In the aged care and disability industry we know that work can be stressful.

We deal with a variety of people who require our attention and support, as well as having to complete tasks within a tight timeframe.

As team leaders or coordination staff, we have deadlines and industry program requirements to meet as well as those mundane everyday things, such as making sure orders for food or materials are placed in time, client files are updated regularly, reports are forwarded, and attendance at meetings or training occurs along with supervision of direct care staff.

Business woman stretching and relaxing at her desk.

Management staff have other demands that need to be attended to. Planning and management meetings, program reports, applications for funding rounds to write, budgets to manage, quotes to obtain, staff to employ and manage, legislative requirements that need to be monitored and met – just to name a few.

Really – is it any wonder that most people look forward to Friday, when they can take off their manager or supervisor cap and enjoy some well deserved rest?

But do you rest?

I know of many senior staff who work many hours in excess of their paid position, and while this may be necessary at specific times, such as when preparing for an audit or completing a time-limited application, you shouldn’t be working at this pace all the time.

Now I know there will be some people who will say “you don’t understand, I just have so much on my plate that I can’t get the work done and if I don’t do it on the weekend, it just won’t get done.”

Believe me, I know what it’s like to be a manager or coordinator where everything seems to be landing on your plate. But when I held these positions, I was also a mum to three pre-teen kids. I didn’t have the luxury of saying “I’ll get it done on the weekend” – that was the time I needed to spend with my family.

I had to prioritise, I had to learn to delegate, I had to learn to accept the major industry reforms or organisational changes that I couldn’t do anything about, and I had to learn not to become frustrated over relatively minor things. Ultimately, I learned to not sweat the small stuff. I embraced that old Serenity Prayer you’ve probably heard before:
‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.’ – Reinhold Niebuhr.

I didn’t always get things right, but I actually think that having a family that needed my attention when we were living ‘out bush' helped to make me more efficient and effective in my role. Here are some of the things that I learned that helped keep me balanced and prevented me from becoming overwhelmed by the job. Perhaps they might also be helpful to you in your role and in managing your own health and wellbeing.

Not getting frustrated over minor things, such as staff asking the same question everyday.

As a coordinator at one of the first centres I worked at I had to supervise the kitchen staff (sometimes I was the kitchen staff when staff didn’t turn up for work). Every day we prepared and cooked meals for up to 30-40 people, breakfast and lunch. Every day we would use 2 bags of carrots, 2 bags of potatoes and 4 packets of bread. Every day one of the kitchen staff members would ask me how many bags of carrots and potatoes I wanted peeled and how many loaves of bread I wanted buttered. Rather than get annoyed at this, the answer was the same every day. I simply gave her the answer needed.

Be mindful of what your staff need from you, prompt them where required and just accept that it is part of your job as a supervisor, don’t sweat it.

Let people have fun.

Just because someone is laughing or listening to music doesn’t mean they aren't getting the job done. The best sound you can hear in an aged care centre is the sound of staff and clients laughing together over a shared joke or singing. Yes, I understand that some people prefer to have a quiet work environment – I’m one of them – but I learned to put that aside and enjoy the interaction with others and be in the moment.

I also found that I was sometimes the reason for the laughter when I misinterpreted something; working cross-culturally will do that! Rather than get offended, I would allow staff to enjoy the moment of educating me and having a laugh. There was no malice intended and it brought us closer together and opened up more communication between us.

Fill your centres with laughter and make them places that staff want to come to. Don’t take offence at what people are saying; usually people aren’t trying to make your life miserable or deliberately annoy you, they’re just being themselves. Don’t take yourself too seriously!

Don’t be too controlling – it doesn’t have to be done your way necessarily.

I’m not OCD or anything. I don’t care if the carrots are chopped into rounds, diced or julienned, I don’t mind if you steam or boil the beans and I really don’t mind if you poach or fry the eggs, but I am guilty of sometimes wanting things done my way and I have had to learn (and am still learning!) to let go and let others take the reins and run with their own ideas.

I have found that letting go reduces stress. Yes, the documents or the project may not be exactly as I envisioned, but then again, most of the time it doesn’t really affect the outcome and sometimes it’s a way better outcome than I imagined.

Sometimes it is important for certain procedures to be followed; this might be to ensure legislative or program requirements are met, but if someone comes up with a shortcut or suggests what might be a better way to do something, embrace it. Remember, at the end of the day, we just want to get the job done and get an outcome that works well for all concerned.

Carve out dedicated time to concentrate on the paperwork.

I know that these days the open door or open office policy is popular, but sometimes you just need to close that door, turn off the mobile phone and give yourself permission to turn people away when they come knocking and asking you for something minor.

I remember a good friend who worked in a remote aged care service who would set up a morning meeting with her local staff to discuss priorities and then let them know what she would be concentrating on that day. She would let them know when she would not be available to staff or clients, except in an emergency. Staff respected her time because she gave them her full attention when required, plus she instilled in them an expectation that they were able to handle everything that came their way. This way, she was able to get through a large volume of paperwork that would daunt most others.

If you can’t attend to the paperwork during the day then ensure you have processes in place to capture information during service delivery time and develop a routine of putting aside an hour or two in the afternoon to get through essential paperwork once things have become a little quieter.

Control phone conversations and face to face meetings.

Similar to the above point, take control of the potential time wasters that are phone calls and meetings. Another tactic I learned from a colleague many years ago was to control the conversation. I would have a meeting with this lady and once she felt we had reached the end of the conversation and the meeting needed to wrap up she would stand up (which encouraged me to stand also) and say, “thanks for that, I’ll get back to you if I need any more information” or something along those lines. The meeting concluded and we all got back to whatever we needed to do.

