The modern working environment is defined by endless to-do lists, tight deadlines, and the expectation to do more with less. As employees struggle to manage the job responsibilities of 2 or 3 people, exhaustion happens first. Long working hours, with little to no downtime, lead to mental and physical fatigue. Working like this is harmful and not sustainable, but many of us keep going because of the fear of judgment, rejection, or missing out on a promotion.
In this episode, I explore the steps that employees can take to prevent burnout and improve their overall experience at work.
- Step 1: Create a list of critical tasks
- Step 2: Block time for specific tasks (including breaks)
- Step 3: Communicate challenges and ask for guidance
- Step 4: Set boundaries and clarify them
Working in an Under-Resourced Environment and What to Do
[00:00:00] Alexander: Today I want to talk about a LinkedIn post that I recently stepped over and it really resonated with me. I see this problem again and again. People struggle because there’s just not enough resources. There are not enough resources in this group to do all the work. The work has increased and increased. Additional projects. More requirements. More complex processes, all kind of different things, but there are no additional people to do all the work. And I think a lot of companies Do that intentionally to make people work more effectively. However, that doesn’t really work. And here are a couple of reasons why we work longer hours, go the extra mile again and again.
We say, yeah, that is just a period and it will go over. But the period ends and the next period starts and the next period ends and it’s more of a continuum. There’s no kind of up and down anymore. It’s only up. And one timeline comes after the next. So why do we don’t say no?
It’s very often driven by fear. Fear that, fear of disapproval. Or fear of judgments that we are not capable. Fear of missing out. Yeah, fear of missing out for a promotion, a bonus, or things like this. Fear of being seen as weak, imperfect. We are not a top performer; we are a poor performer. Another fear that I see quite a lot is that we fear we are letting people down.
Yeah, we work with so many nice people in our teams and they come to us and they rely on us and they say, Ah, can’t you also do this? It’s really important for me. Another fear is that we don’t want to be dispensable. Another important fear is that we avoid conflict or confrontation. Saying no is very often seen as a confrontation. If someone comes to us and says, could you get this done by Monday? In many organizations, in many cultures, a no is not seen as acceptable.
A really major fear is fear of rejection. Yes, that we say no and we have rejected from the group. We are seen as he, she is really not in the team, not all hands down. Yeah, we need to work together here. And all these different fears, fear of missing out, fear of letting people down, fear of conflict or confrontation, all these fears, they make us work longer and longer and longer. But this is not sustainable, yeah? Work is an embarrassment, not a sprint. And even if we think it will get better after the next database log, or when I have finished this project, or when I have turned, handed over this dossier, whatsoever. It will not get better. By the time you are about to finish up that’s already the next project. There’s already is the next timeline. There’s already is the next update, the next change, the next demands that lands on your desk.
We always hope for the change. We always think yeah, but after Easter it will be better, after summer it will be better, after Christmas it will be better just when this thing is over it will be better. Believe me, I have seen that again and again. This does not happen. If you are in an under resourced environment, and struggling with workload for a continued period of time, a couple of months, then that is a sign that you’re constantly understaffed.
Now, maybe you can live with that for a certain period of time, but I promise you. You can’t live with that for a longer period of time. It leads to exhaustion, it leads to low quality, it leads to turn staff over, it leads to being sick, it leads actually to rework, because, if you’re overworked, if you’re stressed out, that leads to low quality. It also leads to less innovation, because, you just want to get things done, don’t change anything, just get it done.
Now let’s go through a couple of things that you can do to reduce the stress. I think the first point is, you really need to have a good overview of all the different projects and all the different tasks. And what very often drives overwhelm are tasks that are too big. Reviewing a protocol. That might be just, too much. Break it down into smaller chunks. Just review the intro. Or just review the background. Or just review the first couple of sections of the statistics part. Something like this. So that it becomes manageable. That you can actually get something off your plate. Because that will help you to get moving.
What also is important to have this complete overview is you can understand what are the things that really are a priority. And when I say priority, it’s not necessarily that they are most urgent. What are the things that really moves the needle? What are the most critical things? What are the things that really add value? What are the things that are a priority to your overall organization? For this, of course, you need to understand what is the long term vision of your organization? What are the goals of your organization? What does good look like? Now This is a major problem in many organizations. I’ve seen it again and again.
