How can I be less angry at work ?
March 10, 2015 4:37 PM   Subscribe

I need tips for coping with a poorly-run work environment. To put it in perspective - I'm a charge nurse at an assisted living facility that doesn't have enough staff or money to provide decent care. I want to be less angry when I'm at work. How do I let go?

I am a pretty new nurse (2.5 years) and this is only my second nursing job. My first job was at a beautiful nursing home in another state that was very ritzy, immaculately cleaned and well-staffed.

I've been at my current job for almost a year. It has way less money and comes up short in so many ways. For example - we never have plastic silverware in the resident kitchen. When I call the dining services manager, I learn that the whole place is out of it. Or - it's an ice storm on a weekend and I'm trying to call maintenance but their cell phones have not been set up for voicemail, so I find the salt and salt the parking lot and sidewalks. When I work on the weekends I mop the residents bathrooms because the place is filthy.

More seriously - I think that a lot of these residents should be at a higher level of care but the amount of red tape to move people along is outrageous and it is heartbreaking.

I know these seem like minor annoyances but I'm inundated with them hour after hour. As a result I get short with the staff i supervise and am always in a bad mood at work. I get mad when they interrupt me for things that are not urgent because I am so busy. I want to be more relaxed and able to let things go but I can't!

I do not want to find a different job because there are some great aspects: it pays well, is within walking distance of my house, I get a ton of paid vacation days, I really like my bosses, and the schedule is really flexible which is super important because I'm in school full time. And even though it's frustrating, I have a lot of support from my bosses and it's actually pretty easy.

How do I let things go? I want to accept that I cannot change this place and be happy with the small amount of brightness I can bring to my residents' days, but it is so hard. Additionally how do I be less snippy with my coworkers when I kind of resent how little responsibility they have ?
posted by pintapicasso to Work & Money (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I just want to say that these are not minor annoyances. You have every right to be angry. You've been given a job to do, and that job is to care for the welfare of other human beings who depend on you and can't care for themselves, and you haven't been given the resources to do it well, and no one else around you seems to care that there are human beings who are not getting the help and care they deserve. That's rage-inducing, and it's not small, and you have every right to be angry at your bosses and your coworkers and the system and whatever else. You're doing a tremendous job under very stressful circumstances.

That said, the advice I would have is something along the lines of the AA motto: accept the things you cannot change, change the things you can, and try to find the wisdom to know the difference. There may never be cutlery, and you may not be able to fix that. But you can salt the sidewalk and mop the bathroom, if it's not taking you away from something more important. You can also try to delegate, and figure out who the employees are who will work with you to make the place better for the residents. And you can always be kind to the residents, many of whom are probably going through rough things right now. You can know that they appreciate you, and that they see you, and that you are making their lives better. And hopefully, that can be enough.
posted by decathecting at 4:47 PM on March 10, 2015 [22 favorites]

Well, the good things about your job are really good: beyond the great vacation days and the fact that it's walkable, even: you get along well with your bosses and you care about your clients. Best of all, you're doing worthwhile work. I wonder if you can work with the bosses to find ways to increase responsibility of the people you supervise in order to help them develop more skills? Are they dead-ended and thus not motivated to stop sucking? Maybe you and bosses can un-deadend them somehow? I definitely do not think the way out of rage is to try to stop caring about the problems you've identified. I think your guys are lucky that you're there and care about them, and the things you've described don't sound like minor annoyances to me at all. Stay mad: there's what to be mad about! The problem is finding out how to channel the anger toward improvement of the sitch. Much much luck to you.
posted by Don Pepino at 4:51 PM on March 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

You're a person who cares. You're doing a hella job. You are good to your patients.

Take a big breath. Take another big breath. Learn to meditate. Make sure you take care of yourself when you're not at work, and make sure you leave work at work when you go home. Make your home a good place to be in, and find rewarding things to do, places to go, and people to be with outside of work.

