Drowning prevention, rescue and treatment: Prevention First

The clinical, front-line managers that I coach often describe their feelings about their workload as “I’m drowning”,  “I feel like my head is spinning”, “I am overwhelmed”.    These leaders are conscientious, go getters who were recognized for their initiative and promoted into leadership positions.  They have a desire to please, and accept an overwhelming workload and mounting assignments in a spirit of teamwork and optimism.  They are hanging by a thread and they are afraid to tell you.

teaching staying afloatIf you are supervising a front line leader, what are you doing?  Are you helping or hurting?  Do you continue to pile on the work because these go getters are willing?  Have you evaluated their workload and supported taking tasks off their plate?  Have you helped them prioritize what is really important, and what can be delegated?  Have you coached these leaders on spending time on non-urgent, important tasks, like relationship building, planning and designing better processes, strategizing to build a better future, to get out of the firefighting mode?

Our front-line leaders in healthcare are drowning and yet we need them to be the captain of the patient safety and patient experience ship.  Here’s what you can do to throw your drowning manager a life raft to improve the longevity of these managers and improve the experience of the patients and staff they serve:

  1. Make time for non urgent, important activities a priority.  Leaders need time to think, plan and strategize as well as build relationships and have fun.  Provide planning time in retreats, encourage planning time on leader’s schedules even if it means time away from the office.  Role model this by scheduling or promoting fun activities that build bonds within your team. Use this helpful prioritization matrix as a tool for yourself and those you lead.
  2. Evaluate their schedules and workload.  Analyze their time.   Be realistic.   How much time is spent on daily and monthly schedules, meetings, patient and employee rounding, patient, physician and employee concerns?   What time is left over for improvement?
  3. Before adding a task or responsibility, determine what can be let go. What activities no longer add value?  What activities can be delegated to subordinates as a growth opportunity?
  4. Reevaluate time spent in meetings. What meetings can be eliminated?  What meetings can be scheduled in 30 minutes instead on an hour?  Can daily leadership huddles provide a valuable communication venue and eliminate other management meetings?
  5. Create clear expectations around teamwork and serving patients. Support departments must support the leaders who support direct caregivers.  If service from a support department is lacking, don’t burden the recipient of the service with fixing the problem.
  6. Provide safe harbor…a mentor, coach trusted peer who can be an objective sounding board and who is willing to ask the tough questions about what is realistic and what demands needs to be triaged away. Make it safe for the manager to speak to you about their concerns about workload.  Build the conversation into your supervision meeting agendas.  “Are there important activities on your plate that you want to spend more time on?”  “Are you finding enough time to think and plan for the future?”

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