Organizational Overload: Surviving the Donkey Life at Work

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 an 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. In a change of main leadership, for example, institution-wide changes are expected to take place, disrupting normal day to day activities. Say, a new middle manager is hired specifically to lead bigger teams. Bigger teams mean new additions to groups, new rules and procedures, and subsequently more time spent on meetings and training. 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 adopting 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 poses additional pressure on the already heavy tasks we normally do every day. The electronic health record (EHR), for example, was developed to handle patient information safely and improve patient safety and efficiency. Furthermore, it provides an evaluation of the quality of client care and even helps determine staffing needs. Amidst the many benefits of the EHR, it still has been described by nurses as a "source of considerable frustration."

Workflows and systems also change over time. What used to be an automatic and efficient process for most employees becomes more of a conscious effort, especially considering legalities that govern such changes. Shifts in the system mean more meetings to be attended, extra paperwork to be done and new rules to be followed, which are outright exhausting for healthcare workers.

Compounding organizational stressors

The causes of organizational overload usually do not happen as stand-alone stressors. A change in management, for example, can also mean changes in policies, personnel, and workflows. When stressors are compounded, the employee workload follows. Even little bits of complexities that seem trivial to cause any work disruption can collectively result in fatigue and burnout.

Changes here and there, although all well-intentioned, are taxing physically and emotionally. Employees feel that there is never any time to adapt and benefit from one change before another one is initiated. This can result in frustration loss of time and 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 ultimately 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 tackle organizational overload. ManageUP reduces administrative burdens by uniquely 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.