Tell yourself what a job you do. Try to find others who care and who are doing a good job, and make sure you tell them, also. If you find someone who is just an absolute lousy worker, miserable with the patients, and a lazy ass, see if there's something you can do it about it. If you find someone who is just the Average Joe or Jill trying to do their job, and they're having a hard time, either because of work or with their personal life, empathize with them, or maybe you can do something to help them be better at their job.

Mostly, just take a breath.
posted by BlueHorse at 5:07 PM on March 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

accept the things you cannot change, change the things you can, and try to find the wisdom to know the difference.

This is along the lines of what I was thinking, but with special emphasis on the 'change the things you can' part. There's no solace in trying to accept things as being beyond your ability to change if part of your brain suspects you might actually be able to change those things. If your mission is to make things better for residents then why not salt the sidewalks and mop the bathrooms, unless you're simply exhausted or there are other more important things for you to do with you time? If there are more important things, do them first. Don't be a hero; pace yourself to have something left for yourself when you go home. But really, fix the things you can fix.
posted by jon1270 at 6:04 PM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you're short of supplies like plastic forks, I'd suggest going to the 99 Cent store and buying a bunch. It's not going to cost you much, and it'll be worth it because it'll make your job less aggravating and the patients will be better cared for. It sucks when employers don't provide basic crap like that, and I've been there myself... but trust me, the $8 you spend at Dollar Tree will be worth it! (That being said, don't stop pressuring your bosses to supply the stuff! Point out that the situation is so desperate that you've had to buy some stuff yourself, out of your own pay. Nag.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:22 PM on March 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Can you delegate some of these things to the people you supervise? Share the load, etc.
posted by jeffamaphone at 6:45 PM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Try to bring solutions, not complaints. You probably can't fix BIG issues, but fixing a few little ones can do a lot of good for the general atmosphere at work.

Many years ago, I did volunteer work at a homeless shelter as an internship for a class. Boy, was everyone there mad as hell. It was a chronically stressful situation for staff, dealing with too few resources and people with mountains of problems who just couldn't seem to "behave."

One of the ongoing issues was that clients got in trouble all the time for hanging damp towels over the ends of their wooden bed frames. It was a mold hazard. But they had limited access to the washing machines and no towel racks in their room and limited possessions. These were the towels they needed to dry off with every day and laying them on the floor would have kept the towels wet and grown mold on the towels and they wouldn't have had other towels to use...etc.

So I brought it up with the director one day and, yuppers, she was ready to hit the roof about the topic at the slightest mention of it. This was a real sore point for everyone at the facility. I gently stopped her and pointed out that they had no place else to hang the towels and no means to wash them daily. I offered to buy towel racks to go over the doors for each of the rooms. She agreed and this stopped being a sore point for all involved parties.

If at all possible, come up with a few solutions -- something within budget, that is achievable. It can be a small thing. You could use AskMe to research some of the specific issues at work. If you can bring a few solutions, it may bring the stress levels down a bit and make you feel less powerless. I know I am at my angriest when I feel disempowered in the face of injustice. Even if it doesn't fix it, doing something constructive goes a long way towards making me feel less like blowing a gasket.
posted by Michele in California at 6:45 PM on March 10, 2015 [14 favorites]

For having more patience with your staff, I think it helps to keep in mind that they are all dealing with the same broken system you are. Some people respond to that by becoming bitter, some respond by giving up/getting lazy, some get angry, some just can't complete all their assigned tasks in a quality fashion because the list is too long. Whatever annoying thing your coworkers or staff are doing, it's likely that a huge part of it can be traced back to the same frustrations that you are having with the lack of resources. When you find yourself being short with someone, see if you can empathize instead. You're all in it together.

