Our current research is developing and testing strategies to help first line managers in health care to support the social environments of their workgroups more effectively. Our assessments of civility and respect at work found that although many managers are doing a great job on this front, some are feeling challenged and a few are feeling overwhelmed.
Something that gets in the way for these managers is that their work demands constantly distract them from looking after their people. The job demands seem to consistently outstrip the resources, especially that non-renewable resource, time. People felt too busy to reflect with any depth on the social dynamics of their workgroup. Much occurred on that level that escaped their notice.
It became clear in our conversations that being busy operated as an important organizational value. Leaving one’s unit for a lunch break was considered an extravagance. The issue was not whether one had an extravagant lunch, but whether one had any lunch at all. Attending a professional development workshop had equal standing to taking a nap on the job.
The problem was not the teasing or snide remarks that these views would generate.
• The big problem was that they conveyed an organizational culture that values looking busy over reflection. Looking busy has a reactive quality. It misses the essential pauses that permit a longer range view. A short-term perspective greatly inhibits one’s own individual performance as a manager; it has an even greater effect on the performance of a team. Understanding the complexities of relationships among team members requires deep reflection. It is not something that one can squeeze into multi-tasking one’s way through a frantic workday.
• The second big problem with looking busy is that it encourages managers to remain in role. When looking busy is a value, it is important to make sure that someone is looking.
• The third big problem is that the leader’s behavior sets the tone for members of the workgroup.
What To Do:
• Talk about it. Have conversations, informally or at a formal meeting, A rational conversation about what is a reasonable pace of work could generate better ideas than the current situation.
• Build Trust. Devise a tighter system for handing off work to one another. One thing that keeps people tied to the worksetting is lacking confidence that others will look after the project or the patient during one’s brief absence.
• Lead it. A leader (formal or informal) sets a ideal and states a value with every action. Model the actions that will serve the workgroup well. Trust grows with open, honest communication.
In these pressured times, a reasonable, sustainable, and deeply productive worklife requires the capacity to step out of the momentary flow, to reflect, and to determine a course of action.