Problems occur in every area of life and workplaces are no exception. In my career, I’ve had to deal with several different problems at work: from unrealistic expectations and demands from management; bullying; lack of (or poor!) project management; lack of delegation or being set unclear goals. Knowing how to deal with work-related problems effectively and professionally is an essential skill, which will improve job satisfaction, increase personal happiness and ultimately help you to become a more productive and effective employee.
I have developed a strategy for dealing with problems at work; these steps have been applicable to most of the problems I’ve faced at work and will hopefully help the reader to deal with their own problems effectively. I will start by breaking down the steps to take when facing a generic problem and close with an example describing how to deal with training plan issues.
What to do when things go wrong?
1. Identify and evaluate the issue
Don’t just complain, identify the issue and offer potential solutions.
- Identify the issue – check with colleagues to ensure your assessment of the situation is accurate.
- Gather evidence and evaluate the issue; think about the following:
- What is the problem? – you will need a clear definition and understanding of the problem for troubleshooting purposes.
- Why is it a problem? (e.g. “it’s causing me to miss deadlines” or “it’s affecting patient care”)
- How is it affecting your training (and personally)? (e.g. “It’s causing me stress”)
- How could this issue be resolved?
By answering these questions, you are preparing to have a conversation about these issues with other people. Normally, other people are much more receptive to dealing with an issue if you provide solutions to the issues you’ve identified: “I’ve noticed ..[the problem].. is causing ..[the issue]..; can we implement ..[the solution]..? This will improve ..[The effect of the problem].. .”. Practice this conversation and have a loose script in your head before moving to the next step.
Depending on the severity of the problem it may be necessary to practice the conversation with a neutral third party beforehand. If the problem you are facing is very serious, this conversation could be uncomfortable or very difficult (i.e. prone to conflict). In these cases, good preparation is particularly important to minimise the likelihood of conflict developing and/or a relationship breakdown. If the conversation is likely to result in conflict take steps to ensure your personal safety before commencing. In this case, I would STRONGLY suggest that further advice from someone within your trust is sought before initiating a difficult conversation. Your trusts Freedom to speak up guardian may be a good place to start and they should be able to direct you to an appropriate contact if necessary (The national directory for Freedom to speak up guardians in England can be found here).
Many trusts offer training on having difficult conversations with others. This training is typically for managers having difficult conversations with a managee or clinical staff communicating a bereavement to a relative; however, the advice is applicable to any difficult conversation and may be beneficial to complete. Furthermore, it might be worth having a third-party present as a mediator in these circumstances.
2. Have a difficult conversation – be prepared for conflict
- Request a meeting with the relevant person (e.g. your manager/TO or a colleague); If you lack confidence or experience of raising issues to people in authority, it can be helpful to discuss your finding with a colleague prior to raising the issue with someone in a position of authority. If the person you are requesting a meeting with is extremely busy/senior, ensure you do not waste their time through poor preparation:
- Send a meeting invitation.
- Book a meeting room at the agreed time and include these details in the meeting invitation. If meeting virtually send out a MS Teams or Zoom link in advance.
- Include an agenda, this helps the other person to come prepared and for the meeting to run smoothly.
- Attend the meeting, ensure you are on time!
- Take notes during the meeting and set action items, if applicable.
- Follow up with an email summarising key points from the meeting (think meeting minutes). Schedule a follow up meeting if required.
- Complete your action items.
If this approach, does not work repeatedly, then the issue may need to be raised to another party. Is there someone else in you trust you could talk to? Once all local options have been exhausted, if the issue is to do with training then it would know be appropriate to raise your concerns with the NSHCS (firstname.lastname@example.org). Ensure you use clear communication throughout and provide as many details and evidence as possible, so that your enquiry can be directed to the most appropriate person.
3. Document, document, document!
For any problem, good records keeping is essential because it provides evidence of the problem (i.e. Who is involved? What is the problem? Why is it a problem? When and where has it happened?) and steps you’ve taken to address it. Document everything, especially if you must raise the issue within your NHS trust or to the NSHCS. Good things to document include:
- Keep a record of the tasks you have been asked to do and the tasks you have completed.
- Keep a record of all meetings.
This is essential evidence for third parties (e.g. the NSHCS) to act on any issue you raise; if you haven’t documented anything, you will be asked to do so before the third party can make a decision.
TOP TIP: Keeping good and detailed records are a critical part of the scientific process and therefore a mark of good scientific practice. Detailed documentation can also contribute to professional practice competency evidence e.g. “I can manage my time, here is a record of how I spend my working hours and the steps I have taken to improve personal productivity.”, “Keeping an Activity log has helped me realise that I am most productive in the morning. Consequently, I will schedule all challenging tasks for completion in the morning.”
Training Issues – Lack of a training plan
For most readers, I hope this will not be an issue; however, for some a complete lack of training plan can create worry and anxiety. Even a bad plan is better than no plan because it gives you a starting point on which to improve. The presence of a training plan shows that someone in your employing organisation has planned (and taken a step towards managing) your workload and professional development. A bad plan can always be improved; but the lack of a training plan shows complete uninterest in an individual’s personal development and strongly suggests that the trainee is not a valued employee.
Training plan quality can vary hugely between trusts, but if you have a starting point on which to improve you should be fine. If you feel you training plan needs improving the tips below for dealing with the lack of a training plan may help:
- Identify if a training plan exists but you haven’t been informed about it. If you can find a training plan even if it’s old, great as this will help to direct your training within your employing organisation/local area.
- Ask you TO
- Ask other STP students in your year, the year above and/or 3rd years. Start with people in the same specialism but also ask trainees from different specialisms. This can be especially useful if you are the only trainee of your specialism in the trust and there are overlapping elements of the curriculum with the other specialism.
- Ask other staff members in your team/group/department.
- Use the curriculum library and resources on the NSHCS’s website to draft your own training plan. The NSHCS’s website has some training plan examples here, so pick the template that suits your specialism/personal preference best. You can modify the structure or combine elements of different training plans if desired.
- Start by listing the comps and assessments for each module within the curriculum library.
- Then fill in any comps which you know how to complete. For example, professional practice competency 11: “Take responsibility for your learning and demonstrate a commitment to continuing professional development.” You have already started to work towards the first half of this competency by drafting you own training plan. A commitment to continuing professional development (CPD) can be evidenced by keeping a CPD log and attending free conferences, Training network board meetings, eLearning courses (e.g. skill development network) and trust training sessions available to employees.
- Start to work out which competencies you can fulfil in your local trust/department; identify any gaps which will be hard to complete locally.
- Take this training plan to you TO and discuss it with them; Ask them how this fits in with their plans for your training and/or if they have any ideas for fulling the training gaps you have identified.
- Keep your TO informed, even if you don’t get a response as this covers yourself and will prevent your TO from becoming annoyed at not being kept informed.
TOP TIP: If you identify major training gaps and your training officer is unable to advise on how these gaps will be met, it may be worth having a conversation with the NSHCS who may be able to provide further guidance on their completion.