How To Handle Too Much Work And Stress From Boss?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about pressure to perform more:

I am a registered polysomnographer in a small hospital, managing a sleep lab. We are under the umbrella of a larger department, and share the same manager (who has had a glancing exposure to sleep labs). Our lab workload has increased 33%, my hours decreased to save money, and I am under constant pressure to perform more in less time. While our director has acknowledged that I need an assistant, and had directed my manager to either assist me or send help, she did nothing for months. Suddenly she has gone from ignoring our department to micromanaging every detail and berates me constantly about my productivity and job roles. She has also placed the burden of getting our lab accredited squarely on my shoulders (and head, I suspect), under a very unrealistic deadline, stated that I was “making excuses” when I attempted to ourline the work ahead and how it would be very difficult to accomplish the task at hand under those time constraints, a task that is traditionally performed by the manager of the lab (whom she made VERY clear was not me).

She loses her temper very easily and frequently with the staff, speaks disparagingly to other technicians about their coworkers, and has caused several good employees to seek jobs elsewhere because of her managerial style. She has made promises of better positons to employees to stave off their resignations, then later willfully ignored those “promises”. One of my coworkers with whom I’ve worked for the past 15 years (and a very good employee) is now seriously contemplating quitting because of her. Taking this to our director is out of the question at this time. She herself has only been on the job less than 6 months and gets along very well with our manager, (who can be very charismatic) and has come to depend upon the manager as a resource person. Our HR department is somewhat uneven, having in the past found grounds for dismissal for a few coworkers that have come forward to express their concerns.

I myself have found that I sleep poorly, have difficulty concentrating when at work, have been frequently been reduced to tears at our manager’s verbal onslaughts, and dread the sound of the door that connects our departments. I hate the thought of seeking another job, even though I’m in a “hot job market”. I’ve been employed in this facility 21 years, enjoy the community, and believe in the overall institution. It has become more unbearable by the day. Is there any recourse that we can take to remedy this situation? Your kind attention to my questions is very much appreciated. Thank you.

Signed, Stressed And Worn Out

Dear Stressed And Worn Out:

This is a long response, but I could tell you are very frustrated and I wanted to try to give you as complete an answer as possible.You seem to have two situations going on, and it may help to separate those somewhat as you try to deal with them. My perspective is from the outside, looking in and wanting to consider your concerns, but knowing those cannot be easily resolved without thinking of the concerns of the organization as well. So, some of my thoughts may not seem as valid or valuable to you as others (or as palatable!).1. First problem: You have what you consider to be an excessive number of work demands and not enough time to get the regular work done, let alone any extra projects, such as accreditation.Second problem: Your manager communicates with subordinates–or at least with many subordinates–in a way that is upsetting, stress-producing and frustrating.Those are two separate issues, even though they may merge now and then. You would likely still have the work demands if your manager was your most favorite person in the world.

The problem of more work and less time to do it in, was not caused by your manager–you can bet most aspects of that was a directive from higher up in the organization. Requiring accreditation was not caused by your manager–she received instructions to do it. The deadline may be hers, but she was given a deadline too. She cannot give someone a different position on her own, no matter how much she promises it will happen. She is a manager, not the head of the organization or the Director.

When someone doesn’t get a better job, it isn’t because she conveniently forgets the promise–she couldn’t promise in the first place. (Unless your organization is a heck of a lot different than most.) It is easy to put all the blame about pressures and stress on the manager, but your manager is managed by a Director, who is managed by another level, who is managed by a Board of Directors or a CEO. There are plenty of pressure-inducing people to go around!I have observed in myself and others, the tendency to resent a manager or supervisor so much that I could not find a way to do the work they asked for. But if someone I had liked had asked me to accomplish the impossible I could have done it.

So, think of how to accomplish your work or reduce the pressure, completely apart from your manager. That will take some effort, but it will pay off.Some things to think about regarding your work: This may not be the case for you, but since sleep labs are becoming such a marketable commodity for medical facilities, it would seem to me that becoming immersed in the accreditation process and getting even more knowledge about it, would make you incredibly marketable yourself–not now perhaps, given your tenure there, but one day as a consultant or in another position.To make this a competitive edge–even over your manager–keep notes about how you do it, the problem you have and so forth.

You mention that your Director views your manager as a resource and therefore likes her and supports her. Becoming a key resource is the primary way to gain influence.You likely have researched the sites regarding accreditation, but I will reemphasize the need to do so. You can find excellent help on the accreditation site as well as through templates from other sources. Often there are accreditation networks that provide support and tips between organizations.

