Winter 1987 // Volume 25 // Number 4 // Ideas at Work // 4IAW2

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Life/Work Transitions


David Sanderson
Program Evaluation and Staff Development Leader
Cooperative Extension Service
University of Maine-Orono

In November 1985, the University of Maine CES had an opportunity to show it wanted to support its faculty in even broader ways than in the past by sponsoring a three-day staff development workshop.

"Life/Work Transitions," a workshop conducted by Michael Brazzel, organization development specialist, ES-USDA, and Delyte Frost, a private consultant, offered participants the chance "to reevaluate the meaning of their lives and work, and begin to develop a strategy for continuing self-renewal." It also gave them an opportunity to explore with co-workers fundamental personal career issues.

Participants were asked in advance to read William Bridges' book Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes, which describes a chronological model of life's transitions and our typical responses to them.

With that as background, workshop participants examined patterns in their own lives and careers; key life events, values, and needs (including internal and external influences); career anchors; emotional responses to transition; and support needed from family, co-workers, and Extension to continue their growth. A special feature included learning in self-selected groups of four, called "Friends and Guides."

About a year later, the planners (who were also participants) collected extensive evidence from the six Friends and Guides groups about their experience during and since the workshop. Comments reflected these perceptions about staff development and UMCES organizational needs:

  • Asked to rank the priority that should be given to such personal/career growth workshops on a scale of 1 to 5 (5 being the highest), four groups ranked them at 5; one group at 4; and one group at 2.
  • Many participants felt strongly about the high value they place on the relationships they've sustained in their Friends and Guides groups. For many participants, the workshop itself and their experience in these groups over the past year led to a sense of critical need for greater support of staff relationships and greater recognition among all staff members for treating one another more sensitively, gently, and humanely. One group emphasized the need to maintain an atmosphere for personal and professional reflection and sharing.

For most participants, the workshop proved to be a productive experience, fostering a remarkable amount of growth, learning, and change. Although the planners knew in advance that such experiences are important both for staff members and the organizational climate, the depth of many participants' response and the strong emphasis on the organizational need for encouraging and supporting one another's growth were a surprise. Planners interpreted the results as a widespread plea for all staff members to take responsibility for developing relationships and encouraging more supportive interactions.

If you're considering ways to enhance the quality of organizational life in the future, an interactive workshop on transitions, career issues, and life/work patterns can help develop staff relationships by offering the opportunity to work together on issues of importance to all of us.