Managing workloads is one of the most common but challenging tasks employees face every day.
There are many reasons why it’s important workloads are prioritized and completed effectively, from basic productivity for the business to the mental wellbeing of the individual. People who feel they can’t cope with their workload will be at high risk of stress, burnout and possibly long-term sick leave.
With this in mind, what steps can you take to help employees manage their workloads?
1. Use clear classifications
Applying clear and unambiguous classifications to certain tasks makes it easier for employees to decide which ones to tackle immediately and which ones to delay, while other objectives take priority.
There are various classifications you could use, such as:
- Critical importance
- High importance
- Moderate importance
- Low importance
Alternatively, you could opt for a simple numbering system from 1 to 5, with 1 signifying the most urgent priorities and 5 the tasks that can wait until other jobs are finished.
Introducing a clear system such as this can make it easier for people to manage their workload and feel confident they’re focusing their energies where they’re most needed.
2. Link tasks to business value
On a similar theme, it can prove highly effective to allocate tasks a certain value, based on the benefit the business will gain from them being completed as quickly as possible.
If, for example, you’re a B2B company and a client urgently requests your help with a time-sensitive project they’re working on, this should be seen as a high-value task. Doing it well will earn revenue for your business and strengthen the relationship with the client, increasing the likelihood of them returning in the future.
By comparison, an internal task such as reconfiguring a database or planning a training session is likely to have a lower immediate value, and can therefore be relegated down the list of priorities.
3. Train for flexibility
Most companies will be well aware that things can change very quickly in business. New jobs, targets and customer expectations emerge all the time, and something that was a major priority yesterday might not be quite so urgent today.
Employees should be mentored and trained to prepare for this unpredictability. Flexibility and adaptability are extremely valuable characteristics that allow your team members to shift focus between different tasks when they need to.
That said, people also need to know when one task takes precedence over another, and should be able to work on key priorities without distraction.
4. Deflect distractions
It’s often the job of the manager to act as a shield against distractions, so the members of your team can focus their attention on completing urgent tasks.
If your team is currently engaged in an intensive project that has tight deadlines, they shouldn’t be diverted by requests from other departments, irrelevant phone calls or general interruptions. Even if an interruption itself only lasts a couple of minutes, it can take up to 25 minutes for a worker to refocus after it has been dealt with.
One method that can prove effective is to structure your team in a way that minimizes distractions for certain individuals. Junior staff can be tasked with handling calls or dealing with day-to-day issues and queries, so senior members can focus on jobs that are more urgent or carry more value for the business.
5. Have regular reviews
Employees who are left to manage and complete heavy workloads on their own could soon feel isolated, unsupported and - if they have difficulties - highly stressed.
As a manager, you should arrange regular reviews with team members to discuss how they’re getting on with their work, if they have any questions and if there’s anything you can do to help them.
In many cases, people will be getting on well and won’t have anything they need to discuss, but just knowing there will be regular opportunities to speak to their manager can help employees feel comfortable and reassured.
6. Be realistic
To avoid placing too much stress or expectation on your employees’ shoulders, it’s vital to be fair and realistic about what they can achieve in a given timeframe. Infeasible requests will simply create panic within teams and, ultimately, the quality of their work will suffer.
Taking a practical, common-sense approach to what employees are expected to do will make it much easier for people to plan their time and hit their targets.
Furthermore, you have to accept there will be times when certain tasks have to be abandoned or postponed. There’s only so much time in the day, and the best you can do is ensure your people are working efficiently and your resources are dedicated to the most valuable, business-critical jobs.