Why youth worker’s need to embrace technology for professional development

Are we falling behind???
Are we becoming as obsolete as the home phone, the floppy disk or the hand held calculator???
Are we able to keep up with the rapid expansion of technology?
It used to be that if you needed your home stereo hooked up, your website developed or an email list for you group you could ask a youth worker and they would have an understanding of what to do…however rudimentary. However, over the past ten years I have seen an alarming trend towards a lack of technology use in youth work. Even worse, youth worker’s who do not have the skills to meet even the most basic of technological requirements.
A few years ago I was whimsically known in my organisation as ‘IT Support’. If any one in my team had an IT issue I was called in before we would call our organisations IT officer. How did I get this job you may be asking? Was it my years of study in IT? Perhaps because I was an avid gamer or computer nerd? conceivably, it was my years of university study where I used Microsoft Word on a daily basis. Actually, it was none of these! One day I helped my team leader to categorise and colour code her calendar. That is what made me the IT guru in my organisation.
Many of the ‘problems’ I was asked to fix in that team were pretty basic. As my wife says, it will ask you first if you really want to do something before you kill the machine. I fixed a few Word, Excel and PowerPoint issues and recovered a document or two, but nothing I would write home about. These skills were learnt by asking questions of people who knew more than me when I experienced those issues and then being able to remember what to do when it happened again. A small confession… I am the least tech savvy person in my friendship network.

With new technology coming onto the market every minute you would hope youth worker’s were at least keeping up, sadly if anything we are falling behind at an ever increasing speed.


Over the past few months I have read dozens of articles which lament the current situation and then implore people in the sector to embrace technology. Speaking of not-for-profit marketing Andy Lark, Chief Marketer for the Commonwealth Bank in Australia said Ten years ago, if someone had said there would one day be no more record stores or book stores, you wouldn’t have believed it. We will be the last generation to use a keyboard and a mouse. Technology is the force that changes everything.” Neelie Kroes, European Commission Vice President  said, Europeans are hungry for digital technologies and more digital choices, but governments and industry are not keeping up with them. Even former US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, believes technology is the way of the future and that if we do not take these innovations seriously we will be in trouble. So if some of the key thinkers in the world believe that we need to embrace technology then why are we as youth worker’s falling behind?
There are a few reasons we at Ultimate Youth Worker believe that as a sector we are falling behind:
  1. Our organisations. Organisational policies and procedures have become quite stringent as a knee-jerk reaction to possible legal and ethical issues which arise from the use of technology
  2. Technology is changing so fast it is hard to keep up. If you do not devote time to seeing what is out there you can not keep up to date.
  3. Technology costs money. I worked in an organisation two years ago that were still running windows ME on their computers which were ten years old!!!
  4. It is not seen as a priority compared to face to face interactions with young people. Every day in Australia young people aged 15 and over spend approximately two and a half hours on the Internet. That is more than they spend with me as their youth worker!


So if it is important to our interactions with young people we should learn a bit about it right???

I was recently given the unpublished results of a survey from the UK where youth workers were asked how they preferred to take on professional development. No surprises, we prefer face to face contact. The biggest surprise for me though was that using technology to gain professional development was ranked lowest of 18 possibile choices.  A cursory look at some of our social sector colleagues shows that their use of technology for professional development is expanding. The Australian Psychology Society and the National Association of Social Workers in the US provide great online training opportunities for their members however, the world across there is little for youth worker’s. This MUST change!!!

Here are a few reasons this can and should change.

