Is Your Team Burning Out?
No matter whom you are or what practice you work in, it always seems there much more work to be done than can possibly be accomplished. We tire after days and weeks of carrying a heavy workload, and the word “burnout” is on the tip of our tongues.
We may complain to our teammates about the load, although they are likely carrying enough of their own so they are not very sympathetic to your situation. Nearly everyone at some time, and sometimes all of the time, feels their practice runs understaffed all the time, with not enough people to carry the load assigned to the group.
At the same time, there are specific people who feel that they unfairly carry MORE load than others around them. Who knows, this could be true! After all, WHO is looking out for the team members when it comes to workload? Who has enough understanding of the job to realize the size of the workload, and enough eyes in the back of their head to determine if any, or all, of the team members are struggling under the weight?
One of the results is that a struggling team does not create a healthy atmosphere. This brings us to another one of the Eight Laws Governing a Healthy Workplace, the fifth law in fact, provide direct management to monitor workloads.
This may seem like an easy Law to follow, just have someone watch the team. But the problem lies in the wording of the Law itself, when it refers to “direct management”. First of all, the term “direct” implies that this person is close enough to the team, actually either DOING the work or WATCHING the work, so that the workload of each person can be assessed. This is tough. It means that a practice or hospital manager who spends the majority of their time watching the big picture of the practice—
• assessing marketing endeavors
• researching employment law changes
• maintaining the practice's financial status
• coordinating facility maintenance, etc.
—really cannot be the person who has direct management over the team members. He or she is too far removed, both in physical proximity (often the manager’s office is not easily accessible for this type of monitoring) and in scope of the job worries he or she is managing. So we need to figure out who is MOST “direct” to monitor these workloads.
Often that becomes the responsibility of the head technician or technician supervisor.
This is better, as long as that person is not relegated to spending all of his or her time in an office! Oh, and before we go much further, let’s be sure that we know this head tech or supervisors KNOWS that one of the jobs he or she must do IS directly monitoring workloads of their team members! They need to watch the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the team, but then also be able to focus in on each member and know if they are pulling their share of the weight. So, this middle manager, as it were, must understand this aspect of the job and how to get it done. Yes it involves directly watching and working with the team to get an idea of each person’s workload. It also involves talking to each person on the team about their work load.
After all, we may look at someone and expect that they are coping just fine with their assigned tasks. But if we ASK him or her, we may get a whole different story. After all, our impression doesn’t matter; if that person feels overloaded, then we must respect that and find ways to make it better. Sometimes this might involve showing the person how to manage their time. It may involve demonstrating that the person actually is carrying the amount of load they are expected to, for their position. Or it may mean shifting some of the weight off of them, and then just WHO do you give it to? Well, that’s why knowing each person’s load, and perceived load, is so important. It’s difficult if not impossible to shift work from one person to another, if everyone thinks they are overloaded.
So part of this process is determining what work they are doing. This might involve having them complete a workload assessment, where they document what they’re doing each day for many days. This may seem like more work for the team member while they are writing all this down throughout the day, but it can provide both the supervisor and the team member a glimpse at where the time is being spent. This can lead to actionable steps to make things better.
Back to the phrase “direct management”, we’ve covered the meaning of direct pretty well.
But what about “management”? What is so sneaky about that term?
Well, if this person monitoring the workload is indeed “management”, it means that his or her opinion carries enough weight to initiate change if needed. If this supervisor brings a report of workload assessment to the higher practice manager or hospital owner, and his or her findings and suggestions are shot down, then obviously this person did not have the authority or the position in management to suggest or make real changes. This happens more often than we like to think in veterinary practice. So when a practice decides to implement middle managers (which should take place when the practice reaches anywhere from 15-20 total staff members) they need to be clear about the authority that these middle managers will possess. If you’re giving them a title and extra work, without clear authority or respect for their opinions, then you are simply creating more problems than you’re solving.
Taking this one step further, if you have supervisors or “head” positions on the team, and the team members realize that their findings and suggestions are not taken seriously by upper management, and then it erodes any respect that the team may have for that supervisor. In fact, the team will learn to go AROUND that person, and straight to upper management, when they really need to get something changed. This leads to a frustrated supervisor, an overwhelmed practice manager, and a team that won’t take any direction whatsoever from that supervisor in the future. This can make for an ugly situation.
Keep in mind, the verb “to monitor” insinuates that if needed, the workload is adjusted to keep continually monitoring the workload of each individual person. If the workload is deemed to be too much for the entire team, or two much for specific individuals, then something needs to change. If you just continue to “monitor” an overloaded team, then you’re just watching those people sink deeper and deeper into quicksand…that isn’t what “monitor” implies.
In the general sense, if the team knows that they have someone directly monitoring their workloads, and making adjustments, suggestions, or changes when needed, they will have a better attitude and the morale of the team will improve. A healthy workplace is where everyone’s contribution is monitored and appreciated!
Resource: Healthy Caregiving: A Guide to Recognizing & Managing Compassion Fatigue, Patricia Smith, 2008