Addressing management issues

Edited by Christopher S. Frings PhD, CSP

Crisis management and personal hygiene in the workplace

Crisis management

How can we minimize crisis
management in our laboratory? We always seem to be doing things on short notice, and everyone is stressed out.

Crisis management is when a
deadline has sneaked up behind you and robbed you of all choice. And crisis management, for the most part, is poor time management. Why? You are under pressure and may be cutting corners. If you find yourself in crisis management frequently, it probably has less to do with your day-to-day responsibilities and more to do with a lack of anticipation, because most of the things that put you into crisis management are things that can be anticipated.

Take a pad of paper and entitle it Crisis Management Log. For the next two weeks when you encounter a crisis, log it in. Put down the date, the time the crisis occurs and a little detail, so that in two weeks you can review the particulars. After two weeks of accumulating this data, go back and re-examine every crisis you encountered and ask yourself, Which of these could have been avoided? We cannot eliminate all crises. Most people discover that about 80% of the crises they suffered could have been anticipated with better planning. After running your Crisis Management Log, start taking corrective steps to reduce the frequency of crisis management events. Start projects sooner, or request needed information earlier rather than waiting until the last minute.

Marti Bailey suggests, The terminology you have chosen gives a good indication that you may be making your own mountains out of molehills. The term crisis management today is used for nightmarish situations, such as when people died from cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules or the lethal gas leak at Union Carbide in India. I believe that what you are really talking about are day-to-day disruptions to your normal flow being asked to collect data for a special report on short notice, finding coverage for on-call, instrument problems, back orders of supplies, a resignation and so forth. I can remember the days when we all had such an orderly existence at work that the types of things I just mentioned really could leave you reeling. Those days are long over. What used to be considered the exception has now become part of the standard workday. An example would be budget information that used to be needed in a month but is now required to be turned around in a week.

The healthcare industry is just a latecomer to the just-in-time business environment. This means that we no longer store three months of supplies to feel safe, and we no longer get weeks or months to solve problems and complete projects. We are expected to do everything on shorter notice and much faster than before. Having ones plans or daily routine disturbed upsets people; however, it is becoming more likely that throughout your workday, your plans will be subject to change. The most valuable employees meet this challenge, moving graciously and effectively to different tasks than those that were originally assigned.

Ms. Bailey adds, The best advice I can give you is to try to enhance your coping skills and learn to be a problem solver at work. In general terms, if you look around at younger people say 30 years and younger there is a big difference in how they function day-to-day compared with people of their parents age. The younger group is less likely to set in stone plans for the day, and is more likely to move with the flow. I do not see this as an indication of less self-discipline, but rather as an achievement of some kind of harmony with todays way of life. I believe these events you consider crises are, because that is the way they affect you. Maybe it would help to choose someone who seems to deal well with day-to-day workplace problems and try to understand what it would take for you to cope as well as that person does.

According to Alton Sturtevant, Crisis management seems to be more the norm than the exception with reductions in healthcare budgets and the resulting staffing shortages in most laboratories these days. Several helpful hints that I use to minimize my stress, and often reduce crisis, include:

  • Control and/or schedule things when you can.
  • React as positively as possible to those things that you cannot control or schedule.
  • Ensure that the most important activities are completed first by prioritizing them in some fashion to help keep you on track:
    Critical (must complete 100%);
    Important (must complete 75% to 80%) and
    Not Necessary (not a show-stopper if not done).

Focus your efforts and those of your team on the Critical and Important activities.

  • Set realistic goals. Take into consideration your resources. Dont overcommit, which creates more stress and leads to fewer successes.
  • Anticipate routine events (e.g., CAP surveys, monthly reports, closing pay periods, and prepare to complete them before they become a crisis).
  • Delegate duties where possible.
  • When the list of required to-dos gets insurmountable, ask your boss for guidance with priorities. Explain that you are having trouble completing the tasks and do not feel that you can meet the deadlines under which you are currently laboring.

Larry Crolla advises, The best way to avoid crisis management is by developing a business plan for the year. Plan out what you want the lab to accomplish at the beginning of the year for example, new assays you want to bring in-house, new instruments that will be ordered during the year and need to be put online (including correlation and training), new types of instruments that will be reviewed for future purchases, continuing education, inspections that have to be passed this year or prepared for in subsequent years and staff competency reviews. This is not a complete list, by any means. If you compile the list, then put dates and assign responsible people to each item, you will not deviate from your tasks, nor will you stack up all the tasks at once. Remember, if you dont know where you are going, any road will take you there.

Bottom line. Keep a Crisis Management Log for several weeks to document crisis issues. Use the listed suggestions from the panelists to decrease the need for crisis management.

hygiene in the workplace

We have a super-efficient, newly hired European medical technologist who has bad body odor. Everyone loves her, and no one wants to tell her, but something has to give. Any advice would be appreciated.

Larry Crolla recommends, Just
tell her. Do it privately. There is no way around it. Tell her that other people have noticed it, and that you are telling her to help her. This is not pleasant, and the person may seem shocked. She may never tell you, but later she will be happy that you told her.

According to Alton Sturtevant, She either has to be told or you are agreeing to accept her as she is, including her hygiene. I feel that a friendly chat would be the best approach. Our laboratory has a fragrance-free policy as a part of the written personnel policies. This seems to be helpful in protecting workers from the equally offensive overuse of colognes and perfumes. We have had to speak to a few people, over the years, who have violated policy. When a new employee comes on board, we make sure that we address this issue in an attempt to avoid embarrassing discussions in the future. This works well in 99+% of the cases. We rarely have to remind an employee of this policy.

Marti Bailey suggests, If everyone loves her, then thats all the more reason for someone to tell her. You could probably farm out this unpleasant duty to a higher authority, such as your lab manager or the employee health nurse, but it would probably be easier for her to take a suggestion from someone she considers to be a friend. Look for someone of the same sex who can present the problem in a sensitive way. Instead of looking at the problem in a negative way, consider the possibility that she might be appreciative of the gesture. It sounds like you all realize that it is a cultural difference, but one that they probably did not mention in those diversity-oriented college courses. The conversation with this employee needs to begin with the important observation that the problem lies in cultural differences. Then, move on to the fact that although there are many cultural differences that are welcome, differences in personal hygiene are not so easy to embrace. If you can make this more a one-on-one discussion and avoid trying to represent the group, I think this would be preferable.

Bottom line. Tell her in one of the professional ways recommended by the panelists! Explain that this change in personal hygiene is necessary and why.

Christopher S. Frings is an internationally known consultant and speaker on the topics of leadership, managing change, time management, reaching goals, and stress management. His consulting firm, Chris Frings & Associates, is in Birmingham, AL.

July 2003: Vol. 35, No. 7

© 2003 Nelson Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved.