment to dozens of women in war-torn Kabul who would otherwise have been unemployed.

I found after reading this book that my thoughts turned to social work. Should we like many professions narrow our niche or should we continue to become more entrepreneurial? Social work has grown by leaps and bounds over the years and covers so many different areas, populations, employment opportunities and in a sense territory typically covered by other helping professions. While often the various mental health professions complement one another-it could be viewed from the outside that social work has entered the area of another. Some social workers may not be happy to see this in writing, but it is true. The social work profession is becoming divided, we have lost our true calling/unifying goals as a profession; our cohesion in a sense because of all that we can do: clinical social work with a focus on counseling and therapy, case work, case management, intake, medical social work, group facilitation, individual and family work with all demographics from infants/youth to seniors, along with research, teaching/education, to macro level work and influencing regulations and policy. This in turn has led to social workers wanting to be recognized and appreciated as a needed profession which has further led to dissatisfaction by many re: pay and value as a professional within the helping professions. Social workers are one of the lowest paid in the mental health or helping professions and there have been many discussions on LinkedIn and other social media sites focusing on this dissatisfaction along with licensing requirements. To be a ‘jack of all trades’ on one hand shows adaptability and flexibility, but on the other, shows the profession is not neatly and narrowly defined and perhaps this is part of the problem. According to PayScale, a Psychologist in NY with 1 year experience earns $55,000 median, a Mental Health Therapist in NY with 1 year experience earns $41,000 median, a Social Worker with 1 year experience earns $40,000 median. Notice the range in salaries and that SW is the lowest paid although not by much and I did not differentiate whether the social worker was a BSW or MSW. Because of our diversification, is this why we are not as highly valued re: pay scale?

Any person who has entered the profession has done so because of a connection to others, the desire to make a difference, to see social justice occur, to assist in providing all with the basics and beyond. There is importance and value to be registered and prove the degree held (BSW or MSW) and to show work experience within the profession (title protection). Clinical social work is all together different and is for reimbursement purposes for insurance for those providing therapy or counseling. If one is not performing clinical work, they should not need to be licensed or undergo hours of supervision by one who is licensed along with paying to do so. This indicates a need for two different levels of licensing; one for clinical and one for general social work.

Social workers need to clearly and succinctly define themselves. According to the International Federation of Social Workers the definition for the profession is, to promote social change, problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being. Utilizing theories of human behavior and social systems, social work intervenes at the points where people interact with their environments. Principles of human rights and social justice are fundamental to social work. According to NASW,  social workers help people increase their capacities for problem solving and coping, and they help them obtain needed resources, facilitate interactions between individuals and between people and their environments, make organizations responsible to people, and influence social policies. Social workers may work directly with clients addressing individual, family and community issues, or they may work at a systems level on regulations and policy development, or as administrators and planners of large social service systems.  According to the Canadian Association of Social Workers, the profession is concerned with helping individuals, families, groups and communities to enhance their individual and collective well-being. It aims to help people develop their skills and their ability to use their own resources and those of the community to resolve problems. Social work is concerned with individual and personal problems but also with broader social issues such as poverty, unemployment and domestic violence. Human rights and social justice are the philosophical underpinnings of social work practice. The uniqueness of social work practice is in the blend of some particular values, knowledge and skills, including the use of relationship as the basis of all interventions and respect for the client’s choice and involvement. In a socio-political-economic context which increasingly generates insecurity and social tensions, social workers play an important and essential role.

At least there is some overlap in these three definitions, but there are differences, note the words/language used. Also, NASW does not mention the words social justice at all. I was taught in graduate school and by my supervisors over the years that social justice is a core value of the profession. What do others think? Should social work become more succinct as a profession? Are we currently too diversified? What are your ideas to better define the profession and show/prove the value of a social work degree?

By Victoria Brewster, MSW