If I ask people, what is the top priority for your organization? I look into empty faces. I look into question marks. If you’re a supervisor, be aware that very likely your team doesn’t understand what good looks like. They don’t know what’s a priority for you. They don’t know what’s a priority for the overall organization. And if they don’t know these kind of different things, then they can’t prioritize. Then they just can’t prioritize by timelines. This is most urgent and this is most urgent and that is the next most urgent part. But they can’t prioritize by what is really important. Is working on this abstract more important than working on this manuscript?
Is working on this team, more important than working on these simulations? Is working on this study more important than working on that study? What are the most important things? And also, how working on these? is important. Yeah. Is it here okay to have an 80 20 rule? Yeah. So just to how much time do I need to invest in the simulation? How much time do I invest into this abstract? How much time do I invest into reviewing this document?
Make sure that if you’re supervising, your team does understand these kind of things. And if you don’t know these questions, what is really important here? Not what is most urgent, what is really important here? And what does good look like? Yeah, what kind of quality? And I’m not speaking about SOPs, but what kind of quality is required here?
If you don’t know that, have a discussion about this with your supervisor. And he should be able to explain it to you. If they can’t, he or she can’t explain it to you, don’t let them get away with everything is important. If everything is important, nothing is important. If everything needs to be done with 100%. Percent quality. Then you don’t have any separation. Yes. Then you can just say, okay, then I start with Project A one that is done. I do project B one that is done. I do project C, and then you just communicate that.
But it’s much more helpful to understand what is really needed and then go through all these different things. And apply a couple of different filters. The first filter is; does it really need to be done at all? And yes, you may think yes, everything needs to be done. I’m not sure. Do you need to reply to every email? Do you need to read all the different updates? Do you need to attend every meeting? I’m not sure.
There’s certainly tasks, things that you can just delete from your to do list and will have no impact whatsoever or just very minimal impact. Second. Once you have deleted things, then start to automate things, make things easier, especially if there are certain things that you need to do again and again. Make them easier.
Third, do you need to do these kind of things, or can you delegate this? And when I’m talking about that doesn’t necessarily mean that you delegate it to someone that reports to you. You can delegate in all kinds of different directions. You can even delegate things to your boss to your supervisor. Maybe he or she is in a much better position to do certain things. Maybe you can delegate certain things to a programmer, to a CRO, to your physician, to your medical writer. Think about it. And only if you have applied these filters, deleting, automation, and delegation, then think about whether that you need to do it.
Now, if you have this overall list of all the different things, communicate That you will first work on this, then on that. And I know this is very often really difficult. Especially if you have different projects with different stakeholders. Yeah? Project A goes to Physician A. Project B goes to Physician B. And Project C goes to Physician C. And you say, I start with A, then B, and then C. And then of course Physician C will come, Hey! Why is my project not the first one? You need to make a call at one point.
Here, what is really important, is that you learn to say no. And I have a complete episode about this. Saying no. Just scroll back and look into the power of a positive no. The other thing is, of course, that you understand how you can negotiate things. So go to your different stakeholders. For example, I talked to Physician A, Physician B, Physician C or the different project managers. And understand why this is really important. What part of it is important? What does good look like? Do you just need a ballpark? Do you need everything here? How does the timeline that you were given fit into the overall picture? Can it be challenged? Maybe you only need to deliver a smaller part of it. And then you can work on other things later, or maybe there are certain parts in your task list that you got from this project that are really important and others aren’t nice to have. Here it’s really important to understand three things. How do your deliverables… Add value? How do they help to speed up the project? How do they help to reduce the cost of the project? How do they help to increase the quality of the project? And if you’re not clear on how your work helps with these three factors, quality, timelines, or resources, money, then don’t do it at all. Because then you likely have a thing that doesn’t add value. Or at least something where you’re unclear about the value. And then you need to get clarity on this.
I talk about these kind of things quite a lot in the Effective Statistician Leadership Program. We talk about listening skills, negotiation skills, building trust, conflict resolution, all these kind of different things that happen in these areas. Whenever there’s clashes of priorities you need to negotiate.
Now, of course, these are all different things that you need to do in the short term. What can you do in the long term? One thing that is really important is that you for yourself have an overview of all the projects, all the deliverables, and have an assessment of what will be your workload over the next couple of months.
