Are you OK?


The organisation I work for hosts a volunteer worker from a European country every year. The successful applicant comes to work with us through a one-year exchange programme. We contribute to his/her food, lodging and living expenses. In return s/he supports our projects and develop his/her own skills. Though they do not get paid, we have the same expectations of them as we do of full-time employees.

We have had a number of volunteers over the years and things did not always end nicely. The organisation is so flexible in so many ways that an entry-level employee may feel overwhelmed. For a start, there is little hand-holding. Many of the senior staff are too busy running around, attending meetings and getting their own work done, they can’t always be in the office to delegate and supervise work. So, it’s up to you to find work to do. Working hours are quite flexible and if you see a need to go or be based somewhere else, you don’t need to come into the office, but you have to be accountable for where you are.

After encountering problems with the previous volunteer, who felt she wasn’t supported enough during the time she was with us, my boss decided to put in place a mentor. This is not the line manager but someone who can listen to and support the volunteer to make sure s/he doesn’t feel left in the lurk.

Because I was the only one always so “kaypoh” enough to ask what was wrong whenever the previous volunteer left meetings in a huff and typed away angrily at her desk, I have been assigned to look after the new girl who arrive a few months ago. So I chat to her frequently to find out how she is adjusting to living in a new country, sharing a house with new people and working in a new organisation.

To be honest, I kinda enjoy this new role. I guess I do it because I have never really had a mentor to guide me and I know how tough it can be when you are young, inexperienced and scared. Sometimes you feel so small and alone when others zoom about in the office and nobody even notices you are there. Sometimes you have had a really shit day and just wish someone would stop shuffling their stupid papers, look up at you and ask, “Are you OK?”

I will always remember that at the end of my first day at work in the College, I was so overwhelmed I sat at my desk and sobbed. Later, I walked past a colleague who noticed I looked so distressed. She patted me on the shoulder and gave me an Almond Gold chocolate bar on her desk. I returned to my cubicle and ate the chocolate. It was the most delicious chocolate I had ever tasted.

So that’s what I have endeavoured to become. Ms “Are you OK?”. The one who passes the tissue to someone crying their heart out. The one who gives someone a chocolate bar when their paperwork looks a bit like Mount Everest and I can no longer see their face. The one who feels genuinely happy for someone when s/he learns something new or makes an achievement, instead of worrying s/he may soon be skilled enough to take over me.

I have learnt never to underestimate the power of those three little words and when uttered, how comforting or even thought-provoking it can be for someone. I have learnt we should for a few moments in our work day, stop worrying about our work, our life, our fats, our hair, our deadlines, our teeth, our targets. I have learnt to actually take a break and look around at the people I spend 35 hours a week in work with, and when need be, hand them a Kit-Kat and ask, “Are you OK?”

Explore posts in the same categories: Relationship, Work

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