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Managing organisational problems and interpersonal relationships

Introduction

Most students do not experience difficulties during their placement, but some do, especially in the early stages. If your progress on the placement is not entirely smooth, stay calm and seek help. Most problems can be easily overcome and students go on to enjoy the practicum as a valuable, ‘hands on’ learning experience.

It is important to remember that it is your practicum and you need to be proactive to ensure that you get the greatest learning value from it. While problems have the potential to create both physical and psychological risk in the workplace, if you act early you can prevent or at least minimise such risk. Experience suggests that it is better to raise issues early than to wait for a situation to either fix itself or create even bigger problems – if no action is taken, sometimes the whole placement period slips by, and the student and workplace supervisor are left to confront a situation that could have been avoided with earlier intervention.

The first step in handling any difficulties is to discuss them with your workplace supervisor and the University practicum coordinator. They are responsible for managing your work placement and you need to communicate openly and honestly with them at all times, especially if you need help. The University practicum coordinator is very experienced in resolving issues and can refer you to the most appropriate people for further help. Even if you don’t feel comfortable raising problematic issues or seeking help, you need to remember that you have the right to protect yourself against difficulties that threaten your practicum’s success and may cause problems for future students.

Problems can create stress, and it is important that you develop some personal strategies to manage this while trying to resolve the issues that are causing it. One of the most effective strategies is to establish a proper distance from the difficulties – do not let practicum problems take over your life! Try to keep problems in perspective, and set boundaries between your personal and professional self while on placement. Reorganise your working life more efficiently, and above all, seek and get support. The University provides a counselling service, and you can also seek support from others who have experienced similar situations – your fellow practicum students, workplace peers, your supervisor, your practicum coordinator, your friends and family (email and the phone are essential tools). You should find these tips for stress management helpful.

Organisational aspects of, or interpersonal relationships in the practicum can create tensions and problems, and it is important for you to be prepared with strategies to overcome these if they occur. Ethical considerations, such as following guidelines for ethical practice and operating within Occupational Health and Safety legislation can also create tension if you feel the workplace is not acting ethically or safely. You may find it helpful to refer back to the previous module on Legal and ethical issues.

Organisational aspects of the practicum

In Module 2, Preparing to go, you read about preparing for the personal practicalities of undertaking your practicum. This discussion of organisational aspects of the practicum looks at the more academic and industrial/professional organisational issues, and suggests strategies for dealing with potential problems.

Interpersonal relationship aspects of the practicum

While organisational/professional issues may cause you concern, interpersonal difficulties in the workplace setting may be even more challenging. This discussion of interpersonal relationship aspects of the practicum looks at the issues of bullying and sexual harassment, and suggests strategies to handle these effectively.

You will have noticed that there is some overlap between the organisational and interpersonal relationship aspects of the placement. Each aspect has the potential to affect every other aspect. This is why it is so important for you to be aware of possible problems and in possession of the strategies to handle them.

Now that you have completed all the discussions and exercises in this module, you may wish to add to your ‘preparing to go checklist’ in Module 2.


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