Observe the I in DISC for youth worker’s

Last Thursday we began a looking at the individual quadrants within the DISC behavioural profiling system with “Observe the D in DISC for youth worker’s“. We are half way through our overview series and hope that you have been able torecognise some DOMINANCE behavioural styles in those around you. In this blog we continue the series with an overview of the INFLUENCE behavioural style.
One of the most exciting behavioural style to be around (and it is my secondary behavioural style) is that of INFLUENCE. The social butterfly or life of the party, people with thisbehavioural type often have large networks and seem to draw people to themselves. They are talkative, they over communicate, are born performers, are style setters, in teams they are the idea generators and they are very quick-witted. They are the most enthusiastic and active people you will ever meet and develop relationships quickly. They are fast starters and begin project with gusto. All of these positive adjectives are often linked to a person who is exhibiting a INFLUENCEbehavioural trait. On the other hand you have probably seen their negative behaviours as well. They work off intuition without reason. They can be highly emotional. They are sporadic and scattered. They start fast but rarely finish. They have too many projects on the go. If they were a slogan they would be Nokia: Connecting People.


A person with a high level of INFLUENCE in their behaviour speaks in a way that about 75% of us struggle to keep up with. They sell ideas with an inspiring style. They talk a lot at the 50,000 foot view but struggle to get down in the grass. They avoid bringing up difficult subjects but give good constructive feedback. They enjoy interaction and focus on the feelings of their subject intently. They get enthusiastically involved in discussions and often talk too much. They may not assess what is being said and can loseconcentration and get sidetracked easily. They speak in stories and anecdotes often from personal experience. They are prone to exaggeration and when excited they speak really fast and approachyou closely using lots of facial expression.
Most of us struggle to get a word in edgeways with a High I and we are confronted at the speed and tangential thinking present in their conversation… but we do enjoy their conversation. They do respect a smile, a pat on the back and seven conversations at once. So how do we work with these people when their excitement is off the charts and you are not really sure which conversation you are having with them?


Here are our top six tips for working with people with INFLUENCE behaviour traits:

  1. Approach them informally. These guys and girls hate feeling constrained. A meeting in an office with suits and ties and a policy document may just make them explode. A brief chat on the way to lunch or even a confab at their desk is the best way to get them on side. Do not start with facts and stats or a policy document it will make them throw a toddler tantrum.  
  2. Be relaxed and sociable. Even if you need to pull them into line be chilled out. These guys take their reputation seriously and if you are not sociable they will take it as a sign that you hate them.
  3. Let them tell you how they feel and how awesome they are. Yes the sun doth shine from their backside and you would do well to acknowledge this with a hearty nod of the head. They are the centre of attention and you are a tool for propping up their ego. Whilst they care about people it is hard to notice them through their haze of awesomeness.
  4. Keep the conversation light. Remember, they are up there in the clouds in the land of big dreams. It is a place where balloons pop very easily. You want to be a fluffy cloud and sharp grass. Details are the enemy. There is no pressure here. It should be like a trip to Tahiti.
  5. Provide written details to focus their attention. As those with INFLUENCE behaviours can be flighty and forgetful write things down and get them to take notes. It also helps when they begin to go on a tangent if their KPI’s are written down as you can steer them back on course.
  6. Use humour. Everything has a funny side… even paperwork!!! Try to lighten the mood by making a joke or finding a humourous take on the situation. If all else fails steal a Robin Williams skit. It will diffuse any tension and let them see you have a pulse.
Here are just a few people you might have seen on a TV that have INFLUENCE in their behavioural style.

Bill Clinton

Oprah Winfrey
Richard Branson
Dolly Parton
Robin Williams
Shane Warne (Cricketer)
Hamish Blake (Australian TV and Radio Personality)
Han Solo
Ellen DeGeneres

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Relational youth work

Setting boundaries in youth work:How much do I share about me?