I very often recommend that you have at least 6 months, probably more kind of 12 months or 18 months, view what will happen in the future. And yes, you may not know everything for certain. Put in some probabilities. This project will come with probability x. That project will come with probability y. And you can plan out your likely projected resourcing.
I very often recommend that you do that in days per month. Yeah, that is something that is granular enough so that you can make an educated guess. But it’s also not, so granular like hours and things like this that takes forever. You can then put into this overall work plan. You can put in vacations. You can put in regular tasks that you need to do again and again. You can put in specific projects that usually come through also here. Things like, in this time period usually we do budget planning, in this time period we usually do a real yearly review, in this time period we usually have this kind of training, all these kind of different things.
Put all of these tasks together into your overall project. Also, regular meetings and these kind of things. Everything that at least takes something like half a day, put in there. Some of the things maybe you can sum up like all the admin work. Or this is one to ones with typical people that I always need to meet with and that eats up so many days.
That way you get an overview of what is your resourcing. And I can tell you, you need to have some buffer in there. 20% of buffer is a good recommendation, because we usually are too optimistic with things. And there will be projects coming out of somewhere else that you haven’t even thought about. And plan in for these kind of projects. You can maybe make them clear in your overall kind of chart that, okay, these are also different projects that are confirmed. These are projects that will likely come. And these are projects… That are the unknown unknowns. Yeah, there’s a project where we don’t even know that they will exist, but we can estimate that some of these will come.
Such documentation will help you to show to your supervisor your workload. And then you have a tool through which you can discuss with your supervisor, okay, what is your workload? You can even track how your projection has been. In the last years, if you do, of course, not, when you start with it first time, but if you do it again and again, you can see, okay, are my predictions in terms of How long projects take, how much likely they will come, all of these things you can improve over time more and more so you can show, my estimation is pretty good.
For example, you can say typically we have this conference coming up and it usually comes up during this time of the year we have the abstract deadline. Probably. We’ll have to work on X number of abstracts during this time and X number of posters during this time. Or I know we will have discussions about a new study very likely here because then we know that we have budget for next year. These kind of things you can very often with a little bit of experience. Anticipate. That gives you data so that you can have a good and well informed discussion with your supervisor. And now it can happen that you do all these kind of different things and it just doesn’t get better.
You reduce all the time, you push back, but you don’t get any support from your supervisor whenever you have said no to something and the physician or the Regulatory scientist or the project manager then comes to your boss and says Oh, Fred the Statistician is not supporting our project. Your boss says, of course he will do that. And picks up the phone, calls you and says, you also need to do this, of course. If these kind of things happen again and again, and you realize you can’t change the situation, then there’s actually only one thing that you can do. Update your CV, get your LinkedIn profile in place, and look for a new job.
If you can’t change the situation, leave it. Your mental health is much more important. Than this job, your relationship with your family is much more important than this job, you are not married to your company. By the way, it’s probably a good idea to anyway, always have your LinkedIn profile up to date your CV up to date and to nurture your network so that you don’t start with it once it really gets critical. Now, if you want to invest in all these different skills, there are two things that you can do. The first is, contact me about the Effective Statistician Leadership Program.
We have helped hundreds, if I say we, Gary Sullivan and myself, we have helped hundreds of statisticians across lots of different big pharma companies, small pharma companies, CROs become better in negotiation, become better in organizing these kinds of things become better in understanding how they can drive value, better in understanding priorities, better in understanding vision, better in understanding how does the overall business work.
And all of these things are important so you can resolve these problems in terms of too much workload. So contact Gary Sullivan or myself and we can set up a meeting and help you and your team or your fellow statisticians, your colleagues, become better in influencing, negotiating. So that you have a bigger impact without burning out.
That is the first thing that you can do. The second thing you can do is join the Clivoffective Network. The Clivoffective Network is a collaboration from recruiters from Clivolution and the Effective Statistician, where we help and upskill statisticians. We do regular webinars there where we help you to be more employable.
For example, we talked about how to update your LinkedIn profile. And if you join this network, you get access to all this material. And you will also get access to exclusive job offers that we work on. And of course, as I’m a statistician, you will only learn about these if they are relevant for you. Because I understand what are your needs, what are your priorities, what is your job profile, and then I can match it accordingly. So two things, contact me about the leadership program and sign up for the Clivoffective network. So just go to clivoffective.com.
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