Your workload: how much is too much?

How do you know when accepting more work would be unsafe for you and the families you work with? Unite’s head of health Sarah Carpenter takes a look.

Many queries that Unite-CPHVA reps and officers receive concern workloads – community practitioners are clearly being asked to do more and more as budgets shrink, staffing levels are cut and need increases. So, what should you do when faced with infinite demands in finite hours? 

An acceptable workload

National guidelines, such as safe staffing legislation in Wales, should be considered. However, the absence of guidelines does not mean that staff have to accept unsafe workloads. Ask yourself:

  • Am I leaving work undone?
  • Do I have less free time, and is the free time that I have spent thinking about work?
  • Am I getting irritable and upset more easily?
  • Am I thinking of going sick or quitting? 

These are all signs that you have reached your limit: call a halt to additional workload and speak with your team leader/manager.

Manage your own feelings

Often, we do not want to say ‘no’ out of a feeling of guilt – of letting ourselves or others down. But what’s to feel guilty about, stating our capacity for work is not unlimited? Saying ‘no’ is not easy for many of us but, as professionals, not only is it our right to say ‘no’, it is our duty. 

Be assertive

Being truly assertive requires not only that you state your position calmly and rationally, but also that you are willing to listen to others state their position. Work with your manager to reach a consensus: a position to which you can both at least partially agree.

Prepare in advance

Take time to gather facts that will support your argument for no more cases. Think through the various responses you could get from your manager and work out a response to each. Be able to show where your time is going, the cases you have and the work that needs doing. Ask him or her to discuss with you what can be dropped – and hold your ground. Avoid being drawn into an argument; emphasise that your motivation is for the good of the team, and eventually for good case resolution or management.

How much is too much?

Here are some areas to consider if you don’t have guidelines or a policy on workloads in place:

  • Complexity: does your work involve collaborating with a number of other professionals? For example, are you responsible for drawing together professional networks, such as in child protection case conferences, or helping a family to make decisions about the care of vulnerable or frail family members?  
  • Risk: this considers the professional judgement required of you. Are decisions to be made based on risk assessment? Is the picture a fast-changing one? Is the work at a stage where professional anxiety is heightened because of lack of information?
  • Level of experience: do you and other members of the team have the necessary experience to provide the required aspects of care?
  • Individuals or families: what is the actual number of people/families that you have responsibility for providing a service to?
  • Travel: do you have to travel long distances to undertake your work? 
  • Records: is time to complete records and documentation built into your contact time?

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