Phone conversations can be a trap especially when the other person tends to ramble or go off-point. It helps here to either have an agenda or call the person back when you have the time to spend with them.

Consider whether you need to have a meeting, a phone conversation or can send an email. There are times for one or the other to move things along; sometimes a quick email can get the job done, at other times a conversation is more appropriate and avoids misinterpretation.

Accept what you can’t change.

I noted above that I had to learn to accept that some things I couldn’t change, I just had to go with the flow and do what needed to be done.

Sometimes we have deadlines that can’t be changed. I might think that getting the Coordinator report off to my Manager by the end of the first week of the month is unimportant compared to the myriad of other tasks that need to be completed. My Manager thinks it is important because the statistics in that report have to go into funding body reports that are due the following week or a report that has to go to the Board of Directors.

I couldn’t change when a quality review or spot check was called, I couldn’t change cultural events such as funerals that meant all staff were off-line, I couldn’t change funding report dates, I couldn’t change the way the report was constructed to make it fit my service environment better, I couldn’t change some of the suppliers I had to use because there was no one else. These were all things outside of my control so rather than waste energy complaining about it, I went with the flow. While some battles are worth fighting, if it’s not life or death and won't impact on your reputation or cost you a great deal of money, then you need to ask yourself “is it really worth the effort?”

There may be opportunities for reviewing and changing processes within your organisation. This is an important part of Continuous Quality Improvement after all, but if you have areas in your job role that are outside of your direct control that you cannot influence or change, then do yourself a favour and just do whatever needs to be done and move on.

Note: if it’s part of a broader issue like workplace culture, then look for the right avenue to refer the issue to or seek help with. Don’t take on a task that you haven’t got capacity or scope to do on your own – look for options and allies.

Follow up with people once you’ve given them a task.

Influence change the smart way. There is nothing more frustrating in the workplace than working with the ‘yes’ person. You know the sort – the person who promises to do something then doesn’t deliver. Frustrating, especially if you are working to a deadline. However, I have often found that this scenario plays out because I haven’t made the instructions clear or I haven’t provided a deadline, or perhaps haven't explained the reason for the deadline.

Do yourself a favour: expect that people will have competing priorities with your task, that they will have questions, that they are unable to visualise exactly what you want them to do, and plan for it. I have found that a regular check in with the person or team is a lot more helpful in moving things forward and saves me a lot of stress in the long run.

If you are working with others and have strict timeframes to adhere to or even just wanting to get things done effectively, then consider checking in with them on that task regularly to see if they are on track or if you need to provide additional support or information to them. Just accept that this is a part of project and staff management.

Don’t stick your nose into someone else’s business.

Sometimes we get involved in issues that are none of our business, but when we do this can end up making more work for us and possibly more angst. Sometimes people (work colleagues or clients) just want to vent. They are talking about an issue that is affecting them at that moment and are not really seeking our input, but we jump in with suggestions or ideas on how to address the issue, then spend time convincing them of how this will address the issue. Do yourself a favour, just nod and move along.

Really, this is where the ‘wisdom’ part of the Serenity Prayer comes into play. Those of us who are working cross-culturally also need to monitor how we interact with community politics. In a remote Aboriginal community there are cultural dynamics and nuances that we, coming from outside the community, do not understand. When we step in and provide unsolicited advice or get pulled into an issue, we can find ourselves spending inordinate amounts of time doing something that we have not been employed to do.

Next time you go to provide some advice or a suggestion, ask yourself “is this person asking for my advice” and “is it my place to get involved here”?

Plan your day – but expect that things will change

I write lists of what I need to do each day. I have tried using goals books and online tools, but very rarely does my day match my ‘To Do’ list. Did I mention that I’m also really good at procrastination? Which is why I usually write these blog posts the day before they’re due to go out! 😉  There’s a whole other blog on this topic and I might delegate that one to Donna as a way of sharing the load!

While it would be nice to get through my list of tasks, I’m a realist and understand that ‘stuff happens’. Rather than get annoyed that I haven’t achieved everything that I set out to do, I make sure that I get the really important stuff done first. Once that is out the way, I then have the headspace to get other things done.

In amongst all that ‘must do’ stuff, I also make sure that I take time for myself so that I don’t get overly tired or mentally exhausted. I remember a good friend coming around and picking me up for lunch on a regular basis. She would tell me off for staying at my desk and simply drinking a liquid lunch of iced coffee. I might have had a desk full of paperwork but spending an hour with my colleague talking about birds we’d spotted over the weekend or planning camping trips helped keep me balanced and able to view my work as just that: work – a part of my life but not all of it.

Coffee at a coffee shop with a friend.

Remember to keep things in perspective, take time for yourself. Plan out your day but don’t stress out when things don’t pan out the way you thought they would. Just make sure that the important things get done and don’t sweat the rest.

So take time for yourself, time to breathe and enjoy your life. If you find yourself becoming stressed, annoyed, irritated or feeling overwhelmed, ask yourself if this is something worth all that mental angst or are you ‘sweating the small stuff’? If it’s the latter, do yourself a favour and let it drop. Life’s too short to live in the small stuff.

If you enjoyed this post, consider subscribing to receive easy to read posts delivered direct to your inbox each Friday (except when I procrastinate too long – oops). If you are like me and have a very full inbox you can opt to receive a newsletter just once a month which includes a roundup on the posts published over the past month.

And if part of your stress comes from not having the right resources to meet compliance for your organisation then we might have the answer for you. If you are looking for cost effective, culturally appropriate resources for your organisation, check out our Total Quality Package resource hub. We have toolbox talks specifically written for the aged care and disability industry, care planning and support guides, policy and procedure templates, and eBooks that are great for maintaining compliance and for training staff. All these will reduce some of the stress for you and won’t hurt your bank balance either!

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