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INSIGHT

Stress should be recognized and dealt with quickly

By Steve M. Cohen  bio

Workplace stress is a topic that is often covered, including by this blog. It’s also a topic that managers continue to find challenging—and a problem for their teams and office performance.

With new regulations almost weekly, late payments, and backed up waiting rooms, it’s not always easy to maintain a positive environment. Unfortunately, as medical office managers know firsthand, long-term stress can impact your performance and your life.

One positive is that people are becoming more aware of stress and its negative impact. It wasn’t long ago that stress was considered an issue only of concern to employees. If they felt it, they had to deal with it. Have you tried exercise? Meditation? Medication?

The tide turned when a number of studies showed that staff effectiveness and efficiency were seriously impacted by chronic workplace stress. The key is the word “chronic.” Human beings are amazingly resilient, but if they feel trapped in a lose-lose situation for too long, if there doesn’t appear to be a light at the end of the tunnel, most of us will go into a shell. The result is an employee who is going through the motions and not performing up to their potential.

Good managers are increasingly aware of these issues and, even better, have learned to be on the alert for the conditions that can lead to stress. In other words, they don’t wait to act until after staff members start suffering from stress. The keep an eye out for problems that can lead to stress before it causes problems.

One surprise involves workplace conflict. Some of the most serious stress may not result from deadlines or demand pressures, but from inter-office clashes. And remember, stress may not impact just two staff members who are constantly bickering, or the immediate victim of a workplace bully. Stress can also lead to an environment that affects others, even someone down the hall.

As with many issues, the solution is to address stress quickly. It probably won’t be your most pleasant management duty, but it is critical to team productivity.

Other factors behind stress are more traditional: Are expectations and responsibilities clear for individual team members? Are goals and deadlines realistic and achievable? Even rats in a maze will give up if it becomes obvious they simply can’t win.

I’ve written about policies and job descriptions, and here’s where keeping them updated is important. If a staff member has a number of duties formally outlined, then new office requirements are added to those responsibilities, it’s easy for that individual to become overloaded or be required to perform tasks for which they are not equipped or authorized. There are a number of variations to this dilemma, but if it’s been a while since you took a hard look at such issues, you may be building unnecessary stress into your office.

Medical offices can experience periods of pressure that bring stress. A proven strategy is to deal with high-pressure time frames by following them with a period where things are relaxed a bit. That’s obviously difficult in the on-demand world of medical offices, so a second strategy may come into play: Consider creating peak shifts where certain staff members are on call for set periods. It’s likely that some staff members want or need some extra time, and if you can identify enough of these on-call staffers to cover a period of high workload, that may help your office in several ways.

Finally, remember that stress is often worst at the top of an organization. Be alert to accumulated stress among the office management, including yourself. It’s important for your performance and as a way to avoid “contaminating” the office environment. “Mental health days” are a perk that’s often joked about, but they can provide real dividends for everyone in your office.


Steve M. Cohen, Ed.D., CMC is President/Partner of Labor Management Advisory Group, Inc. and HR Solutions: On-Call, both based in Kansas City, MO. For more information, visit www.laborgroup.com or call (913) 927-0229.


The above information is shared by a guest contributor and does not necessarily reflect the views of Medical Office Manager.


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