Help me not stop functioning with work stress
September 16, 2022 10:08 PM   Subscribe

I work as healthcare admin. We are understaffed and overstretched and management is somewhat AWOL. I've worked at the same job for over 5 years and have a good reputation despite constantly working to deal with the effects of what I think is untreated/undiagnosed adhd (I'm on a wait list for this). The only other full time experienced member of the team is leaving and I Cannot Deal. Help me cope until I find a new job.

I am actively looking for and interviewing for new jobs but it takes time and is also an extra source of stress and exhaustion for me right now. I just have to hang on in there for as many months plus notice period as it takes to get another role, but this feels impossible right now.

I'm tense, angry, exhausted, physically ill with stress. There is no way I can finish or even effectively triage the work and it cannot wait or be ignored because it relates to people's healthcare. The whole service i work for is struggling and we often can't deliver appointments for months on end.

I work on the phones and I get a barrage of angry, desperate, tearful people who are taking out their frustrations on me. I've been able to cope in the past because I knew i was doing my best but at this point I know I'm not doing that any more and I don't have it in me. I've stopped working 10 hour days - my spouse is disabled and I do everything around the house at home. I feel like on 8 hour days I can manage the practical stuff again but emotionally I feel numb and terrified.

I've told managers over and again the issue we are facing and I know they are trying and failing to recruit more staff, partly because the salary for the role is so low. I also (selfishly) know that if I keep burning the candle at both ends I won't have the energy to keep grinding away at job applications and to have time with friends and family. I'm sure the untreated adhd is playing a role here but I also have been able to cope up until we got to 1/3 of our previous workforce.

I feel like I'm getting compassion fatigue for the patients and like I want to just run away from all my responsibilities and live in a commune right now. But I really have no option but to keep going for now and somehow forgive myself for not being enough. I am sure there are burnout strategies out there on the Internet but matching up advice to my specific situation feels like an insurmountable brain obstacle right now. What should I be doing to hang in there?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I don’t have a full answer but two things popped out. You said you’re not doing your best « anymore » (partly) because you’re not working 10 hr days anymore. Nope you’re still doing your best, but you’ve recognized that 10 hrs of your best isn’t tenable. Continue taking full credit. It seems like that’s an important element of your coping strategy, believing that you are doing your best so take it from this internet stranger that 8 hrs are enough.

Second, you recognize that the cause of the problem that is causing your patients so much distress and yourself so much stress is above you but you also give your managers compassion because you know they can’t do much. But there is someone way above who can do something, and they are not. Don’t be thinking that this is the way it has to be just because the people you see are also powerless - which I think you are already by looking for a new role. When people are tearful and you can’t help them, think about how there is someone that could help and refuses to. Think about how much more you are doing than that unhelpful person.

That doesn’t begin to touch the whole question you are asking but it’s my two cents….
posted by Tandem Affinity at 10:54 PM on September 16 [3 favorites]

It sounds like you know this on one level but you gotta BELIEVE with every fiber of your being: this is not a you problem, this is a management problem. Do not take on guilt that belongs to someone else.

When I had this problem (though in a less important and fraught industry than yours,) I did something completely anathema to me: not only did I not care if people complained up the chain, I encouraged people to complain about me and my team to management. Also anathema: if management then asked me why everyone was complaining my dept was so slow, instead of getting contrite and terrified and overly apologetic and defensive and offering solutions, I would say: yeah we are so behind and we’re dropping balls left and right. We have too much work and can’t get to x,y,z at our current staffing levels. Are you going to help us? If not the complaints will continue I’m afraid.
posted by kapers at 11:04 PM on September 16 [19 favorites]

I believe the in vogue term is Quiet Quitting. Do what’s in front of you, don’t extend yourself and take ALL your scheduled breaks. I am a patient and I have had my share of frustration dealing with medical administration, and I want to tell you that 100% of the time I have been entirely clear and understanding of the fact that it was not at all the fault of the person helping me. I am supportive of you taking care of yourself, even at the expense of things taking longer for me, because you are a human being who deserves to be cared for by yourself and others! Also, that’s likely the only way anything is going to change. Some people will be cranky and mean, but I don’t have to tell you this but I’ll remind you *some people are going to be cranky and mean no matter how hard you work for them.* Probably the proportion of cranky mean people won’t even change that much.

You have 1/3 the work force and that means 1/3 of the work will get done. That sucks huge donkey balls when you are talking about medical situations but tired and stressed people make medical care MISTAKES and that’s even more dangerous than things being slow. IRL no joke, I would rather wait on hold for three hours than have someone rushing through charts or billing or whatever. I can say this with confidence because I spend hours and hours every week on hold with medical offices. Because I have fire the practices where I didn’t wait on hold but there were constant scheduling, medication and documentation mistakes.

So slow down, and know that it’s ok for you to do YOUR job and not take on someone else’s. They can hire a temp from an appropriate staffing agency (they exist!) if they need to.
posted by Bottlecap at 12:03 AM on September 17 [7 favorites]

Continue taking full credit.

This. If there's a growing backlog of tall buildings being leaped at a single bound it's not because you've somehow started to suck at being Superman, it's because management has been dismantling the scaffolding and cheaping out on bungee cords.
posted by flabdablet at 1:54 AM on September 17 [3 favorites]

Like kapers said. It is best to assume that the decisionmakers in Upper Management either don’t know what’s really going on, or do not really care about it, because if they knew what was going on or really cared, they wouldn’t be in Upper Management. There is ZERO way they will ever come to have the awareness needed to make the necessary changes, until they materially experience Shit Falling Apart. The longer you continue to go above and beyond and bear the emotional, mental, and physical damage of that, them the longer they will continue to be kept from making necessary changes. It is neither your fault nor is it fair or just that some people/clients/patients may suffer as a result of this. There is someone somewhere at the top who is drawing a large salary to not have to deal with this. That person will have to come to feel some discomfort before anything at your level will ever hope to change. It is not your responsibility to make them aware, but you do have the opportunity to not let the information flow be impeded. I think the approaches and posture described by kapers are spot-on. You may take that opportunity and if you do, it is both sufficient and necessary that you do so in service to yourself and your own health.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 8:34 AM on September 17 [4 favorites]


I also (selfishly) know that if I keep burning the candle at both ends I won't have the energy to keep grinding away at job applications and to have time with friends and family.

There is nothing selfish about that. What you write is a sober, objective, mature and —unfortunately — rather uncommon assessment. This is the kind of thinking that will serve you best. Seeing, ahead of time, how things could affect you, is a fundamental part of being able to cope with this healthfully, instead of it grinding you down to a point where you can not only help yourself but your patients as well.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 8:47 AM on September 17 [1 favorite]

I'm in a not dissimilar situation and Nedra Tawwab's Set Boundaries, Find Peace is proving tremendously helpful. It sounds like you're already starting to set some boundaries (wooh!); the book might help you let go of some of the guilt around that. From Chapter 1:

"Remember the signs you need boundaries:
- You feel overwhelmed.
- You feel resentful toward people for asking for your help.
- You avoid phone calls and interactions with people who might ask for something.
- You make comments about helping people and getting nothing in return.
- You feel burned out.
- You frequently daydream about dropping everything and disappearing.
- You have no time for yourself."
posted by happyfrog at 8:33 PM on September 17 [1 favorite]

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