Were On Diversion!
Busy hospital emergency rooms or
trauma centers occasionally declare themselves "on diversion."
This means the organization has reached or exceeded its
capacity to take on new patients in emergency
hospital on diversion signals to police, paramedics and
ambulance companies that emergency transport of patients
should be diverted to other facilities. In most cases, other
facilities are available for limited periods of time to accept
patients diverted from over-packed or over-stressed
organizations. The diversion does not last long, as other
patients are discharged and additional capacity becomes
administrators and business leaders also reach or exceed
individual capacities to manage under the pressures of the
continuing bombardment of issues, liabilities and glitches.
They may not feel they have the option to declare themselves
"on diversion" and send all the other problems elsewhere to be
managed even temporarily.
same is true of organizations. Local government is especially
burdened by caseload-driven and mandated programs, such as the
management of jails and welfare case loads. It is true that,
occasionally, a county sheriff or a federal judge will declare
a jail to be at or over capacity in order that one or several
limited and difficult solutions be implemented. However, in
general, organizations and individuals are expected to absorb
the added piles of issues and figure out ways to "just deal
When you combine this difficult
workload with the fact that many managers and supervisors are
not trained in handling the added stress of more cases and
tighter deadlines, the result can be harmful to the health of
the individual and to the success of the agency.
continued piling on of work increases the risk of failure and
lowers the morale of the employees. In turn, lower morale
means higher turnover and increases in absenteeism,
opportunities for union organizers, grievance filings or just
poor performance and behavior.
increased workloads mean less ability to do quality work in
favor of quantity output. Where the agency is performing high
liability work, such as the protection of at-risk children,
infirm senior citizens in long-term care facilities or police
operations, the risk of catastrophic failure because of tired
or depressed employees cutting corners, or release of
frustrations on an innocent party can be very
What are some of the treatments
available, to handle the necessity of diversion? Here are some
of the HR Doctors prescriptions:
1. The first
thought may be to retreat to the obvious and traditional fall
back of adding more staff, or a larger office to help meet a
growing workload. In some cases, despite applying any other
approach described in this article, case load increases do
require more staff or a conscious decision to reduce service
Huge population growth will
generate many more 911 calls, for example. Some can be handled
by lesser-trained and lesser paid civilian police service
aides rather than sworn officers. These may include non-injury
traffic accident reporting, directing traffic, school crossing
guard work or some public relations functions. However, the
well-trained and motivated professional police officer is the
right employee to handle the majority of 911 calls on behalf
of a city or county.
the other hand, just asking for an increase in the budget,
without strong consideration of other options, is not good
approach is to find less costly alternatives to providing the
same or perhaps even greater service. It is difficult in a
government agency to use words like outsourcing or
privatizing. However, the simple fact is that many government
services do not have to be performed by government employees.
There may be less costly staffing options available in many
cases. Granted, in such situations, the idea, even if it would
generate savings, will come crashing into political desires to
avoid layoffs, not rock the boat with unions and other
is also true that handing off government services to a private
company may come at the price of less responsiveness and first
year cost low-balling. Nonetheless, outsourcing of work which
really is not a fundamental government core service is
something worth increasingly and actively
3. A thorough
review of the way business is done should also be a
requirement before any more traditional budget increases are
Workload complaints may be as
much the result of ancient and annoyingly complicated
procedures as they may be a factor of population increases.
Subsequently, it may be possible, with a process improvement
approach, to significantly increase the current organizations
and the current individuals ability to meet work requirements
without adding new positions. In fact, it may well be possible
to please the average citizen trying to do business with the
government by simplifying procedures in a surprising and
4. It is
certainly possible to substitute powerful technology for some
of the work that is now done manually.
Electronic document management
can speed up the flow of information, while saving trees and
reducing warehouse and storage needs. Laptop computers in
vehicles and wireless personnel digital assistants may allow
reports to be completed by field employees such as building
inspectors, meter readers and police officers without the
employees having to report for duty to handoff paper to some
poor, struggling clerical employee. Water system operations
can be remotely monitored. So can security
HR Doctor has previously written about technology applications
in Human Resources, including filing applications and
candidate assessment online as well as employee self-service
to reduce the time and energy involved in maintaining accurate
When it comes to the impact
technology will continue to have on our way of working, we
"aint seen nothing yet." More employee telecommuting and 24/7
citizen service will become not only normal but the expected
way of practicing public administration.
5. There is
another radical concept in service delivery -
collaboration, alliances and consolidated services. Yes, it
may be revolutionary to talk about why an area needs to have
one or two dozen separate fire departments, or even HR
Departments, but increasingly the silliness, waste and
inefficiency of service duplication in dueling government
agencies will become more evident and give way to the logic
and necessity of collaboration.
some point, the opportunities and pressures to streamline and
improve service will even override the "silos," which continue
to be built between individual organizations unwilling to work
together or be part of one organization, except in periods of
mutual aid emergencies.
of the diversion therapies described above apply to
organizations under pressure. However, there is an equally
important dimension involving the personal resilience and
capacity of individuals to manage in overload circumstances.
Many employees, no matter how thoughtful, educated and
experienced they may be, reach a point in their work when
"somethings got to give." Hopefully, what gives is not the
persons health or family life.
Clearly, work affects the success
of marriage, parenting and psychological well-being as well as
personal health. Just ask any Employee Assistance Program
(EAP) professional. Managers need to be particularly aware of
the value of being resilient in the face of high-pressure
jobs. One of the keys to resilience is to maintain a broad
perspective on the work and on the world.
Resilience relates to keeping a
sense of humor. It also relates to being a person of diverse
interests and outlooks. It is perhaps non-scientific to say
that there is a correlation between how important the concept
of fun is in a persons life and how resilient they may be in
the face of difficulty. However, the HR Doctor believes there
is a correlation, and a strong one at that. The same is true
of having a network of friends and people who are supporters
and care about you.
organization will be very well-served indeed by making
employee capacity building an important organizational goal.
The better, more diverse and more resilient the workforce is,
the more an organization, as well as an individual, can
succeed in managing new or increased challenges. Creating
employee development academies, internship programs, support
for continuing education, and providing developmental job
assignments are all part of the success recipe!
person can stay off diversion programs by increasing personal
capacity as a human being just as we can do the same thing for
a county, city or business!