Those things will not eliminate the essential work, but what it will do is give you documentation that you are not making excuses, you are working to complete the project. If for some reason something negative was said about this project, you have documentation of the assistance you requested and the research you did. That could be very beneficial.Your medical facility is undoubtedly accredited in several areas. Create an email network with those people, so you have that documentation as well. Do not solicit support for extending your deadline, because that would be obvious, but you might find others who have worked on accreditation projects who would tell you whether or not your deadline seems doable given the requirements.If your facility has interns (not doctors but other types of intern programs) perhaps they could assist you in some way. Again, even if they can’t you will have documentation that you are trying to get the work done.You mention the pressure about regular work and the fact that you have been berated about productivity and job roles. You say your Director has directed your manager to either assist you or send help.

I wouldn’t think assisting you is the answer, so getting help seems to be. Consider writing a letter to you Manager and copying your Director, or writing a letter to the Manager and asking her to forward it to the Director (or whatever fits in your work culture.)

Logically and clearly point out the work that needs to be done and the impact it could have financially and regarding patient relationships, if any of it suffers. Then, ask once again for assistance. You may have done that, but if you have not put something like that in writing, you need to do so. You should not word it in a threatening way of course, or in any way that implies a client or patient has not received good care, but simply to state the requirements of the work and your limitations.

Look at your time management and see if there is any aspect of it that could be improved. I don’t mean to imply that you are wasting time, but I work with many offices where employees tell me how little time they have. Then, when I observe, I see they take thirty minutes to get going in the morning, spend an hour or two every day chatting or slowly doing this or that takes, and are packed and ready to go ten minutes before closing. What can be done in discretionary or free time is amazing, and when work is done with focus it is also amazing what can be accomplished.You maybe don’t want to live your whole life that way, but while you are under the gun as you are, you may find you will have to simply eliminate some non-work activities that often are not even thought about as using up so much time.Consider approaching some of your work with a timer of sorts, in which you allow yourself ten minutes and you work like crazy for those ten minutes. You know best how to maximize your time, but apparently you will have to do it, unless you can find other assistance, or find ways to reduce the time required for the tasks. Look at some of your work and see if you can find anything that can be done quicker or with fewer steps.Of course, through all of this, client/patient care is the most important issue. Think about the people who are at home right now, planning on their visits to your sleep lab. They are desperate for help and hope the people there will care about them and their problems. That is why it is so important for medical staff of any kind to keep that focus. It is not the patient’s fault that so many things are going on behind the scenes, but often workers are preoccupied or clearly not focused on the client in front of them.You will find that re-dedicating yourself to why you are doing the job, may help you ease some of the peripheral problems.2.

That brings us to the problem of communications with your manager. I don’t intend to portray her as a nice but misunderstood person, but I would like to present some other views that might help you tolerate her–maybe barely, but enough to get you through until a change happens sometime.She apparently uses bad judgment about talking to employees about their coworkers, and does not seem to know how to develop loyalty or support. She does seem to be very much of a leader. But, she is the manager you have and you will need to find a way to work with her rather than against her. That is why seeing her perspective, even if it is skewed, is helpful.You will notice I changed the title of your question from asking about a “manic boss” to reflecting the key issues of work and stress. To use a term like that may be accurate from the viewpoint of reflecting your dislike and distrust of her, but also sticks a label on her that will make it even more difficult for you to communicate well with her. When she is a jerk or a manic boss or a toxic boss or a micromanager or whatever, she is no longer just someone in charge of your work. And that is the bottom line–she is not only in charge of your work, she will be held responsible for it.You mentioned briefly that she made it clear to you that you are not the manager.

