Organizational Overload: Working the Donkey Life

By Greg Hunter, RT (R) (T)

      Beth Boynton, RN, MS

Many of us in the healthcare sector have had our shares of hectic schedules. How many coffee breaks and lunches have we skipped just to get all our work done for the day? We have stopped counting. Amidst tasks in our departments to deliver quality service to our clients, how many hours were added in our stay in our units to attend meetings, to get used to new documentation systems, to respond to emails, to make presentations or to read new information? Most times we feel we are robbed of precious hours that we could have spent somewhere with our families or just for “me” time.

Organizational stress usually happens due to overload brought about by change. When workers get used to certain procedures and workflows, they resist change mainly because predictability is comforting and less stressful. Knowing what to expect and when results are bound to happen is reassuring, time efficient, and reduces too much conscious effort.

Common causes of organizational overload

What are common causes of organizational overload? One is institutional reorganization. Understaffing can lead to reorganization. A cardiac nurse, for example, finds herself being assigned to another department. Now she is working outside of her expertise and comfort zone, and this experience is perceived as threatening and demanding. With reorganization, existing teams with efficient group dynamics are forced to add or remove members. Other teams even disband, much to the detriment of institutional goals.

Ironically, reorganization is instituted because it is perceived as a solution to elusive organizational goals. When management changes, for example, institution-wide changes take place that can disrupt normal day to day activities. Say, a new manager is hired specifically to lead bigger teams. Bigger teams mean new additions to groups, new rules and proceduresm, and subsequently more time spent on meetings and trainings. Even if well-intentioned, these changes can impose considerable stress on employees.

Organizational overload can also result from changes in technology and work systems. An example is adapting a new system of digitalization. Although digitalization is designed to make work easier, the transition from traditional documentation to that which uses new technology is more complex in practice. We spend hours upon hours getting used to the new system that pose additional pressure on the already heavy tasks we normally do every day. The electronic health record (EHR), for example, has been described by nurses as a “source of considerable frustration” although it is primarily utilized as a form of digital documentation that produces data that will help in improving patient safety, evaluating the quality of client care, improving efficiency to the highest standard possible and even determining staffing needs.

Workflows and systems also change over time. What used to be an automatic and efficient process for most becomes more of a conscious effort, especially considering legalities that govern such changes. New changes in the system mean more meetings to attend, extra paperwork to be done and new rules to be followed. All these can be outright exhausting for health care workers in an institution.

Compounding organizational stressors

The causes of organizational overload discussed above usually do not happen as stand-alone stressors. A change in management, for example, can also mean changes in policies and personnel. It can also be accompanied by a change in work systems. When stressors are compounded in the organizational level, the workload is also compounded. Even little bits of complexities that seem trivial to cause any work disruption can collectively result to overload to the point of manifestation of physical symptoms, such as over fatigue, migraine and musculoskeletal discomforts.

 Changes here and there, although all well-intentioned are cognitively, emotionally and physically taxing. It may seem like there is never any time to adapt and benefit from one change before another is initiated.  This can result in frustrations brought about by loss of time and in a lack of trust in the value of the new initiatives. In the end, the changes originally intended to make improvements become counterproductive. Working to accommodate multiple and simultaneous changes for process improvement can indeed make us feel like donkeys, carrying loads too heavy for us to handle.

When organizational overload happens, employee engagement becomes a challenge. It is important to be aware that there are reliable services that are available which tackle organizational overload. ManageUP increases employee engagement by uniquely combining and integrating a task management platform, a knowledge repository, and a reward system to increase teamwork, align the organization, and promote transparency.  It is 100% cloud based and easy to deploy with no IT disruption.



Workplace Reengineering, Reorganization, and Redesign From Nursing Management: Principles and Practice

Health Care Administration: Planning, Implementing, and Managing Organized Delivery Systems

Why Your Job is Becoming Impossible to Do: The Tragedy of Well-Intentioned Organizational Overload

Health Information Technology, Patient Safety, and Professional Nursing Care Documentation in Acute Care Settings