Over the past two weeks I have spoken to a number of youth workers and all of these conversations have turned at one stage or another to the topic of how much they should share about themselves with their young people. Some of the comments that I have heard were, “if I was asked I would tell them that it was a personal question and our work is not about me”, “our sector is to friendly with our clients, we need to distance ourselves”, and “how much do I share about myself when trying to build relationship with my young people”. My conclusion is that if our business is building relationships with young people then youth work educators need to spend more time on how we develop these relationships and on our identity as a profession.
When I started in youth work I too was prone to these questions. With some young people I shared about myself and with others I shut them out. I had no framework for how to deal with this and like many others I just played it by gut feeling. When I began my studies I thought I would be given some clarity on how to answer this question. low and behold I got nothing. Not even a push in the right direction. I was frustrated that there was no clear lines of accountability! If those in the academy could not help then I guessed I would have to work it out myself.
To build a framework I asked colleagues, mentors even my supervisors about what to do. BAD IDEA!!! For every person I spoke to I had at least one new answer. Nothing was adding up. I read books and articles on professional boundaries. Basically they said don’t sleep with your clients or do anything illegal and you will be fine. I was ready to blow up. How was I going to work this out???


In the end I had to come up with a framework of my own. It has formed the basis for one of the Ultimate Youth Worker pillars of practice: deep engagement. Over the years I have copped a lot of flak for my framework. Some say that I am to open with my young people. Others say I am to closed. Whichever way you will lean I have put my stake in the ground and intend to continue with this model until I find something better.
Before I give you the framework let me set some context. This afternoon I was chatting with a youth worker who spoke of the way his organisation teaches youth work students. They base some of their work on the work of a New Zealand based organisation who teach that youth workers need to have both professionalism and community focuses in their work. It is loosely based on the idea of ‘Hapu’ or extended family. A concept that is very much in line with Victoria’s Child Safety Commissioner Bernie Geary who believes that community has a responsibility to support and raise our young people. The balancing act of being a ‘professional’ and yet being a community focused person is difficult… but I believe it is also the key to the best outcomes for our young people.


So I have started to let the cat out of the bag. However, balancing professionalism and a community/extended family mentality is not enough. To many of our young people we fill relational holes in their lives such as those left by parent, siblings and friends. How do we keep the balance when they are striving to become our best buddy??? Two streams of thought always enter my mind and have become the basis for how I balance this conundrum.
  1. In the Army here in Australia all leaders no matter their rank are taught that a good relationship with their team is critical for success. However if the lines get blurred because the relationship becomes more than that of a team and becomes a friendship things can get very messy. to combat this many of the leaders are taught the mantra “be firm, fair, friendly; but never familiar”. this little saying is the first way I balance my answers to those sticky situations. My young people are people not just clients! If I expect them to trust me and give me straight answers then I should show them the same respect.  This doesn’t mean give them your home address and take them to your favourite watering hole. But within reason engage them in meaningful conversation as you would anyone else. Let your practice wisdom guide you but do not be afraid to share. I have spoken to sex offenders about my two little girls, told young people which suburb I live in (its a big place and I would be hard to find as I am not listed in the phone book) and even spoke about some of my failings (Yes, even we at the Ultimate Youth Worker have failed). The key to this is emotional intelligence. No more than you are comfortable with and as obscure as necessary for safety. For example, with some young people in residential care who had an affinity of following staff home I would often only say I lived in a particular local government area. With other young people I have no issue saying which housing estate I live in in my particular suburb.
  2. The second one comes from my Christian youth work days and a bible passage which always spoke to me in this case. In 1 Corinthians 8 it talks about not letting your actions cause a brother to sin. This may be hard for some of our readers but I have found it to be a great help. In sharing with the above mentioned sex offenders that I had children I was pressed for details of their physical appearance. I had a split second to answer and in that time I believed that due to the nature of their offending and a knowledge of where their rehabilitation was at it would cause more harm than good to answer this question directly. I instead provided a half answer, “They look like me only shorter”. It was enough of a non answer for the young person to not follow up with more questions. When I worked in drug and alcohol rehab I was often confronted with the question “How would you know what its like”? As a manager I often had a suit and tie on which set me apart from the other staff who were jeans and t-shirt kind of people. Often I would just let it go by and not worry. However on one occasion I shared about my background growing up in a broken home in a rough neighbourhood in Melbourne. I shared that as a late teen I had a problem with alcohol and that one of my friends had supported me to reign it in. This led to a stronger relationship with that particular group but also many more questions which I had to fend off or minimise as I believed the answers would not have helped their recovery. One particular young man would ask incessantly how it felt to get drunk. As a person with a history of failed attempts at kicking the bottle I would often retort that it was a “painful experience for all involved”.
The main thing to think about on top of this is a safety issue. Is what your telling the young person going to cause you, your family or the young person undue harm or inconvenience. If the answer is yes then don’t tell them.
This is the bare bones of a framework that has taken me a decade to perfect. Over coming blogs we will discuss some scenario’s and further add meat to the bones.


    let us know how this framework might impact your practice by leaving us a comment below or posting a comment on facebook and twitter.


