Your FWT will likely be a positive experience. If conflict should arise however, remember that learning how to deal with work-related problems can be an important part of FWT. That said, you don’t have to manage this learning process on your own. The Field Work Term staff is available to help you think through ways to best address an issue, as well as to offer resources and provide support as you navigate the transition from student to professional. Workplace issues should be handled promptly, as they tend to worsen if gone unaddressed. If you need help, call and speak with an FWT staff member at 802-440-4321.
Examples of Potential Problems and Suggested Solutions
- Communication issues. Effective communication is a growing edge for most people and requires attention. Misunderstandings due to poor communication can quickly escalate, especially in a work setting. If you feel as though a colleague is not effectively communicating with you about a project or job requirement, make the extra effort to check in with them about their expectations. Remind them that because you are new to the work you may need more context or additional instructions for the assignment to become clear. Let them know that you are sensitive to not wanting to take up too much of their time, but you do want to be sure you are focusing your efforts appropriate to their desired results. Make sure you have clarity on their expectations and that you know what success looks like from their perspective. Be sure to follow through on agreed terms. Similarly, if you are experiencing your own poor communication getting in the way of doing your job well, talk with your supervisor and/or call the FWT & CDO for advice. Professional and proactive communication is often the most effective way to solve and prevent problems at work—and it takes practice, and often mentorship.
- Discrimination/sexual harassment. Discrimination, including sexual harassment, subverts the educational mission of Bennington College and is unethical. Under certain state and federal employment laws, it may also be illegal. If you experience discriminatory practices including sexual harassment in the workplace, please contact the FWT & Career Development Office immediately. After discussing the issue, next steps will be agreed upon between you and the FWT director or dean. These might include: helping you to address the issue directly with your supervisor to find an immediate resolution; having the FWT director or dean contact your supervisor to address the issue; changing your department or supervisor within the company; leaving an FWT site and getting support in finding an alternative employer; waiving the effect of an employer’s evaluation on your final FWT grade; removing a site or supervisor from the FWT database; and providing you with additional support resources. The College has no legal jurisdiction over an FWT employer’s treatment of staff. However, if after consulting with an employment attorney you determine that your work situation is deemed to be illegal under state or federal law, you may also choose to file a formal complaint with the company’s affirmative action office and/or with the appropriate state or federal agency (i.e. the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission).
- Not challenged at work. Understandably, you want to be challenged during FWT. Keep in mind that everyone completes some routine work as part of his or her job. This type of work can be a good way to learn how an organization operates. If you find yourself completing an excess of routine work, demonstrate your ability to handle more. Show that you are organized, responsible, and dependable. Talk to your supervisor and co-workers about projects you’d like to get involved in or learn more about. Explain that you are willing to continue completing routine work, but would like to participate in or observe more challenging work as well.
- Office politics. It’s easy to get caught up in the internal politics of an organization. Avoid getting involved in disagreements between individuals or departments when possible. Most likely, there is a history behind the problem that goes beyond your time with the organization. If you are already involved in a political situation, avoid further involvement if possible (conversations, action, etc.) as this may only escalate the situation.
- Overwhelm. If you are feeling overwhelmed by a problem at work try these steps: brainstorm with colleagues to get their thoughts and insights; after hours call friends or family members who you think might have experience with such a problem; take a break from the situation—go for a walk on your lunch break or work on another assignment for a bit and see if stepping back changes your perspective. If you are unable to resolve the situation on your own, speak to your supervisor or contact the FWT & CDO for advice.
- Problems with co-workers. If you are having trouble with a particular co-worker, try talking with them to find out what the problem is. It could be something unrelated to you or something you can solve together. Start by asking if you can schedule a brief meeting with them to discuss a concern you have that you’d like to get their feedback on. When you meet, describe your perspective of the dynamic or situation. Be sure to check your assumptions instead of being accusatory. Ask them to share their perspective and recognize that others may have a different point of view on the situation. Practice listening without being defensive or judgemental. Concentrate on finding a resolution rather than assigning blame. If after your conversation things don’t improve, talk with your supervisor diplomatically about helping you to find a solution.
Leaving a Job Before the End of FWT
In certain situations, the FWT and Career Development director may determine that it is appropriate for a student to leave a job before a previously agreed to end date without penalty. If you are considering leaving your job you should contact the FWT & CDO director immediately to discuss your concerns. If you leave your FWT early without consulting with the FWT Office, a negative employer evaluation or short hours will likely have a negative impact on your final FWT grade.
After discussing your situation with you, in most instances the FWT staff will encourage you to make an appointment to speak with your supervisor to explain your concerns/situation. If your desire to leave early is based on issues related to the position or work environment (vs. personal), you should first outline your concerns and address them in a professional manner. The FWT staff can help you with how to best do this. By giving your supervisor an opportunity to respond and to problem solve with you, you may find that they can remedy the situation. Additionally, keep in mind that your supervisor may be dealing with managerial or organizational issues and demands that you are unaware of and that might be influencing their choices. If they are able to share those, it may give you a new perspective on what you perceived originally as a problem.
If after meeting with your supervisor, you still decide to leave the position early, generally it is best practice to inquire if there is anything you can do to make for a smooth transition. Ideally, complete any projects you have begun, and update your supervisor on anything you have been working on. If your early departure is for personal reasons, explore if there may be a way you can maintain your commitment (i.e. through remote work). Remind your supervisor that you will need to collect your completed timesheet and that the FWT & CDO will still send a performance evaluation to be filled out. Agree on a final date and what needs to be done by that time. Finish strong.
After you leave, send a brief follow-up email. Thank your supervisor for the opportunity provided, share your appreciation for what went well, and express your regrets that things did not work out as planned. If you agreed to a remote assignment, be sure to submit quality work in a timely manner.
If your departure is due to a discriminatory work environment, the FWT Office may recommend an amended approach to the above suggestions depending on the details of your particular situation.