4 Ways to Deal With Fire Drills 

Do you feel as if you can’t get your work done because emergencies are always popping up? Does your boss always have an emergency or there is constant churn about a work-related matter?

In some organizations, this happens all the time. The red explanation point next to the email, the voicemail, text, or instant message saying, “drop everything. I need this pronto.” Our natural reaction is to comply, but is the apparent urgency more of a fire drill or a true emergency?

Someone thinks the request is urgent, regardless of whether you do, so consider carefully the consequences for yourself and the company before determining how to respond. Understanding the ramifications for the organization will help you truly assess the urgency of the situation. Think about the consequences in terms of your own career, as well. Being responsive and respectful is an important trait in an employee.

Yet, when your boss, colleague, or organization treats every task as an emergency, it can zap your energy, morale, and productivity. If this sounds familiar, then it’s time to identify whether the situation is urgent before determining how to respond, if only for your own sanity.

Here are some questions to ask to determine whether it is truly a crisis:

  1. What is the deliverable? Make sure you understand what you need to deliver within what specific timeframe.
  2. Who is asking for it? Sometimes this is the most important question to ask yourself. If it is your boss making the demand or the boss’s boss, it may not matter whether it is truly urgent. Evaluate who is asking and what their flexibility might be.
  3. How many people are involved? The more staff resources included, the more likely that the request is truly urgent. Leadership, generally does not want to impede the productivity of its staff because this will have a larger impact on the organization and clients.
  4. What’s driving the urgency? If you can, ask why the matter so urgent. If it is because the client is in the lobby and needs answers, then you would obviously drop everything. But, if it is because of an email or request that has no timeframe associated, perhaps it makes sense to go back to the original sender to determine when they need something. It is easy to misread a request via email.

Your actions should reflect the answers to these questions. A truly urgent situation requires a timely response. A less critical scenario may mean a quick response saying, “I have several other critical projects; I’ll get this to you by Friday.”

Another tactic is to ask your boss the question “"I understand that this task is urgent, but you've given me a number of priorities … A, B, and C. How would you suggest I reprioritize?" This response reinforces your value as an employee and that you are actually working on items of importance.

How Your Own Behavior Weighs In
Do you secretly get pleasure from the fire drill? Some people thrive on the excitement of being important and a crisis.  Make sure your own behavior doesn’t create fire drills. Be respectful of people’s time, plan ahead, and give clear direction regarding timeframes and deliverables. Let the true importance of the matter drive the urgency and you’ll gain respect in the organization for not “crying wolf.”

Enough is Enough
At some point, you may decide you’ve answered enough fire drills and you need to take action. If you have an effective and open relationship with your boss, have a careful conversation about priorities and the unnecessary stress of fire drills. If you don’t have a good relationship with your boss, you may not want to broach this subject. It might just be time to look for a new position.


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