I worked as an inpatient nurse in a hospital with relatively sane staffing, and still often felt that we didn't have enough people or resources to provide safe and appropriate care to our patients. Nursing homes are infamously worse. It's not just you, and your concerns aren't overblown. It's just the economic reality of providing care these days. Maybe things will change as more and more people age into needing those services (or their parents do), because the non-healthcare public will become more aware of the state of things. I hope. Until then, hang in there.
posted by vytae at 7:42 PM on March 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

I suspect you'll let go of some anger if you can switch from thinking "Things should be X way!" to "Things are this way. What can I do, realistically, given this reality?" Then do those things.

I work part-time in a government-run mental-health system for patients with severe mental illness and Medicaid. I totally get the frustration. I remind myself, however, that approaching my work with anger and frustration makes things worse for everyone -- it contributes to my burnout, it contributes to my co-workers' burnout, and it doesn't help clients get better. Approaching my work with the attitude that I will do everything I can do within the constraints of the system, and that "everything I can do" requires that I also leave time and energy (physical and mental and emotional) for self-care activities so that I can do it again tomorrow, tends to foster creativity, problem-solving, and teamwork for myself, my co-workers, and my clients. It's not a fake Polyanna thing -- I'm honest with clients and co-workers and supervisors about things that are messed up -- it's just a realization that my attitude is within my control and that I don't want to contribute more negativity to the environment.

I also work very occasionally at a residential unit for people with severe mental illness, and I am about to leave that job entirely because the management staff is so relentlessly negative that I think it is getting in the way of patient care. The place has a number of practical issues, but I'd be fine dealing with those; the constant carping and complaining and "woe is me" from the staff, however, is toxic. I've seen it chase away a number of good employees and create a system in which only dysfunctional negative people stick around. If you're in a management/supervisory position, it may help to remember that your attitude is absolutely going to set the tone for your staff because they'll emulate the tone of their supervisors and management. Think about whether you want angry impatient people caring for your residents.
posted by jaguar at 9:10 PM on March 10, 2015 [7 favorites]

The thing that helps me is to remind myself that dealing with the infuriating things with some grace is the essence of my job. If my job was pure joy with zero annoyance, then for all I know, volunteers would be doing it.

Other people I know cope by biding their time until they can start their own company or move up the ladder. Could you volunteer to be the one who orders the forks?
posted by slidell at 9:46 PM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

You are upset because any good person would be upset to see a place designed to care for others run poorly at their and your expense. I sympathize with the concerns about your job. That sounds frustrating. But please consider that this is your job, but for the people in the facility, it is their lives. If the facility isn't up to par, their lives could be in danger or to a lesser extent just miserable.

I think the root of your frustration might be wanting to help these people, but not able to to your satisfaction due to mismanagement for whatever reason. There are regulations for the elder care industry. Please consider secretly reporting them to a body that will investigate. The home might have plenty of money, but too much is being removed as profit for shareholders instead of put into the actual care. Many of these places are run as investments, rather than care as the priority, which is criminal, to me. So knowing someone is watching really could change things for the better and help you feel as if you've done your full, moral duty for the residents. Good luck! And you are doing a great job!
posted by mirabelle at 12:47 AM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

I agree with Michele in California; bring solutions.

Number one - why have the maintenance people's voicemails not been set up? That's an easy fix. You are not being paid to salt the exterior, they are. So mention to your bosses "hey, I had to take time out from my duties on Saturday to go salt the walkways. Can you ask the maintenance guys to set up their voicemail?"

Etc, etc. Start with the most minor of stuff. Delegate mopping the bathroom floors - each nurse takes 3 rooms or whatever. But make sure the bosses know that your staff are doing tasks that are outside their scope of duties, and ask for an end date (ie, when are you going to hire someone for this?) Find out why the kitchen doesn't have cutlery. I'm not sure why plastic is preferable over just getting steel cutlery that would be reusable and therefore wouldn't run out, maybe it's a safety issue with the residents but either way you can't have the residents eating with their hands.

It makes sense to be angry in your position, but being proactive about issues will help you feel empowered, which in turn will help reduce your anger.
posted by vignettist at 8:37 AM on March 11, 2015

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