Breaking Through Workplace Bureaucracy


No matter which field you work in, at some point in your career you will have to deal with the pain of bureaucratic nonsense. Rules, regulations, and the hierarchy of supervisors. Even though bureaucracy is supposed to help a business or organization work in a timely and efficient manner, it can really put a damper on getting things done the way that you believe it should be completed. Bureaucracy makes an already difficult job…even harder!! For professionals working with children with special needs it can be even more confusing and frustrating because all you want to do is help a little boy or girl succeed. Instead, you are often faced with funding issues and plenty of meaningless paperwork. Here are six tips to help deal with bureaucracy in the workplace:

Tip #1–Maintaining Communication: Make sure to regularly check in with your supervisors. Even if you are just stopping by their office to say “hello.” Developing a nice rapport and relationship with help you when you have a question. When something is unclear, do not be afraid to get more information to try and process the situation better so that you know what to do and how to best proceed forward. Make sure that your questions are clear and you have a pen and paper available to take notes. Being prepared and organized shows your supervisors how much your job and clients are important to you. Always be gracious and thankful. A simple thank you email goes a long way. Supervisors remember who is most appreciative and who is not.

Tip #2–Respect the Hierarchy of Authority: Unfortunately, most organization that work with children with special needs have so many regulations. When trying to enforce these rules, receptionists and directors must often deal with angry staff members. Never get upset at someone because of a policy. Especially if they do not have the authority to make any kind of change. Chances are they are just as annoyed as you! Unfortunately, we cannot control our emotions, so make sure that you tell the person that you are annoyed at the policy and not them. Make sure you know who is the right person to speak to about this established regulation. You must be aware of the correct chain of command – what is the order of people to speak to about a situation or getting any kind of approval. Do not go behind someone else’s back and speak to their boss first. That can ruin your reputation and they may no longer look at you in the same favorable light. Remember, creating any extra negative toxicity is not going to make your job any easier nor help your client with special needs progress forward faster.

Tip #3–Pick Your Battles: I cannot stress the importance of you picking your battles!! Ask yourself (repeatedly) – is this argument really worth me possibly losing my job, affecting my relationships, and/or ruining my reputation? Is it going to make going to work any more bearable? Save your voice for the really important issues. Many of you who work with kids may develop a strong sense of emotion and attachment to your client and his or her family. This passion for your job is amazing and admirable, however you have to stop and think about the big picture. For example, during IEP meetings – you and the child’s family may be requesting a certain amount or type of services; however, your supervisor is unable to grant this request because of funding concerns. Take a moment to breathe and calm down. Ask yourself is there a huge difference between what you want for the child versus what is actually being offered? Will the child be at a TOTAL lost? Can he or she still benefit from the services are being offered? If you truly believe that the child is at an extreme loss then make sure you have a clear and detailed idea of what you want and why and the alternative solutions you are willing to accept and why.

You want to focus on showing your supervisors that you have thought about all aspects of the situation and accounted for what is the best for everyone. (ex: the child, his or her family, and your organization).

Tip #4–Strength in Numbers: It will definitely help your case to have allies on your side when wanting to get a point across to your supervisors. For example, speak to your client’s other therapists. Find out if they also agree that he or she should be receiving more services or another type of therapy. If more than one person voices a particular concern, then you won’t seem like an isolated troublemaker. You should be working on developing these relationships all year long, so that when time comes you know exactly who would be the best ally to help prove your point.

Tip #5–Document Everything: Make sure that you have taken good notes on conflicting situations. It will help the other side have a better grasp as to what is going on. It will also show everyone that you are detail orientated and the extent to which you value your job. Keep track of all names, dates, times, and anything else that you think is valuable information. Maintain copies of all communication such as emails and summary notes of phone calls. For example, your organization may have a specific way of completing paperwork for each client so that they can get paid by insurance or another funding source. Make sure that you keep organized copies of all your forms and a log of date/time of when you handed in the forms & to whom.

All of this information will help you build a stronger case and make sure that everyone is on the same page. Also, these notes can be helpful if there are any possible legal issues or consequences.

Tip #6–Respond with Positivity: When someone tells you that they CANNOT DO something or that they DO NOT have the authority, ask what CAN they do or who DOES have the authority. Turn the conversation into a positive tone. When there is positivity, you are less likely to come across as frustrated and more like to be productive and move forward in an efficient manner. Working with children with special needs and their families can be so stressful and emotionally draining for everyone. Be the one to try and spread as much positive energy as possible. Be strong willed and try to get your point across, but also make sure to help put a smile on someone’s face so they are happy to help you the next time you have an issues or concerns.

Everyone knows that it is so hard to do your job when you have to deal with ridiculous red tape and bureaucracy. It is important to find ways to fight through it all and get your point across in a clear, even-tempered, and organized manner. This sense of rationality may be hard when you are trying to help children and their families, but remember nothing is going to change unless you be the bigger person and stay calm.

Frances Victory, Ph.D., C.P.C., is a Developmental Psychologist, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Speaker, and Certified Life Coach at Victory Coaching LLC. For more information about her services, please check out her website: She can also be reached at