Thursday, July 15, 2010

Managing Work Overload

In many organizations, one of the most frequently reported workplace stressors is related to workload.

Y2 Consulting Psychologists, an HRM firm specialising in Government organisations, have led several workplace assessments in GOC departments and agencies. In many of the GOC organisations that were assessed, indicate struggling with the volume of work, the tight deadlines, constantly changing priorities, priority setting/urgencies, lack of resources, significant workload fluctuations and uneven distribution of work.

The issues of workload management and productivity are tightly intertwined. How can you achieve greater productivity with your existing resources?

It can be tempting to demand that employees just work harder to increase productivity. In the long run, just working harder increases errors, burnout and employee turnover. Thus, the goal is to obtain the most sustainable productivity possible from your existing employees, equipment and procedures.

Organisations need to learn how to increase the overall level of productivity without pushing workloads to the point where stress becomes a problem.

According to James Bavendam, Ph.D., five factors were found to significantly influence the workloads experienced by managers and employees :
  1. Interruptions: The more people are interrupted, the higher their workload. There is no question, people need to be responsive. On the other hand, not all interruptions are equally important. Interruptions increase workload as well as errors. As a result, coping with errors further inflates the workload. To cope with this, try to create priorities for work - so that more important tasks are not interrupted by less important ones.
  2. Planning: The more adequately teams plan for their needs, the more reasonable their workloads. Planning helps be proactive and efficient. Conversely, lack of planning means that employees typically need to create solutions to problems rather than simply employ approved solutions. To create the same amount of output, they have to work harder. Identify the key aspects of your work that could benefit from better planning. Do it and then move on.
  3. Resolving problems at work: Workloads seem higher to employees who have long-term, unresolved problems. Employees are better able to resolve their problems if they have enough authority to do their jobs, if managers listen/respond to their concerns, and if blame is minimized.
  4. Guidelines and procedures: Guidelines and procedures create needed consistency in organizations. They also can make work easier as they tell employees what to do in different situations. However, make sure that your rules and procedures have kept pace with changes and actually help employees do their jobs. Outdated procedures - especially those designed by people who don’t have to live with them every day - increase workloads.
  5. Clear job expectations and performance measures: Managers and employees need to know what is expected of them and how they will be judged. Making roles and performance measures clear also helps make sure that several people aren’t being asked to do the same tasks and that everything that needs to get done is getting done.

These five factors are not problems to be solved.  They just need to be better managed!

We are interested in knowing how work overload affects your organisation and what are your suggestions to improve it.

Your input is important and will help us further our understanding of the factors that contribute to healthy and productive organsiations.

Yaniv M. Benzimra, Ph.D.
Consulting Psychologist
Y2 Consulting Psychologists

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