Managing Frustration at Work

Universal frustration

Managing frustration at work is becoming a central part life for many people working in income collection in social housing.

Welfare reform, and particularly Universal Credit, has heralded in new norms for many teams. This is particularly the case for front-line staff whose jobs have changed dramatically. My background in social campaigning, and perhaps how I approach life, makes managing emotional ups and downs an ongoing practice. So, I am sharing the things that help me change my perspective, and therefore change my experience.

The emotional content to income management

At various Voicescape events, clients have highlighted the frustrations that they face in managing the roll out of Universal Credit. I can’t list them all but these are the most common ones I hear about:

Firstly, there are piles of paperwork that have to be manually entered into the system. The landlord portal seems to have thrown up all manner of frustrations. And last, but never least is the very saddening reality of poverty and often complex lives. Very real examples of this are food bank usage increasing up in areas where universal credit is being rolled out. Or an income officers taking a call from a tenant who threatened to self-harm before slamming the phone down. (The police were called and fortunately the tenant was okay. Supporting tenants in situations like this, yet not getting pulled down by emotions is part of the challenge.

Frustrations and expectations

Frustration appears when expectations are not met. When we daily face situations that fall below our expectations, frustration peeks its head out. What is happening is not corresponding with what we think should be happening, and so annoyance, anger, anguish, anxiety or sadness and frustration start to mount. The feeling of failing a tenant in need rises up and can lead to anger at the system in which housing operates. Consequently we find ourselves managing frustration at work.

There are no quick answers to this one, though I was interested to note that following a DWP presentation at our UC event hosted by Your Homes Newcastle in October 2018, a Senior Leader in Housing remarked to me  ‘The message I am taking back to the team is ‘it’s not getting any better’. He had a plan to support managing frustration, which was about managing expectations. I loved this comment and it contributed to me putting together this piece.

Helpful hints to manage frustration

  • Anger and sadness are often borne out of a desire to connect people in a situation. Feeling connected as part of a team can help employees feel supported as part of an organisation or team that is tackling these challenges together.
  • Telephone debriefs can often help colleagues release the built-up emotions that can come about from taking a difficult call.
  • Validating the challenges, they are facing as part of a UK wide challenge can feel depressing, but also can highlight that it not something you are doing wrong.
  • Communicating what your organisation, and sector, is doing to help minimise the impact of welfare reforms can help people feel that attention is being brought to this issue and they are not alone. This can bring a feeling of hope.


Expectations as a positive

The interesting thing is that social housing as a sector is full of people that love to make a difference. They want to reach and support the most vulnerable in society. Time and time again we see clients go above and beyond to make that difference happen. And yet as frustration is often a key part of their jobs, frustration tolerance is something they simply must develop.