Observe the D in DISC for youth worker’s

Last Thursday we began a Series looking at the DISC behavioural profiling system and discussed how DISC can help us to develop a behavioural lens to inform how we work with young people, our colleagues and other networks. Using the lens of DISC will help you understand peoples strengths and weaknesses, how to speak to them in a way that they will understand and warm to. This week we continue the series with an overview of the DOMINANCE behavioural style.
We are going to start with DOMINANCE as it is probably the easiest behaviour to spot (and it is my dominant behavioural style). You know the type. The jerk, the sore loser, Mrs self-centred, the poor listener, the steam roller, the irritated one or perhaps even Mr opinionated. All of these negative adjectives are often linked to a person who is exhibiting a DOMINANCEbehavioural trait. On the other hand you have probably seen their positive behaviours as well. They are the determined people, the strong willed, they get results when others struggle, they are fast thinker and even faster talkers, they take risks and get rewards. THEY GET THINGS DONE. If they were a slogan they would be Nike: just do it.
A person with a high level of DOMINANCE in their behaviour will often speak in a way that about three quarters of the population struggle with. They tell rather than ask. They talk more than they listen. They may be seen as pushy or even rude. They don’t beat around the bush and seek quick communication. They speak with an authoritative tone of control to assert their POWER over the situation. They are direct and forceful in their communication and impatient with pleasantries and meaningless pomp. They are focused on task and expect results. They are willing to get into trouble if it means getting thing things done in a timely fashion. People who have a dominance streak can rely on gut feelings over data and to many they are seen as mavericks.
Many people are scared of a confrontation with a high D. But that is the best way to deal with one. High D’s are blunt and demanding, they lack sensitivity, empathy and care even less about social interaction… They respect people who show the same qualities. So how do we work with these people when they seem so entrenched???

Here are our top seven tips for working with people with DOMINANCE behaviour traits:

  1. Communicate briefly and as to the point as you can. If you are writing an email and its more than four sentences kill it or cut it down. If you call them and it lasts much more than a minute they will start to wrap it up. If you are chatting with them… Ha Ha I made a funny. They would never chat.
  2. Respect their need for independence. Do not impose upon them unnecessarily. Use your role power sparingly if you have it and if you don’t have any then only stand up against them when it is absolutely required.
  3. Be clear about rules and expectations. Whether in a team meeting or a group be clear about what is and is not allowed. Be unmistakable about the outcomes expected and how to achieve them.
  4. Let them take the lead. They usually have innate leadership ability so where possible let them have it. They will probably try to take it anyway.
  5. Show your competence. High D’s respect clarity and results. If you stuff around and then do not achieve you are painting a sign on your back. Do your tasks, lead the group whatever you do; do it to the best of your ability.
  6.  Stick to the topic. One thought at a time and if possible no sub points. Do not go off on tangents and for the love of God do not do a Grandpa Simpson.
  7. Show independence. Stand up for what you believe and do not be afraid to express your opinion. Be more forceful. You will think you are arguing. They will think that they are finally having a worthy conversation.

Here are just a few people you might have seen on a tv that have DOMINANCE in their behavioural style.


Donald Trump
Hillary Clinton
General Patton
Margaret Thatcher
Kerry Packer (Australian Businessman)
Russell Crowe (Actor)

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Critical reflection

youth work peer consultation: reflective practice revisited

Reflective practice with your peers

We have all had those moments in our youth work career. We are stuck and we don’t want to go to the boss because we don’t want to seem incompetent. So we lean across the aisle/cube/partition and ask a colleague what they would do. Sometimes our reflective practice is not so worrying. You are having lunch and you pose a question about how you might approach a new young person to the group. On the other hand you were just chewed out about how you dealt with a particular case and you are looking for some affirmation so you explain what you did to your colleagues. When a group of peers work together to support each other through reflective practice it is called PEER CONSULTATION.

