The rumble of the grumble

We’ve all been there. We’re driving along. Maybe we are tired. Maybe something distracts us. Maybe we’re taking a bit of a risk. R-U-M-B-L-E!!!

You may be one of the countless people who owe their lives to an incredibly simple invention. The rumble-strip. I know that I am. A sudden noise and vibration alerts us to imminent danger. It jolts us back to attention and we take immediate action. We live to tell the tale. Or maybe we’d prefer not to tell anyone. Either way, disaster is averted and we learn our lesson.

“Rumble-strips” in healthcare

There are many equivalents to the rumble-strip in healthcare. Lights flash. Beeps change. Tools and communication devices vibrate. They send and endless array of signals and messages. What do they have in common? Well, most obvious is that they all typically indicate something has changed and action is required. But it’s also worth noting these examples are all patient-focused.

Clearly, we want patient safety. But what about the safety and well-being of the people who deliver the care? What about the doctors, nurses, managers and other professionals you work with? After all, burnout and breakdowns are all too common. When do we notice when things start to go wrong with healthcare workers? All too often, breakdowns and burnout are only noticed when things go badly wrong. It’s too late to take action. And when people breakdown and burnout it can be permanent. So where are the rumble-strips to alert us to those issues?

Could it be that grumbling is the rumbling that should grab our attention? Well, yes – and no!


A grumpy cat

It’s normal to grumble. In fact, psychologists believe that a bit of a grumble is good for us.

Sometimes it is just a safety valve. We need to let off steam about the things that frustrate us. This is particularly true when things are beyond our control. A good old grumble let’s us get it out of our system and move on. It also has a role in building and maintaining relationships. Sharing thoughts, feelings and opinions with others is an act of trust. It’s also a normal human approach to finding common ground with others. Common ground and trust helps us to form teams. Best of all, talking about our frustrations can be the first step in making something happen. It can be a catalyst for change.

So the grumble itself isn’t the danger signal rumble-strip noise.

Changing rumble of the grumble

Some roads we drive on are much noisier than others. But the humble rumble-strip even works on the noisiest roads. That’s because it alerts us to change by providing change. The sound changes. The feeling of the steering wheel changes. This same ‘alert-to-change by providing change’ idea is true of the various vibrations, bleeps and flashes mentioned earlier. The regular grumbles of the healthcare workplace are akin to the background noise on a very rough road. It’s change in the noise that should make us sit up and pay attention.

We make good use of a 5-aspect model of resilience on a number of our courses. Basically, we are at our strongest when we are positive, focused, flexible, organised and proactive. So, any negative change in any of these elements can be the early warning rumble that someone is struggling. And for resilient teams we need to consider both ourselves and those work with.

A few questions

Have you noticed any of the following changes in either in yourself or any of your colleagues recently?

  • An increase in negativity or general grumbling?
  • Grumbling about things at the ‘wrong time’? For example, grumbling to a patient.
  • Grumbling becoming increasingly fixated on one particular thing?
  • An increase in resistance to change or willingness to adapt?
  • A decline in levels of organisation, punctuality or complaining about ways of working?
  • An increase in negative reactionary behaviour or expressing lack of autonomy?

As mentioned, each and every one of us will have a good old grumble from time to time. It’s the changes in frequency, intensity or duration which should grab our attention. They can be the equivalents of the rumble-strips which have saved countless lives and careers through the years.

Finally, we must also look out for the change which is one of the most powerful, yet easily missed alarm signals of all. Silence.

Have noticed a change in anyone’s grumble levels recently?

Stephen McGuire – Director of Development