In Case Of Emergency – Avoiding Admin Burnout
Guest Author: Nancy Baker
Our Role As Administrators
An administrator’s focus often faces outward. The job description demands it. It is our responsibility to shepherd the practice which not only includes supporting the providers so that their focus remains on patient care, but also guiding, inspiring, and managing the staff, overseeing the revenue cycle, contracting, information technology, public relations, and sometimes the janitorial service, the building and even the parking lot. We ensure that our practices are in compliance and do not run afoul of any government agency. We are Mother Confessor, the warm shoulder, the taskmaster, the negotiator, the finder of all solutions, and the ship’s captain. Anyone other than an administrator would say this is hyperbole. Administrators would say that I left a few things out.
This job can be exhausting and is only getting more and more complicated. There is a constant influx of information, reductions in fee schedules but increases in overhead expenses, changes in billing and coding, medical technology advancements, labor laws, and government compliance. Then add a pandemic.
The last 12-months have been a long slog of stress, isolation, and struggle that drained us of our reserves. Everyone is burnt out and tired and for the first time in our lives, that is not an overstatement. Money is tight, going away for vacation has not been an option, we can’t eat lunch together, and there is an undercurrent of fear and resentment. Staff morale is low and a real threat to the success of our practices. How do we boost morale when our usual tricks and tools are not available? I believe that it starts with adjusting our focus from outward to inward.
Administrators come in many different flavors. Some are finance experts, others excel in human relations or come with strong clinical skills, but one thing all administrators have is drive. This dedication can be a blessing and a curse as we tend to work until the job is finished, not because the clock strikes 5:00 pm. When tasked with multiple conflicting priorities, administrators work harder and smarter and, unfortunately, forget to turn off.
Prioritizing As An Administrator
Before takeoff, the flight attendant instructs passengers on the plane traveling with small children that in the event of a loss of cabin pressure, they are to put their oxygen mask on themselves before putting one on the child. It must be spelled out because a parent’s instinct is to look after their child first. As contrary as it seems, the parent must first help themselves so that they are capable of helping someone else.
But how do we help ourselves when we are buried under a mound of urgent priorities?
Draw a hard line in the sand.
It is important to have a point in your day when you say, “Basta!” (Italian for “Enough!”) even if a project or report is not yet finished. We do not need to tick something off our task list even if we expected to have it finished by the end of the business day. As satisfying as it may be, sometimes it is better to put it down and finish up in the morning.
There is a lot to be said for tackling a complex project with a fresh set of eyes. Our brains need time to process information in the background. How many times have we worked on a complicated report that just will not balance only to come back in the morning to see the answer right away? Walking away can be the best plan of attack but is an underutilized tool in our toolbox.
A hard stop can feel more like an aspirational goal than a realistic option. One trick is to create the stops into one’s schedule. Pre-pandemic, we could make plans to meet friends for dinner or go to the movies. We built stopgaps into our day that forced us out of the office. Now that we have fewer options, working even more than before the pandemic somehow became the new norm. Studies have shown that people who work from home work longer hours than people who commute to offices. It is easy to keep going when the work is sitting on the kitchen table. Making an appointment and sticking to it helps. Schedule a happy hour Zoom call with friends or commit to a long walk, get some fresh air, and give yourself time to shed the demands of your day.
Unplug or else.
Technology has made it very difficult for us to unplug. We are reachable 24/7, which has created this underlying belief that if we are reachable, we should be available. How many times has your phone rung at 7:00 am on a Sunday or 10:00 pm after a 10-hour day? The conversation usually starts with, “I hope I’m not reaching you at a bad time,” or “Are you busy? Do you have a minute to go over X, Y, Z that can’t wait until a more reasonable hour?” Humans have become creatures of narcissistic impulse. If it pops into our head, we must act on it immediately and it should be equally important to everyone. The solution is to give yourself permission to not answer the phone or read your email after a certain time. Let the call go to voicemail and practice not responding until the morning unless it truly cannot wait. Not everything is an emergency, and you are not a flakey worker if you put off non-urgent business until normal business hours.
Attitude of Gratitude
Last, find one thing to be grateful for every morning when you wake up and every night when you go to sleep. This small exercise is a powerful tool to adjust one’s mood. It is human nature to hold on to the negative as a protection strategy. It seems to be hardwired into our DNA, but it is not always a helpful trait. Reminding oneself of the good things, the lucky things, can ward off or at least slow the flood of negativity that exhaustion and burnout bring.
It could be something as easy as a brief, positive interaction with a patient or as impactful as making it through the day without killing anyone. It could simply be getting up in the morning, standing on your own feet, and getting dressed by yourself. What is minor to one is major to another and remembering that is where gratitude is found.
The administrator’s job is tough. It is never-ending and it is sometimes thankless. But successful administrators do not give up. They push ahead searching for answers and resources to get around the next corner. What we do is not splashy or obvious, but it is important. It is rewarding. People are counting on us, and that is what we love about this job. We only need to remember that it is right and correct to put our oxygen mask on first.