Critical reflection Peer Consultation, unlike a chat about the weekend around the water cooler, describes a process in which critical and supportive feedback on style and worker identity is emphasized while evaluation of practice is not. Consultation, in contrast to supervision, is characterized by the youth worker’s, “right to accept or reject the suggestions [of others]” (Bernard& amp; Goodyear, 1992, p. 103).

The terms ‘peer supervision’ and ‘peer consultation’ have both been used to describe similar relationships amongst colleagues. However, at Ultimate Youth Worker we believe that the difference is the outcome of the process. In ‘peer supervision’ colleagues provide a clinical evaluation of each other’s work to better individuals and the group. In ‘peer consultation’ colleagues focus on providing mutual support and advice to the individual using reflective practice.

The foundation of peer consultation is steeped in the understanding that individuals who are trained in helping skills using these same skills to help each other function more effectively in their professional roles. According to Benshoff & Paisley (1993), peer consultation provides a number of benefits to youth worker’s on the coal face including:

  • Decreases dependency on ‘expert’ supervisors and provides greater interdependence of colleagues;
  • Increases responsibility of youth worker’s for assessing their own skills and those of their peers, and for structuring their own professional growth;
  • Increases self-confidence, self-direction, and independence;
  • Development of consultation and supervision skills;
  • Use of peers as models;
  • Ability to choose the peer consultant; and,
  • Lack of ‘clinical’ evaluation.

Critical reflectionPeer consultation comes in two forms. Informal chats over the partition with your colleagues and more formalised group consultations. Whichever form it takes just do it. Spending time with your colleagues in reflective practice helps you to strengthen your practice and hone your skills in a supportive environment. It provides a safe place to critically reflect on your practice within the confines of your peer network.


Benshoff, J.M., & Paisley, P. O. (in press). The Structured Peer Consultation Model for School Counselors. Journal of Counseling and Development

Bernard, J.M., & Goodyear, R. K. (1992). Fundamentals of clinical supervision. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

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Behavioural observation is the key to best practice youth work.

A few weeks ago we stated that we would look at how to develop a behavioural lensto inform how you work with young people and colleagues. A lens that will help you understand peoples strengths and weaknesses, how to speak to them in a way that will help you develop your relationship with them and ultimately strengthen your work with everyone you come across. This week we show you the framework.

A while ago I interviewed for a managementposition. One of my interviewers was someone that if I got the role I would supervise. In the interview I was able to answer the questions and got along well with two of the three interviewers. The third interviewer was a blank slate. I couldn’t read him at all. The worst part was that he was going to be my direct. I was freaking out and needed a way to break through their blank persona.

A few years earlier I was managing a youth drug andalcohol rehab. I had a young person come to us straight from jail with a personality bigger than Ben Hur. Everyone thought he was great, the life of the party. He was a lot of fun to work with, but he was also really frustrating. He never followed through on anything!!!

These are just two people and a snapshot of their behaviour, but I am sure you can all imagine people like this that you have come across. Before I was shown this simple but most important framework people showing these behaviours were extremely difficult for me to understand or work with. Afterwards, with a little work, I have become a better judge of character and supportive youth worker.


DISC is a quadrant behavioral model based on the work of Dr. William Moulton Marston (1893–1947) to examine the behavior of individuals in their environment or within a specific situation (otherwise known as environment). It therefore focuses on the styles and preferences of such behaviour. For most, these types are seen in shades of grey rather than black or white, and within that, there is an interplay of behaviors, otherwise known as blends. The determination of such blends starts with the primary (or stronger) type, followed by the secondary (or lesser) type, although all contribute more than just purely the strength of that “signal”. Having understood the differences between these blends makes it possible to integrate individual team members with less troubleshooting. In a typical team, there are varying degrees of compatibility, not just toward tasks but interpersonal relationships as well. However, when they are identified, energy can be spent on refining the results.


The four behavioural types are Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness.

Those with Dominance and Influence behavioural types are more ASSERTIVE.
Those with Steadiness and Conscientiousness behavioural types are more RESERVED.
Those with Influence and Steadiness behavioural types are more PEOPLE focused.
Those with Dominance and Conscientiousness behavioural types are more TASK focused.


This graphic illustrates this more effectively.

Over the coming ‘Thursday Think Tanks’ we will delve more into these behavioural types and how they can help you to develop your emotional intelligence and practical wisdom.
In the meantime Stay Frosty!!!

