The results in simple exercise can provide a helpful basis for a team discussion.
Recent Australian-based research shows that, in many sectors, the ongoing push for productivity improvements is putting people under increasing pressure. The same data evidences that the escalating cost of living is also placing stress on workers and their families. It seems that many Australians are working harder and longer than ever before but generally feel that life is not getting any easier.
Against this backdrop, when people develop a sense of being overworked, underpaid or both, it's common to assume that they are experiencing the inevitable consequences of challenging economic times. Pressure easily comes back on managers for pay increases and adjustments to what workers should be expected to do.
Whilst there is of course a place for the individual and collective bargaining and agreement setting that ensures workers at all levels get a fair deal it is also part of management's role to understand and deal with factors which can lead unnecessarily to people feeling overworked and/or that they are not paid enough to do what is expected of them.
Effort vs outcomes
The first place to look when staff members express concerns about being overworked is the relationship between the effort they are putting in and the outcomes they are expected to achieve. What activities are consuming people's time? And to what extent are these contributing to achievement of key goals? People under pressure routinely focus on how much they have to do and how little time they have to do it and can lose sight of what they need to achieve. Sometimes staff members believe they are doing the right things and using their time wisely but if managers have failed to articulate clear goals efforts are easily misdirected.
The exercise below can provide helpful clarification and a basis for constructive discussion about the relationship between effort and outcomes. It can be used as a team-based activity if you have staff management responsibilities. It works equally well as a basis for assessing your personal productivity or assisting a staff member to look at theirs.
Begin with a blank sheet of paper or an electronic worksheet and at the top note down work-related goals for the year
Create four columns beneath the goals and in the first column note the key activities which have consumed time over the past year month or week whichever makes most sense in your particular workplace.
Then in the third column assign each activity to category A B or C as follows:
A = Made a major contribution to achievement of one or more key goals.
B = Some contribution to key goals but significantly less than A.
C = Minimal if any contribution
Take a ‘big picture' look at your analysis in particular looking at the ratio of B and C items to A items.
Now estimate the number of hours per week (or month if you prefer) spent on each activity or set of activities. Add the estimate of hours for A for B and for C rated activities.
The results of this simple exercise can provide a helpful basis for a team discussion a one-on-one with a staff member or personal action taking.
The case of small human resources team is illustrative. Sensing that they were all under pressure and knowing how much more was expected of them team members completed the above exercise individually and then used a regular team meeting to discuss the results. They realised that they had been losing focus on one of their key goals which was to lead cultural change across the organisation. Activities such as attendance at other departments' meetings and assisting managers to deal with their day-to-day people-related problems both rated as ‘B' in the above exercise had been consuming a high proportion of their time. In contrast development of a five year workforce strategy and other strategic projects associated with key goals for the team were frustratingly behind schedule.
The results of their analysis provided team members and the team's manager with a basis for adjusting priorities and for a revised approach to service delivery across the organisation. All members of the team became more satisfied with the results of their efforts.
The manager's role
Managers have often unwittingly contributed to staff feelings of being overworked through their approach to their own role. In this respect clear goal-setting and regular performance feedback to staff are just part of management's responsibility. Managers must also solicit and respond intelligently to staff feedback about their first-hand experiences of their work. When managers pay careful attention they are often able to detect the organisation-related stressors on staff and deal with them proactively.
For example when a local authority relocated to a brand new office with open plan arrangements it came to light that staff members across the organisation were taking more work home more than ever before. Whilst some people loved the new environment others found it impossible to apply focused effort to major projects.
In another example staff members in a public library service complained to management that a new computer system was causing a great deal of extra work. Each had attended training in the new system and knew that adjustments would be needed to how they worked in order to accommodate the new system. However nobody had expected the new system to increase staff workload.
Circumstances like these have the potential to escalate into widespread dissatisfaction manifesting as claims of being overworked or underpaid. Proactive attention to the factors which support staff to do what they are paid to do and to do it to a high standard are an important part of management work. This is especially true when you are in a first line supervisory role as is usually the case when professionals initially move into management.
The issue of pay
There are times when you simply need help with decision-making about pay. In particular you want to know whether concerns expressed by staff are valid in terms of comparative rates in your industry sector and perhaps to extend the analysis by looking at other sectors.
There is plenty of material in the APESMA website based on remuneration survey reports. The reports detail base salary and total remuneration by:
|• responsibility level||• job function|
|• experience||• discipline|
|• qualification||• sector|
|• industry||• turnover and|
|• geographic location.|
APESMA conducts market rates surveys for professional engineers scientists pharmacists IT professionals and Graduate Engineers. For further information you can visit Market Rates.
Looking for more ideas?
For readers with an interest in extending their reading the following articles and guides are available on the website:
|Dealing with workplace stress|
|Are you a workaholic?|
About the Author
Dr Janet Fitzell is an independent organisational consultant and facilitator specialising in organisational development and team dynamics through her company FourLeaf Consulting Pty Ltd (http://www.fourleaf.com.au/). She facilitates strategic planning and team development undertakes organisational reviews coaches individuals and teams and generally helps organisations to build sustainable futures.
” 17 48