Mixing work with therapy: a work based autoethnography

Fixsen, Alison 2017. Mixing work with therapy: a work based autoethnography. Work Based Learning e-Journal International. 7 (1), pp. 40-63.

TitleMixing work with therapy: a work based autoethnography
AuthorsFixsen, Alison
Abstract

Soft skills programs (SSPs) for staff are now an established part of staff learning and development in organisations. The lived experience of university staff attending these types of programmes has until now remained largely unexplored. As part of a professional doctorate in education, I used autoethnography to investigate the ‘social world’ of SSPs within my own university, from a dramaturgical perspective. This paper recounts my experiences as participant-researcher on a women’s development programme, including the personal, social and ethical challenges it presented. I describe the SSP ‘social world’ as a blend of therapeutic and entrepreneurial, in which, with the aid of dramaturgical devices (e.g. role play, imagination games) participants examine their feelings, values and relationships, and share aspects of themselves with others. Emergent themes included relationship building, emotion work, self-promotion and assertiveness, and performing. Inhibiting factors to full engagement and emotional disclosure also emerged and in my case included identification as an academic, my position as a researcher and my critique of the ‘neoliberal’ norms and messages endorsed through these programmes. One criticism is that by promoting individualism and self-responsibility, the institution partly absolves itself of its corporate responsibilities to staff in terms of wellbeing, care and job security. Nevertheless, these programmes are an engaging means of addressing the growing demands of career management in universities and fulfil a social purpose in increasing understanding between different sectors of the organisation.

KeywordsSoft skills, higher education, staff experiences, autoethnography, professional doctorate, interaction rituals
JournalWork Based Learning e-Journal International
Journal citation7 (1), pp. 40-63
ISSN2044-7868
Year2017
PublisherMiddlesex University
Publication dates
Published11 Oct 2017

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