Workload Stress: This problem has been coming up a lot recently with my coaching clients so I thought it might be helpful to share some advice on how to handle your job when resources are cut and the work load keeps piling up.
The problem is often expressed as:
“My company is in the process of restructuring and downsizing. I have been given the responsibility to take on the work of other job roles that no longer exist. The trouble is I was already stretched and working at capacity. There is no one else to delegate or hand the work to and my line manager still expects me to complete the work within the same time scales with no extra budget or resource.”
The first thing to do is to re-evaluate the way you currently work. If you are already maxed out, using the same strategy to take on the additional workload is not going to be effective. Your management team may not expect you to do the same work as your former colleagues, but to re-invent the way the work is done instead.
RE-DEFINE YOUR WAY OF WORKING
If you keep working around the clock and always hit your deadlines then you are proving to your employer that you don’t need more resources. Worse still the more you skip lunch and take work home with you the more will be expected from you. When you do this you undermine yourself.
You need to create a strategy to help prioritise the work load, re-define it and share the problem. Here are some tips that may help you.
1. IS THERE A SMARTER WAY OF WORKING?
Spend some time to think about how you work. You may find that you have systems or processes in place that are no longer of benefit to you. You may have inherited systems or processes from other people and have never questioned if there was a more effective way to deliver them. Can some be automated or better documented or are they even needed at all? Be honest with yourself. Could you save time by not making as many trips to the printer? Could you spend less time on tasks that are a low priority?
Think of the end goal and whether you could still get there with less steps.
If however you have exhausted those possibilities and the workload is not achievable then you need to move to the next step.
2. RAISE AWARENESS OF THE SCALE OF THE WORK
Sometimes line managers or colleagues will pile work on you having no idea of what it takes to complete or deliver. If you fail to draw their attention to this you are failing yourself.
Communicate in a non-confrontational way the scale of the work they have set you. Reassure them that you want to deliver a high quality product, service, or outcome but that you are unable to because what they are asking for is unrealistic with the given timescale/budget/resource. They may not have realised this. Never assume someone thinks the same way as you. It might really surprise your line manager to know that to deliver that report each week takes half a day and 4 people. Show the actual state vs the desired state and what you need to be able to give them what they want.
3. OVERCOME FEAR OF FAILURE
A common problem I see time and time again with coaching clients is that they take all the pressure on themselves to deliver the impossible. Their fear of failure drives them into the ground mentally and physically. Their fear of saying “no” ends up with them burning out. When they face up to their fear of failing and free themselves of it, along with their unhelpful belief systems they no longer feel like they need to take on the impossible. I work with clients to take them beyond their fears so they can move forward.
Communicate that the unreasonable expectations and workload is actually putting the business at risk. Your job as an employee is to shine the spotlight on this and to help your company avoid penalties, fines, loss of profit, a sullied reputation etc. Share the responsibility of what is doable by asking your line manager or customer to collaboratively decide what is and isn’t tolerable in terms of risk and deliverables. Then together agree as set of achievable outcomes and priorities.
One way to do this is to provide a range of costs and options. I like to use the analogy of the Chinese Set Menu.
4. CHINESE SET MENU OPTIONS
Lay out what you can deliver by when and for what cost. It is clear that Set Menu 1 consists of A, B and C and costs £x. With Set Menu 2 they can have A, B, C and D but for the higher price of £xx and with Set Menu 3 they can have A, B, C, not D but they can have E for £xx.
Then get your line manager/customer to choose what they want. Make it their choice so you can manage their expectations about what they can have and for what level of funding.
If they want the a la carte menu then they need to increase their funding.
5. SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS
Don’t accept the line of reasoning that you are just supposed to be able to absorb an unlimited amount of extra work with the same number of people/budget, and keep delivering at the same level and scope of quality, excellence and completeness. If you do, you show that you are someone who is easy to push about and can’t say no. Sadly, you will get dumped on time and time again until you break.
If you present the reality and share the problem, you build credibility and respect by showing that you can do the job, but you are not willing to do it without enough resources.
If you are facing this issue, you are not alone. This is a very common challenge. If you need help to navigate through situations like this The Mindset Clinic offers coaching to both individuals and businesses at very competitive rates.
Rebecca Sanderson is a Mindset Coach and helps people to build happier healthier lives for themselves.