That sent off bells in my brain, because that said to me she feels that you are trying to tell her how the place should be run, or trying to usurp her role. She may be wrong, but that is a very common problem when people with expertise are managed by people who have a larger area of responsibility.Often in those situations employees try to exert their knowledge-based authority by telling the manager how things will be done. Not just how they SHOULD be done, but how the employee is going to do them, or why they can’t do what they’ve been asked. Or, they will argue when given an assignment and immediately say why it can’t be done that way or in that time frame. They may be partially right, but often it is just resistance in general. If that has been happening, you can imagine why things are testy!As long as she is the manager she will not give up that role. And, as the manager she can delegate anything she feels is appropriate for your group–especially things like accreditation, which I doubt she has the time for either. Believe me,

I’m not taking away from your frustration and irritation about it, just reminding you of how the heirarchy works, as frustrating and irritating as the results sometimes are!Think about your description of how she has changed lately. “Suddenly she has gone from ignoring our department to micromanaging every detail.” This likely happened about the time your workload increased and your work hours decreased.You say she is the manager of a larger department, so she has other issues besides yours to deal with. Is it possible she herself is under a lot of pressure? She apparently doesn’t handle that pressure very well and I don’t excuse her poor communication. I’m just suggesting that she would probably rather NOT be involved with your sleep lab all that much!Consider her “micromanaging” style. Is she telling you how to do the small details of your work with clients, even though she does not know how to do it well? Is she requiring that she must approve every step of a task you have done correctly for a long time? Those are more indicators of micromanagement than merely close supervision that is questioning about why work is or isn’t being done.I have found that most managers who formerly did not supervise very closely but suddenly start doing so, or those who supervise some people very closely but not others, do it for some key reasons–many of them explainable:

They have been told to do it because there have been problems; work isn’t being done to standard or in keeping with directions; employees have indicated in some way that they will not or cannot do the work; employees are just learning a skill or have never done the task before; employees have shown a lack of confidence about doing it; the task is so important that no mistakes can be made, not even as a learning experience; or, there is a requirement for increased observation and follow-up.If any of those things are present right now, that might explain why she formerly was not so involved but now is. Apparently she has a load of work herself, so there is some reason she has taken on more in your case. Find that out and you may find out how to reduce her level of involvement. I have often found that it is worth it to work like a whirling dervish, in order to make a boss feel like they can leave me alone to do it. And, I have to be honest and say that the time in my work when I was most closely supervised was when I had said I couldn’t do a task the way it needed to be done. I don’t know what I expected would happen–but what I got was closer supervision because my boss was worried that I wouldn’t get it done and he knew he would ultimtately be held responsible.Her style of communicating certainly seems to be causing some problems–but is it so threatening and frightening that you can’t deal with it? I recently wrote an article on my website in which I mentioned that we can work with someone who does bullying things without being bullied.

Many people wrote to tell me they had worked for someone who was mean, rude, etc., but decided the boss would not have the power to make them miserable, so they just waited it out and were glad they did.If her behavior is truly so reprehensible that it violates policies about courtesy, or if it is so extreme as to be completely unbearable, that is one thing. In that case, document it and go to your Director or higher about it. If your performance evaluations have been good and you can show that you are doing good work, it is not likely someone will lie to create a reason to fire you for your complaint. I would suspect those who were fired after complaining, complained after they had been involved in some problematic situations. (I might be very wrong about that. But, I have done hundreds of firing reviews and almost always the complaints about supervisors came AFTER they were in trouble over offenses that could be documented.)Clarify in your own mind, and for the future, exactly what kind of behavior your manager has done.

There is a big difference between talking to you in a frustrated or angry tone vs. yelling and gesturing wildly in a frightening or threatening manner. It may that you will need to produce a list of witnesses and you might all need to band together. But, as you likely know, that is a challenging task and not always successful. I don’t know your style or the work culture there, but you may want to consider, if you are feeling beat down by this person, simply being honest with her and saying something like, “Gail, if I’ve done something to make you think I’m not trying to get my work done, tell me what it is so I can fix it. Right now all I know is I’m doing as much as I can, and I feel like it never will be enough.” Or, “Gail, I’m so stressed over all the pressures anyway, and for you to stand there and point your finger at me and tell me I’m not doing my work right, makes me feel even worse. If you could just talk to me and listen to me, maybe we could find some solutions.”You may want to even be more honest, “I have to tell you, I’ve gotten to where I dread hearing the door open because I get in a knot in my stomach. There has to be a better way to do things than this. If I have done something that has made this change, let me know and let’s talk about that.” No good will come of blaming her style, but perhaps by making it a two way street she will see the need to tone it down. I mentioned at the beginning to keep your clients in mind.

I know that isn’t easy to do, but when you think of how you can change lives through your work, it will perhaps help you put the emphasis on that. Find a way to relax away from work and avoid talking negatively about it. Focus on getting through the coming month, then six months or whatever it takes. And plan for your future–when this manager will just be a memory. Best wishes as you develop a plan of action for dealing with this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what develops.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.