Youth work boundaries: fuzzy or fixed???

Today I was speaking with some youth worker’s about the state of our profession in Australia and what is holding us back. One of the reasons which was put forward was that some people in the field struggle to implement solid boundaries. As we spoke about our respective youth work studies it became apparent that one area that was severely lacking was ethical boundary setting.
Throughout my career I have seen youth worker’s struggle along the spectrum of boundary setting from the laissez faire to the severely strict. Each part along the spectrum has its positives and its negatives so lets have a look:

laissez faire

The laissez faireyouth worker is everyones friend. They know everything about their young people and wear their heart on their sleeve. These youth worker’s will often work overtime, rarely refer on to other agencies and struggle with the idea of confidentiality. The laissez faire youth worker has unprecedented access to the young people and is seen as the cool worker, or the one who understands them the best. Initially these youth worker’s are praised for going above and beyond but eventually they are seen as just being to close to the young people.

The severely strict

This youth worker is seen as cold and calculating and has fixed unwavering boundaries. The young people they work with have given up so much information while the youth worker has deflected any questions of a personal nature. The youth worker uses “boundaries” as an excuse to not be personable. This type of worker is seen by the young people as the cranky mother type or the angry old man. The youth worker expects conformation to their rules… all of which are aimed at regulating the behaviour of young people. The severely strict youth worker will admonish you when you ask about their family or where they live. Their colleagues see them as distant and to involved in the work rather than the relationships.

The Balanced Youth Worker

The balanced youth worker has boundaries which are set but flexible for individual situations. These workers are clear about what they are not willing to do with a young person and flexible with how much they are willing to do within the remaining purview. These youth workers are seen by their colleagues as providers of individual services to individual young people. With some young people their boundaries are solid and with others they are somewhat looser. These youth workers are able to articulate why they are setting the boundaries where they are and what outcome they expect from setting them there. The balanced youth worker gives of themselves to build relationship but does not share it all. They are not guarded but are wary of not placing their burdens on the young people they work with.
These are just three of the possible points on the spectrum and are not an exhaustive list however it gives you a framework for judging where your practice lies.
What other characteristics can you think of???


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Youth Justice: Restoration or Retribution?

We asked our followers recently what they would like us to talk about on the blog and one topic stood out as a major one to start on… Youth Justice. Over the years I have had a number of jobs either in or supporting the youth justice system in Australia. I must confess I struggled working in the sector. Not because the young people are difficult (in fact they were some of the most responsive young people I have ever worked with), but because of the community perception and the subsequent policy directives. The young people I worked with often lacked direction, struggled with education and were wary of anyone who showed concern for their welfare. The community saw liars, thieves and violent offenders who should be hauled over the coals.
It is hard to ignore the crimes that some of  these young people have committed, and you know what we shouldn’t!!! These young people have been detained because of what they have done and will pay for their crime. However there are a couple of ways that this can happen depending on your point of view. Is detention there for retribution or restoration??? The young people did the crime and they should do the time. We believe that JUSTICE requires it. However, the question we should ask is what happens to them between the first day behind bars and their last day to develop them so that they do not continue back through the revolving door?
In the adult prison system, here in Victoria, there is over 50% likelihood that an offender who is jailed will return to prison within two years of release. A child of a prisoner is SIX times more likely to become an offender than their peers. A young person who is incarcerated will rarely complete secondary education. WHY???  The best answer we can come up with is that the system is a system that is geared toward retribution. We individualise the dimensions of the crime and remove the ideas of social justice from the rights of an offender and then ask them to change. We strip them of their humanity and then ask them to be humane. Crazy!!!
In many youth justice systems and support agencies here in Australia there has been a push towards more restorative practices. This has been met by mixed responses from the community. Governments are still stuck in limbo between retribution and restoration. To provide a measure of punishment for their crime, but to also provide opportunities to develop skills for post-release. The rise in victim-offender mediation and group conferencing has been amazing and the opportunities through NGO’s such as Whitelion and Jesuit Social Services to name a couple, for young people to gain employment and social skills has definitely changed the landscape.
But what does it all mean for us as youth workers??? Many writers have said that a core tenet of youth work is social justice. I ask whether we are being social just to the young people we incarcerate??? Earlier this year I spent some time in Tasmania visiting Port Arthur (if you ever get the chance you simply have to go). Port Arthur was one of the original penal colonies when the British began transporting convicts to Australia. In particular I was fascinated by Point Puer the first ever boys prison in the British empire. The punishments were severe and boys as young as nine were incarcerated there, however they also taught the boys some skills. Some became so skilled they were employed straight from detention to the detriment of other qualified tradesmen who hadn’t been incarcerated. Can you imagine if our incarcerated young people were taught trades in the same way??? Being taught excellence in your handy work. Being so highly sought after that you could walk out of detention and straight into a well paying job???

