One of the biggest stresses we all face at work is workload. It seems to climb ever upwards (along with expectations), as timeframes spiral ever downwards.
Unfortunately, your boss isn’t likely to call a halt to it. If you’re becoming overloaded, you have two choices:
- Put up with it, struggle to get by, get sick from the stress and fall further behind, or
- Draw a line and start managing what crosses it. Learn to say ‘no’ – or at least “what do you want me to drop off my list to fit this in? or is it going on overtime?” (You’ll be amazed how quickly your workload drops once paid overtime gets raised!)
Remember, it’s your boss’ job to make sure that everything gets done. Part of that is making sure there’s enough skilled people to do it. It’s your job to make sure your boss knows what you’re capable of doing. That includes making sure he/she has realistic expectations that you can sustain long term – otherwise it’s a short term burst followed by time off for recovery after which you have to overload again because of all that’s piled up while you were recovering, and in the end they’ll lose you – either through your leaving, or the health problems a lifestyle like that will inevitably bring.
That’s in NOBODY’s best interests.
Human-oriented workload vs Robot workloads
The industrial age saw a lot of jobs created, but as technology developed, many of these started becoming automated, as robotic technology developed to do the kind of repetitive, mindless stuff that nobody ever enjoyed doing. As this started happening, the ‘process improvement’ approach took off and started trying to find ways to make workers more productive. This movement hasn’t yet cottoned on to the fact that humans can’t maintain maximum productivity on a sustained basis. With the expectations high, we tend to have bursts of going OVER the sustainable mark (the cliche 120%) and then needing to recover with a period of 80% – or lower depending on how much we’ve pushed ourselves. If you consider 100% to be the level of workload which can be maintained, some people max out at up to 200%, and then end up needing time off, either sick or holiday leave, but most bosses then fail to realise that the 120%-200% output is NOT a benchmark they can expect every day, and keep revising job descriptions upwards to reflect what they think they can get someone to achieve. (at least down here in Australia – is it the same where you live?)
If your boss doesn’t recognise the need for recovery time after a bout of ‘pushing it’, then you need to find ways to work it in. Does your workload have a couple of peak days where it’s always busy (preparing for key meetings, delivering regular reports etc)? Then start giving yourself a lower workload on the days where it’s not, and work on the expectations of the people around you by extending timeframes on anything you can. Allow yourself to work at something less than a frenetic pace for a change. Take breaks – there’s lots of evidence that your productivity actually improves if you make sure you take time to walk away from your desk or workspace and clear your head. (An excellent read on this is The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr & Tony Schwartz, I keep telling my bosses to read it!)
Suggested next steps:
Start learning to say ‘no’. It’s one of the most empowering things you can do. It’s also a more fair approach than giving yourself so much to do that nobody gets your best work, and you end up taking time off to recuperate.
If you’re the kind of person who finds it hard to say that the plate is already overloaded, and lets face it that’s most of us, start looking at taking an assertiveness course, or lookup some of the free assertiveness material available online. Trust me, it’s a brilliant investment, and will repay dividends in confidence and empowerment as well as time.
Take any breaks you’re due. They’re supposed to be factored in to your day and pay, so don’t knock yourself out by working through – it cheats both you and your employers in the long run. Keeping yourself rested is the best way to keep your workload and stress levels under control. Don’t forget the fable of the tortoise and the hare – who won that race?
Get in the habit of extending timeframes to allow for down time as well as up time. It’s a truism in project management that any estimate you come up with needs to be extended to 150% to allow for the things that inevitably will go wrong. Why argue with expert knowledge? Don’t put unrealistic expectations on yourself this way. If you’ve delivered something before in less time, you can raise that your other workload is different, and/or you’re allowing for other factors to come into play – you may have to appease them with “I may be able to deliver it in less time, and I’ll certainly work to do so, but I’d hate to give you an unrealistic estimate and end up putting you out by having to go over.”
Turning away from the dark side…
To turn your workplace into a more positive environment, one that’s healthy for your self-esteem, you need to do more than alleviate the pressure. You need to create an environment that gives you a sense of accomplishment and value. That’s tomorrow’s topic… Look forward to seeing you then!
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