Pressure, panic and productivity

Apr 17 2009 by Nic Paton Print This Article

We've all been there. You slave late into the night to get that report on to the bosses' desk only for, without a word of thanks, another last-minute, priority, urgent, immediate, panic deadline to appear before you can even draw breath.

With bosses and managers under intense pressure themselves to deliver results, it's perhaps not that surprising that stress and pressure is spreading down the food chain, and that workers, according to latest research, are feeling increasingly put upon to deliver instant results day-in and day-out.

But the risk for managers is that, by constantly demanding that things be done by yesterday, they not only generate resentment and stress but also play havoc with how employees prioritise their work, sometimes meaning the really important stuff ends up getting overlooked.

What's more, creating an environment where everyone is constantly fire-fighting or scrambling on the hamster wheel can be damaging to a manager's authority and credibility, and mean organisations become less able to respond effectively when things really do hit the fan.

A poll of 103 managers and business leaders by Boston-based WFD Consulting has identified a clear trend of workloads and stress rising in the workplace matched by plummeting morale, motivation and endurance.

Eight out of 10 of those polled said that both managers' and employees' workloads had increased in the past 12 months, leading to a ratcheting up in stress across the board.

At the same time, half complained that their employees' motivation, energy and endurance had decreased.

A key factor in all this was the growing demand for immediate action and rapid turnaround all the time, with two thirds of those polled reporting a sharp increase in expectations concerning speed of execution.

Another factor was the continuing global expansion of the workplace, meaning that workers were often having to extend their day at either end to manage the demands of a global workforce.

Fewer than half said workloads in their organisations were reasonable and only a third said their organisations had eliminated most low value, unnecessary work, a key factor contributing to workload and overwork.

Workers identified "inadequate staffing to meet work demands" as one of the biggest factors driving excessive workload.

Other factors include "conflicting priorities" and "poor communication and coordination among different functions".

Just four out of 10 said their companies had taken action to address workload issues or eliminate low-value work.

The most common actions were better prioritisation of work to focus on a few critical needs, improvement of processes, rethinking and replanning projects to shorten cycle times and increase efficiency and finally the outsourcing of non-priority and low-value work.

And the benefits of prioritising, well, prioritising were clear, the survey concluded.

Organisations that recognised the impact of workload pressure generally did more to help build up employee resilience and help manage stress.

Companies that encouraged the use of flexible work options and enabled teams to self-manage their workloads also tended to do better.

Other common activities included promoting their EAPs, health and wellness programmes and fitness centres.

On top of this, better communication by leaders to employees, especially on the financial state of the organisation, and better communication about the sort of support available could all make a difference, argued the consultancy.