(A sample of the young boys handy work… It could hold over 1000 people.)

As a youth worker it is our responsibility to advocate for our young people. The current system still lets our young people down. We still have those who believe in retribution in positions of power in the youth justice system and we still have young people following in their adult counterparts footsteps… Dancing through the revolving door. There will always be crime as long as people are on the earth. How we deal with the crime is what is in question.
We believe in RESTORATION here at Ultimate Youth Worker. This does not mean being soft on crime, on the contrary. It does mean providing every opportunity for the young person to make something of themselves. To throw off the social, economic and cultural ties that bind them. To make amends and for them to be given the opportunity to live as free men and women. We believe that the best way to deal with crime is to deal with the social issues which lead to crime. We believe that the best way to deal with offenders is to develop them as whole people! To do this we need to address all the failings of society which led to their incarceration… and restore them to their community. Reflect on this:

Youth workers are facilitators of restoration not social controllers.”

If you take on the challenge to provide a restorative environment for young offenders then you may find yourself having to become a canny outlaw. It is hard to fight for whats right in the face of the easy way of following the rules. Our young people need you to speak for them. They need your actions and support. They need you to be practically wise. They need restoration.


For more info on restorative justice see Howard Zehr below.


What are your thoughts???

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Guest Post on youthworkinit.com

Our guest post is being published on The youthworkinit.com blog today – it’s an open look at the gap between youth worker’s and youth minister’s and the need for us to bridge it for the future of youth work. Feel free to post in the comments about how witty, insightful and amazing it is!!!
If you’ve come to Ultimate Youth Worker after already reading the post on youthworkinit.com  WELCOME!!! We hope you found it witty, insightful and amazing too!
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Self care 101: There is no work life balance

Work life balance

I have just finished reading an article in the latest Journal of the Australian Association of Social Work. The article addresses that enigma that we all struggle to solve eventually in life, ‘how do I find a work life balance’? The article shows the results of a survey of 439 qualified social workers who had been asked questions around balancing work and family and the stress associated with this.
The results of this survey basically show that the pressures of work impact negatively on family life and create psychological strain on the individual and the family. Conversely, when the pressures of family life impact on work they create more psychological stress on the individual and decrease work effectiveness. It is a cycle that so many of us have fallen into; work pressures lead to pressure at home which leads to pressure at work which leads to pressures at home. Things start spiraling out of control and then some well meaning friend or colleague or our boss says something along the lines of “dude you need to get some work life balance!”
Work life balance
Unless it is an illness, new birth, death or an issue of other family members spiraling out of control rarely have the team at Ultimate Youth Worker seen the impact of family pressures on work. In fact we would be so bold as to say it is never that we spend so much time at home that our work is suffering!!! It is almost always that work is taking up the family time.
As a full-time youth worker doing 40+ hours a week, a Masters student out two nights a week for classes and studying most of the weekend, a member of the student union doing one night time activity per week and starting a new company; my wife pulled me up on my lack of family time at the beginning of the year. I was seeing my kids for a couple of hours a week aside from the crossing of our paths as we got ready for the day ahead. My wife would be asleep on the couch most nights by the time I got home and we rarely had any “us time”. I prioritised WORK over FAMILY. No work life balance there.
When I was called to account by my wife (Yes, even those of us striving to become ultimate youth workers argue with our wives at decibel levels that would shame any self respecting metal band) I was shocked. I hadn’t realised. My kids had an absent father and my wife was living like a single mum. I was unsure of what to do. Everything I was doing was important, wasn’t it? Important to the future of our family. If I worked longer hours I would support more vulnerable young people earning me a positive reputation in the field. If I gained my Masters it would open up doors for promotion and show that I had amazing knowledge. By supporting the student union I was supporting educational standards and building networks for the future. Everything I was doing was for a time just out of reach but right in my line of sight. If I worked harder now my life would be glorious in the future. The problem is the future never becomes the present. There is always another obstacle in the way of ultimate success. I had invested in my identity as a youth worker and pinned my hopes and dreams on a professional future whilst neglecting the present.
Work life balance has obstacles
Work was going great but family was a mess. I spoke to some trusted friends and confidants and they all said I needed to drop some of my work priorities to balance my family priorities. I deferred my Masters for six months and sat back to see balance take hold. Unfortunately, I tipped further away from family. I got caught up in more committees through work, the student union and even went on a recruitment binge for more volunteers for my program at the behest of my boss. My work life balance was quite unbalanced.
You see, work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion, or so says Parkinson.
I had removed a work priority but I had not made family a priority, so work expanded to fill ‘the gap’.
What I began to realise was that I was looking at this all wrong. It’s not my fault!!! Someone gave me an equation that had incompatible data. They said:
Equal Time (with Family) + Equal Time (for work) = Balance in life
The problem is there is no balance!!! The data sets are totally incompatible. I might as well have said, buying a telescope + reading a book on hang gliding = qualified zoo keeper!!! Work and Family are two totally different concepts. They cannot be placed in a zero sum equation of balance. Balance assumes that they have equal weighting. As youth workers we strive to support our clients (placing weight on our work) and all to often it is at the detriment of our family (removing prioritised time). We all say family is important, but our actions show our families something different. In the article the authors recount that some social workers stated,