  1. Web based training is cheaper than other forms available. If and average worker is on $20 and hour and they attend a half day seminar that goes for 4 hours it costs the organisation $80 before they even get there. lets say it is in a major city and your organisation is in the outer suburbs, roughly an hour each way by transport is another $40 in lost productivity. Train tickets or petrol =$$$. Then there is the cost of the training. Is it catered, add more money. The average half day seminar in Melbourne currently goes for around $120.
    • The equation looks a little like this:
      • Conference attendance/lost productivity = $80
      • Transport/lost productivity = $40
      • Transport costs = $???
      • Parking = $???
      • Seminar cost = $120
      • Catering = $???
        • Total cost =$240+transport
          • Same seminar done online =$200 (no transport costs, no catering etc.)
  2. It is easier to attend. If your seminar is from 10am-2pm you can get to work at 9am and spend an hour catching up on emails. at 2pm when the seminar finishes you grab a bit to eat and are back at your desk by 2:30pm (and you had a snack or two at your desk while you were at the seminar). All you need is a computer with Internet access and a headset with a mic. Also you can attend training on the otherside of the world with great trainers just by getting online…No need for a $1000 plane ticket.
  3. Online seminars provide handouts etc online. Whether you are at a webinar, listening to a podcast or watching a pre-recorded PowerPoint most providers also give you access so that you can go again and print/save documents for future reference.
  4. Your boss won’t think you are playing hooky. From our experience we have found that many bosses struggle with sending staff to PD because they have issues with trusting that you will be there the whole time and actually pay attention.  It is usually not because you have given them a reason but they are remembering what it was lie for them. If you are in your cube or office and you are visibly doing your training then there is no reason to doubt you.
These are just a few of our thoughts, we know there are many more. Obviously we are biased. We write a blog for youth worker’s because of the lack of available professional development. We use social media including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Stumbleupon and Pintrest to further the networks and development opportunities for youth worker’s who want to become the best they can be. We believe that online is not only the best but the only way forward for us as a sector seeking excellent professional development.

To that end we wanted to let you know what we have been up to for the last couple of months and what it means for you our loyal readers. Recently we asked you to complete a survey for us (if you haven’t there is still time) this has cemented our ideas on professional development needs in the sector. We have been getting our heads around some technology to provide some opportunities for exceptional, inexpensive, online professional development for Ultimate Youth Worker’s (if you want to better yourself you are one!). We have also been writing up our training packages to support your needs.

So what does this mean for you as a youth worker?

In December we will be launching our first ever webinar to support youth worker’s to develop a self care plan. Stay tuned for a date closer to the event (hopefully first week in December).

In late January/early February we will be launching our podcast. We are currently recording and are getting some amazing guest hosts to provide inspirational and informative content to support you and your practice. Stay tuned for our official launch party!!! Its going to rock.

Of course we will also continue to provide our social network with challenges, inspiration and questions so please get on board and like, follow or pin us where you can, and PLEASE tell your friends and colleagues. This revolution in youth services support can only happen with your involvement and a swell of numbers.

Thank you for your support and encouragement so far. If there is anything we can do to support you please let us know.



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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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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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 Work Project Management

Welcome to our first ever Thursday Think Tank. Here we will discuss tips, tools, frameworks and systems that will help you deliver the best services to your young people that you possibly can.

Over the years I have managed many projects as a youth worker. You may consider the idea of project management to be foreign to the idea of youth work but it is something that we do every day. The issue is for the most part we are Unconsciously Incompetent… We don’t know what we cant do. What we want to see is Ultimate Youth Worker’s who are Unconsciously Competent… We know what we are doing so intrinsically that we don’t realise we are doing it, Just like breathing. If you run a group, lead a team or have an event to run this framework will help you reach your goals.
I have friends in many different sectors of employment. One area that has always astounded me is project management. I have one friend who is a project manager for a large construction firm. He holds a diploma level qualification (2 years at a tertiary institute) and is 30 years old. he has been in the role for 2 years and in the last tax year he grossed over $100,000 dollars. We caught up last week and spoke about his role. In our discussions we spoke about his way of managing projects, theories of project management and issues both positive and negative that impact of project completion. You know what 99% of what he spoke about was a complete waste of time. It blew my mind to know that my friend who earns double what I do actually could not explain how he keeps a project on track.
I shared with him how we at Ultimate Youth Worker recommend and teach people to manage projects. Its boring, simple, unsexy and it works like a charm. We won’t go into it all here but rest assured over the coming years we will cover it all. All our advice however is built on the foundation of our first rule of managing a project:

WHO is responsible for WHAT and by WHEN

Pretty simple right!!! WRONG. Whether it is running a team meeting, developing a strategic plan, running a youth group or putting on a gig for local high school students this foundation can keep you on track, but only if you use it. Too many people do not have a framework for developing their project and get into trouble because they do not know what is going on. Over the years I have seen projects like a conference or a concert fail because it went over budget or people were not invited. I have seen teams flail through years of mismanagement begging for direction. I have seen organisations crash because people were not held accountable for their decisions and to their responsibilities. Our project mantra helps the project leader to steer the group to success.

Here is a simple table that you can use to make any project work.

This is a simple team meeting proforma.





Aaron spoke with FINANCE this week and has been informed that we need to reconcile our accounts.

All Staff

Reconcile accounts

By close of business Thursday

Nick discussed a meeting he attended with local service providers. The meeting provided many opportunities to network and develop partnerships

Nick and Team leader



Team leader



Network with local youth agencies


Inform manager of opportunities for partnerships

Throughout April




In weekly one on one meeting this week

Sarah is developing a local gig for young people in our area. She is putting together a committee of young people to help. The gig will be at the end of November.





All staff

Engage young people for committee


Promote committee to our clients

By end of October




By end of October

Now this is just a basic template and you can most definitely expand upon it. I have used these in many different formats including team meetings, group design, organisational restructure and even planning blog posts. However, if you use the basics you will be well on your way to delivering your objective in a timely strategic way. The best part about this framework is that it gives the project leader the ability to track issues and deal with them quickly and track your progress at a glance. But more on that next time.
Stay frosty.

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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Behaviour not personality = Great youth work.

We have all heard the saying “the road to hell is paved with good intentions“. No more have I seen this than in the human services. Hopefully we have all come into the sector with a passion to work with broken individuals. Sometimes however, this passion gets in the way of our reason and we take on more projects than we can deliver on. For me there have been many times where I have accepted a spot on a committee, group or panel with the best intentions of delivering amazing results for them. However, when push comes to shove and the work with my young people begins to suffer I have to step aside. Usually having caused a major issue for the group, panel or committee. I see this happen in my personal life too. Because I commit to being on a board or committee it takes time from my family and causes strain on my resources and relationships. Are my intentions noble and just??? Of course! But what about my behaviours???
In youth work we all to often reward our young people for setting a goal or agreeing to attend a meeting. We do it with our colleagues as well. How many times have you seen a youth worker take a hit for the team only to have to deal with the issue again at a later date. You know the situation… you are in a team meeting and the boss says that you need to report to a funding body on your progress. No one wants to do the data collection and a noble colleague says they will do it. Two weeks later the team is thrown into chaos because the worker did not get around to it because of some other more pressing concern. When that happens we never judge them on their intentions… She was so noble and she really wanted to get it done. We judge them on their behaviour… She left it to the last minute and now I have to do it anyway.


All too often we judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behaviour. Guess what they judge you on your behaviour. When issues then arise in the team we hear about the work pressures or family issues or hear those dreaded words… It’s just who they are. Many organisations bring in Psychologists to deal with issues of personality (If I have to do another Myers-Briggs I may kill someone!) as that is seen as the overarching issue. Lets be clear!!! It is not their personality that is the issue, it is their behaviour! Or more specifically their lack of behaviour.

What we recommend at Ultimate Youth Worker is that we move towards a behaviourist approach to dealing with people. Whether the young people we work with, our colleagues or others we may work with along the way we should develop a lens of behaviour through which to judge our interactions.  Don’t get us wrong, the Myers-Briggs and other personality profiles are a great tools. But for us to be effective in running groups, providing support to our young people or dealing with colleagues means understanding their behaviours and how to work with them to utilise their strengths.

Over the coming weeks we will begin to look at how to develop a behavioural lens to work from. 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.

In the meantime… Stay Frosty.

What are your thoughts???

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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.