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Crisis As Workplace Culture

Crisis mode happens for a variety of reasons. First, there are social service agencies that work with people in crisis and it becomes part of the workplace culture. Also, staff exposed indirectly to trauma through hearing about the difficult experiences of the people they serve or “secondary trauma” can lead to burnout or “compassion fatigue.”

People who work in this environment often feel they can’t take time off or practice self-care because if they do their client will suffer. But, in this type of work, it is critical to incorporate self-care in order to sustain oneself and to serve clients better.

One technique is to weave self-care into your workday. Rather than having self-care be something “outside” of work, it can be integrated naturally into the course of the workday. Self-care is highly customized to the person, but the trick is to think of it more broadly than physical health and incorporate micro-moments of self-care or #boringselfcare. Maybe it's going outside for a ten-minute walk or closing your eyes for a few minutes to meditate.

It is also important to become hyper self-aware of when you are not practicing self-care. Identify your PCI: Personal Chaos Index or when your work is out of balance and you’re not taking the time to smell the roses.

In the workplace, especially where staff may be subject to secondary trauma, it is important to create some physical space that is quiet and calm, like a meditation or quiet room. Or have coloring books or other fun stuff in the break room.

Crisis mode also happens when there is a lack of planning and prioritizing and everything is important! As projects get more complex or your organization is trying to accomplish more with fewer resources, it gets harder to accomplish without more intentional planning.

Look ahead rituals can build space into your schedule. Having a staff retreat on an annual basis to map out large projects is also a good idea and anticipating monthly or quarterly key deadlines can minimize stress.  There is even a “look ahead” template for Excel that makes this type of planning easier to do.

Look ahead rituals can even be as simple as encouraging staff to take 20-30 minutes on Mondays to look at their week and different deadlines. Also, it is important to have ongoing communication when priorities shift and be able to ask and answer the question, “What is the most important deliverable on this list of ten things that we need to do today?”

There is also “Fire Drill Leadership” as defined in this article as a shrill voice or tone that makes everything an emergency when it isn’t.

The article describes the reasons why operating like this all the time is not a good idea:

1. An actual emergency is not given proper urgency
2. Leader loses credibility
3. Organization loses focus
4. Culture becomes one of detachment and disengagement
5. Roles become murky

It also creates stress and burnout. So, the big question, how do you prevent this or turn it around?

Fires are urgent but unimportant activities that are not a part of your organization’s plan but require a resource investment. It is your reaction to the fire that needs to change. When a fire pops up, the reaction is a flurry of unplanned activity that usurps everyone’s attention and time. That reaction needs to be replaced with a phrase like, “Let’s think this through.”

The phrase reminds people not to just react to the fire, but to consider it relative to other planned initiatives currently being worked on.  Do really needs to attend to this? Does this fall within our responsibilities?  Is solving this fire now mission critical?  Who can handle this more efficiently? How did this fire start in the first place? How can we prevent it?

You can control the fire by addressing it once and analyze why it is happening or determine and eliminate the root cause through problem-solving. One approach is to harness your inner change maker and lead a session with your staff on analyzing the problem. Here’s a process that you can use at a staff meeting.

Or if you are a manager and need to manage an employee who thinks everything is urgent, here are some tips.

How does your organization avoid crisis mode and fire drills?

Author: Beth Kanter

Source: BethKanter.org