Organisations are elastic. People aren’t.

26 June, 2010

I blogged recently about effective and responsible illness management in the workplace and why taking as much leave as you need is better your employer than rushing back to work before you’re well, thus delaying your recovery. In the case of contagious diseases it’s not as simple as your employer losing your productivity for 3 or 7 days but potentially losing productivity across dozens of employees and potentially entire business capabilities for weeks.

Another important and related issue is the false perception many employees have of their importance, value and indispensability to their employer. They survived just fine before you came along and they’ll survive just fine when you inevitably leave. In most occupations no one is going to die if you don’t turn up to work today.

If you have low self-esteem then I suggest you don’t read on because I’m going to make you feel pretty worthless. That’s not my intention, but organisations are generally pretty elastic and could survive without you.

If the entire Australian Public Service was halved tomorrow, the whole thing wouldn’t collapse. Some low-priority functions would be cut, others would be modified to cope with lower resourcing, business processes would be adapted and some things would take longer to do … but I’m confident the job would still get done, like a lame dog learning to balance and walk on just three legs.

People needlessly take upon themselves the risk that the organisation accepted when they recruited them. Often that’s because organisations do a pretty shit job of managing that risk but it’s not your responsibility. What you do need to do is to report changes in operational pressures to your manager and thus the organisation so they can be informed of what’s happening at the front line but you should never feel you need to do the organisation’s job of managing the resourcing of your role or business function or creatively interpretation business procedure in order to get the job done because you’re not being properly supported.

If the documented procedure calls for a maximum case load of 15 clients and because of poorly-managed recruitment, staff retention and resource management you end up with 25 clients then you should not just grit your teeth and accept the increased load. The “invisible hands” of Rasmussen’s risk management framework will push you towards and maybe even over the safety boundary … and who’s culpable when the organisation performs an investigation into why things broke or went wrong or why lives were lost? As Sidney Dekker points out in his book The Field Guide to Understanding Human Error the prevailing approach by even experienced investigators let alone the average manager is to look at the closest person at the pointy end of failure and blame them personally for screwing up.

Taking on responsibility for compensating for an organisation’s failure to shoulder that risk management will only hurt you in the end. The job won’t get done properly and you’ll burn out from high stress and long hours.

Recognise the boundaries of your role and do not give in to implied or explicit pressure from your employer, manager or colleagues.

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