Show where employees are struggling under unnecessary pressure of work so they can reduce it for themselves
A foster care organization in the western part of the country had its financial and other affairs in order. But its employees were struggling under the pressure of work. So, its management asked us to find out, in four teams, what was behind the undue pressure and to provide advice on how they could reduce it.
The aim of our scan was to ensure that the foster care organization knew what was causing the problem so it could take independent action. This meant that foster care teams needed to be informed about the outcome of the scan so they could take specific steps with an action plan for those areas where they themselves could have an impact.
The definition of ‘pressure’ is relative. So we started with a working model. The principle is that the way the pressure of work is experienced is down to a combination of three factors: the workload (the objective, quantitative requirements), the degree of organization (such as working processes and staff rotas), and how much people can take (physical and mental condition).
We wanted to understand why people were struggling under the pressure of work. So we developed a survey and sent it to the members of the foster care teams. The outcome was used to discuss matters further with a number of foster care team members. We also spent a day shadowing a member of each team on the job. We looked at aspects such as job planning, commuting time, record-keeping, and how much time activities take if they are planned and carried out without any interruption.
With the control department, we made a survey of the time spent on customer contact in the previous months. We also – on the basis of diaries, logs and consultations – made a list of the tasks and average time spent by an employee.
More than eight in ten employees struggle under the pressure of work. That’s where our analysis begins. One of the main causes is that employees have to spend a lot of time on case files and reporting. There are three reasons for that. First of all, most employees are not computer literate, so it takes them a relatively long time to work with the systems. Moreover, they are not exactly sure what a proper case file should contain, which means they spend a lot of time ‘just trying their best to do a good job’. Finally, employees experience their record-keeping as extra work because they don’t see it as part of their actual job.
People in this organization do not work enough on the basis of facts. Managers try to divide the case load evenly, but they lack the necessary data to get it right. Nor do they consider the estimated and actual work performed at customer level. By the same token, employees are not sure whether they will meet their targets throughout the year. So they just ‘wing it’. They often wait too long before trying to coordinate their work with others, which means the work does not get evenly divided. Nor do they schedule any specific time for their administrative tasks. And considering that employees often have to deal with unforeseen situations, such as a crisis, planning becomes one big mess. The result: a vicious circle. This is exacerbated by their work with local authorities, because each town and city has its own requirements.
The teams need – within the current bounds – to organize things more on their own. To make annual plans including time for record-keeping, to monitor deadlines and revise where necessary, and to objectify their case load. Then they need to have a look at their personal development. That goes from accepting that record-keeping is part of the job to keeping everything within bounds.
Many problems experienced by employees are down to a lack of clarity. This is why the organization must provide clear chain-wide working procedures so it is clear who is responsible for what and when. Get local authorities and the child and family centre involved. The organization must clearly communicate changes and help employees to do what they need to do. Such as improving basic computer and system skills and by organizing a help desk for legal, tax, and other non-technical issues.
We presented the outcome of our review and recommendations to the employees and the management. Our recommendations are realistic, and the teams are enthusiastic about them – especially since the new way of working gives them more time for what really matters: youth and their foster parents. And that makes the job more enjoyable. Which is why the teams implemented the recommendations with so much enthusiasm.