"We are actively and successfully implementing the procedures you gave us for managing our time and workloads." —Catherine A. Merschel, Executive Director, Eden Housing, Inc.


Helping Workers Survive Workload Crunches

You are overworked, so is your staff. It doesn’t look like it is going to get better any time soon. What can you do about it right now in order to prevent losing some of your best employees? To help turn the situation around, try these techniques.

Be the one to bring it up. Make sure your people know that you recognize how hard they’re working, that this is an unusual situation, and you really appreciate their extra efforts. Some managers believe that if they don’t talk about it, employees will not notice that something has changed. By not acknowledging it, you are likely to create resentment aimed at you and at the company for not addressing the situation.

Explain the reasons behind the increased workload. Let them know as much as possible about the work crunch and how long you believe that it will last. Employees will often put up with being overworked if they understand why it’s happening. Is it a tight job market that is prohibiting you from hiring extra people? Is this a rush of work caused by a recent merger? Is this a busy time in the cycle of your business flow? Let them know what the situation is and what options, if any, they have to address it.

Ask for their input. Solicit any ideas or suggestions they have for helping make it through this difficult time. The staff is closest to the tasks and has the most intimate understanding of the activities. They may come up with some ideas that will surprise you that you can easily accommodate.

Provide them with extra resources. Make sure that they have the equipment that they need. If you cannot hire an extra person for a permanent position, would hiring an intern or a temp help? If employees believe that you’re truly interested in getting them through a work onslaught, they’re less likely to consider leaving the company the first chance they get. They’re also less likely to call in sick right at some critical juncture or the day before the big presentation. Offer to help and do your best to pitch in. According to Helen Argyres, Manager of Employee Development at East Bay MUD, “ Sometimes ‘stuff’ happens. Stay with them to demonstrate that you are with the team and supporting the team goals.” The extra work is not about punishment.Be the first to offer to drop low-priority projects. Do anything you can to relieve the pressure a little. Are there projects you can drop, put on hold, or change the deadline until the staff has more time to handle them? Cut as much of the routine so employees can focus on high-priority jobs only. Turn it into a game. Particularly with manual tasks, turn the work into a friendly competition. Who can accurately stuff the most budget binders or training manuals in an hour? "You can do competitive things with care, just be sure that the prizes are trivial and silly. Once a client gift arrived without batteries. So the manager threw a pizza and battery stuffing party," said Argyres. "Whatever you choose to do the idea is to increase fun, break the monotony and foster team spirit."

After the Crush of Work Is Over

The best way to reinforce great work is to recognize it. Be sure to acknowledge, praise, and provide rewards to people for pulling the department through. To reinforce a verbal compliment, follow it up with a memo and a copy to the appropriate supervisors or superiors who need to know what a great job your team did. Be generous and creative in thanking people for the extra effort. Depending on the situation, if possible provide a bonus, or a gift certificate to a local store. Can you let people go home a half day on a Friday as a thank you?Argyres says to be sure to recognize and acknowledge that there needs to be some recuperation time. Immediately after the crunch is a good opportunity to give the star performer that choice vacation time. Be sensitive if someone comes in late the day after the big event that they have been working frantically on for three months. This might not be the time to come down hard on a single incident of tardiness. "And finally" she recommends, "give yourself and your team a moment to breathe before you leap into the next onslaught."

Odette Pollar is a nationally known speaker, author, and consultant. President of the management consulting firm, Smart Ways to Work based in Oakland, CA, her most recent book is Surviving Information Overload. Email to share your comments, questions and suggestions: odette@SmartWaysToWork.com. Visit us at: www.smartwaystowork.com call: 1-800-599-8463.

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