Staying Sane – Tackling the Factors Causing Stress in Records Management

The stress of fulfilling a records management role, in both senior management and administration, has increased over the past 5 years.

The increase in the stressfulness of these roles is causing good people to feel like they are incapable of performing their roles, and for some people will cause temporary incapability to do so.  Stressed team become dysfunctional, and stressed projects collapse.  This is occurring on a regular basis across the industry.

The increase in stress is directly related to the increase in digital recordkeeping within organisations, with its greater demands on time and skill the record and information management roles.  It is approximately 15 years since the first organisations commenced digital recordkeeping, making it obvious that the industry are slow in learning how to manage themselves and their health in a new world.

Suffering prolonged stress is harmful, both physically and psychologically.  Being aware of factors that cause stress is the first step in managing them.  This article offers a bird’s eye view of 3 main factors contributing to stress for the industry.

1.      Role Expectations

The modern day records professional may be required to contribute, and perform competently in:

  • Governance
  • Legislation & Standards
  • Retention & Disposal
  • EDRMS Systems installation, configuration and use
  • Integration with other systems
  • Enterprise searching software
  • Training design & delivery
  • Strategy
  • Project planning
  • Project management
  • Budgeting & Procurement
  • Business analysis
  • Change management & communications
  • Staff management

Extensive!  And the list grows each year, as does the required level of capability in each area; frequently with an absence of budget, time or support to develop the necessary skills and increase the stress factor.

This is an industry of good hearted people who genuinely believe in the value of improved information management.  Constant pressure to do more, personally and as a business unit, in an environment where the capability expectations continue to grow is stressful.  The standards being set for performance are frequently impossible to achieve in the environment.

The breadth of skill expectation is unrealistic when reviewed against analysis tools of thinking styles, such as NBI[1].  NBI profiles individuals on their strengths in four different thinking styles: Realist/Analyst, Strategist/Imaginer, Preserver/Organiser, and Socialiser/Empathiser. The strength in particular thinking style will typically be linked to different professions.  Not surprising.  We don’t expect an artist to share the same skills and traits as an accountant.  Strength in one thinking style does not mean a person lacks capability in others, but that it will not be their preferred approach.

Typically the records profession as a whole displays strength in the Preserver/Organiser thinking styles, being naturally strong in detail and routine.  And yet the modern role requires a major input from the Analyst, Strategic and Empathiser styles.  For some within the profession the level to which this is required will be highly challenging, and a great deal of effort is required to achieve the required outcomes, if they can be achieved at all.  The expectation and pressure to perform can be intense and stressful

The reverse is also true.  There are people who have risen to records management positions due their strength in management, but who will be challenged by the level of detail required in delivering the day to day services and results to the business, or understanding the IT component of the role.

Be kind to yourself.  Know your strengths, and the impact of your “weaknesses”.  Focus on performing your strengths, and delegate, find a mentor or support person, undertake training, etc. to support yourself in managing in other areas.  Be realistic about your personal capability, and the personal need, to excel in all areas.  The job needs to get done, but you don’t need to do it all.

2.      Digital project management

A digital transition project involves moving the records team, the organisation staff and the software to an environment where saving records in their digital format is second nature.

The transition to the latest version and desired configuration of the EDRMS software is generally successfully managed.  The transition for End Users is sporadic in success, at best. These projects began in about 2001, and will be ongoing for many more years.

The transition of the records team has a woeful history.  Complete records teams are still walking out of these projects mid-way through to take less stressful roles, or critical individuals jump ship partway through the project due to the intense stress they are being placed under.  .

It is easy for vendors, contractors or senior managers, to imply that now absent teams and individuals were “weak”; they lacked the capability to perform the role, or the backbone for the project tasks.

The projects bring heavy workloads, overwhelming demands from vendors and managers, or ask the team to operate in a new environment that conflicts with their own values about records management.  On top of this, within any long rollout, there will at some stage be personal crisis for individuals which will divert their focus and energy, and others have to carry the weight.

Good change management in a project prioritises coping with change, including the increase in stress levels, for the internal records team.  There must be a priority to keep this team intact, both for the retention of knowledge for the organisation, and as a duty of care to the individuals.

A project plan that does not actively address managing the stress on the records team as part of the risk management component is inadequate is a digital transition project.

3.      Personal support

Life will get busy and stressful for everyone.  Our plates all get full at some stage.  Personal ability to self-manage the stress and cope varies; our plates are different sizes.  The ability to manage and cope is increased when a person has support.  That may be physical support; additional resources for instance to do the required work. Or it could be intellectual or emotional support; someone to talk to and expand our problem solving ability and discover new approaches.  The latter is the most powerful support for ongoing strength.

Within government organisations, especially as people progress in their careers, it is easy to become isolated, and for individuals to believe they are without support, internal or external.

Ideally all senior managers would have the capability of providing the required support, but many lack the capability to recognise this as an important characteristic of a management role.  Therefore individuals need to recognise the importance of a support person and seek one.

Support can only be provided if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable; to expose that we don’t know it all and need some help.  Allow yourself to share that with your team and manager, and open the communication path to subordinates and managers to enable them to seek support.  Challenges, both practical and psychological, which seem insurmountable alone can be solved through open discussion.

Start taking the steps now to create healthier working environments for individuals, teams and future generations of record and information professionals.

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