when confronted with demands from work and home, their work commitments was given priority over family commitments” (pg 367).

Why do we do this??? Is it because we believe our family will understand the plight of the young people and will forgive us for missing time with them. If I had a dollar for every youth workers kid (including my own) I met that stated their parent was never around I could retire today.

But if there is no balance, I hear you say, then what do I do???

When you realise that the two concepts of family and work can never balance you can then prioritise action. Choose to put your family first. If you are married I know your vows didn’t say that you take ‘work’ for better or worse. Got kids??? I’m sure they miss your love and affection (I believe it builds good attachment, I think I read somewhere that that’s important???). Want to see them next Christmas??? Then make them your number one priority.
Work will always expand then to fit the remaining time available for it.
But what about my boss??? I can’t just stop going into work?? I need my paycheck? But I’m in ministry and I was called to do this? All valid thoughts!!! Whats your priority though??? I’m not saying quit your job!!! But, your paid for 38 hours… so do 38 hours. You have some high risk kids… put plans in place so you can switch your phone off on the weekend. Have you ever gone away on holiday??? Did the world end while you were gone??? Of course not!!! You put measures in place so that things worked without you. Be more effective in your work time so that it doesn’t spill over into family time.
If your family is your first priority then schedule your time with them. If you are down to finish at 5pm, schedule your arrival at home (If you are really gutsy you could even promise to be home at that time). Honour your commitment to your family. Schedule holidays and weekends away and kids soccer games and date nights with your partner. Then when you have prioritised your family life let work fill work time. I used to do a weekly calendar that began by blocking out Monday to Friday 9-5. I would fill it with Uni and meetings and all manner of other rubbish and my wife would ask when I would be around for the family!!!
If family is your number one priority they get first dibs at your calendar.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I haven’t been doing this long. I had always thought self care was all about me. If someone took your job away you would be sad, disappointed even angry. I Know, I have been fired from work that I loved without any notice. But, if someone took your family away you would become a wreck. A blubbering mess. How many divorces in our field could have been avoided by a good hard look at our prioritise? My wife and I are still together. More to do with her amazing heart than my skills and planning. She knew this stuff intrinsically. Family comes first!
I am still learning. I was out four nights last week and didn’t get to see my kids awake between Sunday and Friday. But I spent Friday night, Saturday and Sunday making up for it.
Do not aim for a work life balance. It is a false economy and one that will lead to a crash… and it won’t be at work. Invest in your family first and then work hard at your job during work hours. There will always be demands on your time and you will always spend more waking hours at work than at home. But if you prioritise your family first they will get the lions share of your attention and you will reap the rewards of a happy and fulfilled life.
P.S. to my friends in youth ministry. You can be more susceptible to putting work first than most others. I know as a church based youth worker in the early part of my career I was paid for 2 days a week and used to work in excess of 30 hours a week!!! That’s fine when you do not have a family. The excuse (and I believe it is and excuse. If you don’t then email me and we can chat) that, “I am in the ministry and that makes it OK to forsake my family for a time because I am just following God’s call on my life and they should support me in it” is preposterous. You married, had a family, they are your responsibility. They come before the ministry.


