Overload and overwhelm are two of the biggest Oh-Oh challenges that workplaces face in these first few years of the 21st century. Given the way things have been going, ‘OO’ could end up being a very appropriate description for this decade without a name.
Overload refers to exploding expectations in the face of limited time, energy and resources. Overwhelm is the feeling that arises in the face of endless load. If organizations don’t find effective ways to deal with these two OO’s, we’ll all suffer the consequences.
We already see early signs of problems in many workplaces: people spinning in circles, having trouble prioritizing, skipping lunch breaks, working more overtime, plugged into technology at all hours of the day and night, becoming more impatient, and experiencing the fallout of strained relationships.
Left unattended, these symptoms escalate to: missed deadlines, slipping standards, declining workplace engagement, diminished commitment and satisfaction, poor health and growing disability costs, as well as growing anger and resentment.
When taken to the extreme, organizations face even more significant long-term consequences: unclear thinking, poor decision-making, productivity losses, higher turnover, dwindling innovation, and reduced return on investment.
To avoid this slippery slide adopt these practices to help you ease the load for all.
- Rewire the corporate mindset. Busyness and nonstop action do not necessarily drive productivity. Nor do they lead to health, innovation, satisfaction or profitability. Nonstop busyness is guaranteed to generate higher levels of exasperation and exhaustion.
- Value time spent in reflecting, planning and imagining. If people never escape the busyness to lift up their eyes and take a close look at what they’re doing and the consequences of those choices, they’ll never find their way out of the dizzying pit of doom.
- Become a broken record. Continuously highlight purpose and clarify goals. Speak to these again and again. This helps others find the meaning and value in the load, and keeps the measuring sticks that matter top of mind and close at hand.
- Make workload management everybody’s business. No matter where they sit in the organization, expect individuals to be active participants in the discussion of load. There are no white knights waiting in the wings or hovering at the next level in the organization to rescue the oppressed or save the day.
- Encourage ongoing communication about load. React positively to concerns as they are raised. Do more than commiserate or express confidence. Help resolve conflicts and reset priorities. This is the only way to assure you continue to get access to real information about load and the only way your people get the help they need to do their best over the long haul.
- Upgrade skills in prioritizing, scheduling, streamlining, negotiation, and delegation. These are the work-horse flash points of efficiency that allow us to make the most of limited time and energy.
- Become skilled estimators. Refuse to agree to delivery dates on new projects until you’ve done the analysis on the time and resources needed to get the job done, and looked closely at prior commitments and competing priorities. Track time on new tasks and projects as they unfold, to hone your estimating accuracy.
- Get real about the potential impact of ‘simple’ requests. For example, adding one more client question to every sales call may mean ‘just’ another 15 seconds per call. However, if your people make 10,000 of these calls in a year, you’ve just increased the time required by: 150,000 seconds, or 2500 minutes, or approximately 40 hours. That one ‘minor’ adjustment translates into one full week of one person’s time every year. Where will that time come from? What will you stop doing to make room for this new initiative? Is there sufficient value to warrant the change?
- Put speed and technology in their place. Decide when and where speed matters – and where it gets in the way. Careful thought and reflection will often give you more leverage and stronger results than a speedy, off the cuff reply to a client or colleague. The constant connection provided by wireless and remote access guarantees neither good decisions nor strong relationships. Sometimes you need to be face to face on an issue – or at least voice to voice. Sometimes you need to give a situation time to perk. Just because you can dump an issue by email at midnight, doesn’t mean that’s the best way to deliver the message or deal with the problem.
- Help your people develop comfort with the undone. Expectations will continue to expand. The likelihood of reaching the end of any list and meeting those growing expectations continues to shrink. Help people see and value their action on key tasks, even though completion may not be at hand. Satisfaction lives in fresh perspectives on progress.
© Patricia Katz MCE CHRP of Optimus Consulting is a speaker, author and consultant who helps groups and individuals restore the rhythm of renewal to work and life. Contact her at www.patkatz.com or toll free at (877) 728-5289