Three Challenges of First Line Managers

Do managers and front-line staff get stressed out by the same things?

When sorting through survey responses regarding job burnout, a few strong patterns emerged. The emphatic message was that similarities outweighed the differences. The same sorts of things were associated with exhaustion for both groups.

Workload. It is not simply the amount of work. Two qualities of workload make it especially discouraging: tasks weakly connected to the core mission and demands that interfered with respondents’ personal lives. This finding echoes previous work on illegitimate tasks. Task that seem pointless or that are poorly organized sap energy.

FLMs in Canadian healthcare have a larger struggle with expanding work demands because contract does not allow for overtime pay. Working beyond their allotted workweek is not compensated financially. It drains their personal resource base, increasing the probability of exhaustion.

For staff members, the key item is work that interferes with their personal lives that could include being too tired after a day at work or call-backs to cover extra shifts. Even when compensated with overtime pay, extra work hours can drain employees’ resources.

Making Things Happen. People want to be players in their work lives. Being a play includes some elements of autonomy and some of control. However, in contemporary work, especially health care, people know that no one has autonomy: everyone’s work is integrated with everyone else’s work. No one has the autonomy to operate independently. Further, no individual has control. Even the CEO is beholden to various parties within and without the organization.

What is reasonably expected is the capacity to make things happen. People want to have access to the resources necessary to address the work that must be done. They want the confidence that they can influence what happens in their workgroup. They want to be active participants in their world in which they work.

People. Civil relationships promote engagement; uncivil relationships promote burnout. The special issue for managers is that they feel responsible for addressing uncivil social encounters on their units while most staff members feel obliged only to endure them. When managers fail to address them, they know they’re letting down their workgroup. When they do address them, they find progress to be tough and management support to be uncertain.

Managers and staff members face challenges in all three domains. But managers have distinct concerns within each area. And they have an extra level of responsibility for action.

Rome Stairs

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