Parveen Kalliath, Mark Hughes & Peter Newcombe (2012): When Work and Family are in Conflict: Impact on Psychological Strain Experienced by Social Workers in Australia, Australian Social Work, 65:3, 355-371

What are your thoughts??? leave a comment or post a comment on facebook and twitter.

Build your youth work network

One of the main differences between a good youth worker and a great youth worker is their ability to get things done in a timely manner for the young people they support. Whether it is helping them find work, get a medical check up, enter a rehab facility or any other thing we do being able to refer them on to other agencies and have the agency get to them is an art… or is it???


On the 21st of February 2012 I posted on Facebook, “How big is your network? a good youth worker has a wide and varied group that they can call upon in need.“. What I didn’t say was how a youth worker could do it. So many people I speak to think that building a network is something for the extraverts and party people. They say things like, “I wish I had a bigger network, but I don’t know who to ask” or “If only I knew someone at (insert service) it would make my life so much easier…but I don’t“. Most think that to build a network you have to have been born with an innate ability to attract people. The good news is that is a crock. Anyone can do it!
Build your network


The most difficult part is having the guts to do it. I know it is hard. PEOPLE ARE SCARY. Its why we like email more than a phone call and love it compared to going face to face. But if we can get past our fear of other people our network can grow daily!!! Think of all the people you meet every day. The people on your train to work. The Barrista who makes your coffee. The other service providers in your building. The school staff at your kids school. The doctors at your local clinic. HOW MANY PEOPLE DO YOU SEE EVERY DAY???
Once you realise that you meet people everywhere everyday the next part is easy. With the courage you have been plucking up you stick out your hand and say “Hi i’m …..”! I was in a cafe about a month ago waiting to meet a volunteer. The cafe is a regular haunt and I have gotten to know some of the staff but I was in during lunch which is a time I don’t usually go in. There was a waiter I had seen a couple of times in the evening who seemed to be running things during lunch. After I met with my volunteer the waiter mentioned that he had seen me in the cafe a bit over the last few months and asked what I did. After a brief chat I stuck out my hand and said “By the way i’m Aaron”. We chatted for a bit longer and it turned out the guy had just brought the cafe and was spending a couple of months learning the ropes. Since that time I have never paid for a coffee for a volunteer and we have found a new place to hold our volunteer get togethers.
Once you do this a dozen times you will have a pretty good idea of how to do it and what to say. From here the next part is a cake walk. If you are at a conference, stick out your hand. If you are at a multidisciplinary meeting, stick out your hand. If you are in a cafe, stick out your hand. Everywhere you go stick out your hand and introduce yourself. Remember the person’s name!!! Write it down if you have to. Get a business card if they have one. The main point is to do it everywhere. Yeah you will meet some people you will never meet again (I once met a professional telemarketer, I annoyed her during her dinner:)) but you will have a card book full of contacts that you will be able to develop into your network.
When I was working in a youth drug and alcohol rehab we expected that the young people coming into our centre had completed a detox for at least a week. A former colleague gave me a call to book her young person in but couldn’t get him a detox stay for at least 2 months. Knowing my colleague and her practice style I knew the young person was at a crucial stage and would bail on her before 2 months so I asked her to leave it with me. I rang a guy I had met a few weeks earlier at a conference who managed a youth detox service. We didn’t really know each other but I asked if we could catch up for a coffee. Two days later over coffee I mentioned how difficult my former colleague was finding a place for her young people to detox and before I finished my sentence he said that I should get her to call him. Three weeks later the young person came to my rehab after a week stay at my new friends detox.
Build your network!!! It can help you or someone you know as in the case above, but most of all it can help your young people. My network has mechanics, financial planners, allied health staff, a pilot and many others who I stay in contact with and get to know whenever I can. It doesn’t matter who you meet but in the words of Nike, JUST DO IT. To learn more about building your network you can listen to our friends Mike and Mark talk about it in more details on their podcast

If you have any questions drop us an email or chat to us on facebook and twitter.