Friday, May 18, 2012

How leaders can set the stage for a more productive workplace

Today's post is a "reprint." with permission, of an article I wrote last month for the Spring 2012 WESH Spotlights newsletter, titled  "Early career faculty time management challenges: The role of the leader."  
WESH,  Women Executives in Science & Healthcare, is the new name of the organization formerly known as SELAM.  Please check out this great organization, and the benefits of joining, here. 

My motivation for this topic has emerged from conversations with junior faculty and trainees in academic medicine, and professionals in a variety of other industries.  I have learned that while each of us as individuals can make changes that will improve our own productivity, some impediments to effective working can only be changed by the leadership.  
Although the article focuses on early career faculty in an academic health center, I believe the problems, and possible solutions,  apply to all work places.

There are no doubt many other ways that leaders could help -- I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas on this issue.

Here we go...

"Early career faculty time management challenges: The role of the leader."  

" is mainly through the control of time that academic power is exercised." - Pierre Bourdieu
As a leader in an academic unit (director of a research group or training grant, division chief, department chair, or dean) you have a responsibility to help your faculty succeed. You know the basics: mentoring for research, teaching, and general career development, support for grant and manuscript preparation, and provision of "start-up" (laboratories and other resources) so that research gets off to a good start. Hopefully your institution and/or professional society offers programs to which you can send your early career faculty to enhance skill building in these areas, as well as the "softer" skills of people management, negotiation, and so on.
You may not think that you have a role in helping your faculty use their time more effectively.

You should think again.
In my conversations with faculty members around the country, "too much to do" is a major source of stress. Although life in academic medicine has always been busy, the pressures these days are particularly intense. You know the effect that, for example, current dwindling of funding and constricted hospital budgets have on everyone. Based on a survey of early career academic medical center faculty, Bellini and colleagues(1) reported 21 workplace "stresses" identified by the group. Forty percent were time-related issues. Nearly 80% of the group felt stressed by both lack of work-life balance and "too many time pressures," and nearly 70% were already concerned about burnout.
Some of the specific issues will sound familiar:
● too much paperwork,
● not enough time for research and other academic pursuits and
● lack of control over how time was spent.
I believe that senior colleagues, and especially leaders, have a responsibility to attend to these issues. Faculty members who have a clear idea of what they should do, and effective processes for getting that work done will be more likely to succeed, and this success contributes to the success of the unit and institution.

When I began work on this article, my idea was to offer the typical sort of "self-help" advice along the lines of "Seven easy steps an academic leader can take to ensure good faculty time management among..." -- but I soon realized that the issues are too complex for facile solutions.

Here is a nutshell message: simply telling someone to be more efficient does not work.

Now for the long version: click here to read the entire article.