When it comes to increasing the productivity of teams, we need to stop thinking of people as if they are balloons. This is especially true of top performers, those wonderful go-to workers we approach for those tasks that just come up. You know they’re talented, so why can’t they take on some additional work? No reason whatsoever, and, as a result, they’re given more and more tasks to perform.
Think about blowing air into a balloon. At first, you inflate it with great enthusiasm. You enjoy watching the balloon grow. You think bigger is better. But, if you put too much air in, there’s a good chance the balloon will explode. You end up with nothing. After all, what can you do with a burst balloon? It becomes a piece of garbage.
In terms of productivity, additional tasks are like extra air going into a balloon. For a while, an employee can accommodate the extra work. At some point, however, they will reach a limit. For employees, the “explosion” may result in something important not getting done, a task performed poorly or inescapable burnout. This often leads to employee turnover and who isn’t worried about that major problem?
When people decide it’s better to leave than to stay, studies have found that you end up paying up to 150 percent of the employee’s salary to find a replacement. Low retention is a productivity killer as it will take time to find and train someone new. In addition, coworkers may not want to be in an environment where these kinds of productivity explosions occur. Think of how you would feel watching someone inflate a balloon to the point of popping. It’s uncomfortable.
In this busy business world, it is easy for a team or an individual to get over-inflated with work. In order to prevent that, keep the following options in mind:
New tasks and responsibilities will come along, but do you always need to be adding things to people’s plates? Consider whether you can remove some duties. Some tasks may be ready to be retired. Regularly revisiting priorities and goals is needed.
Have honest conversations with your team about workloads. If someone is overwhelmed or concerned about things not getting done, you, as the leader, both want and need to know about it. This honesty may be a challenge for some employees. It is incumbent upon the leader to ensure there is a safe environment in which they embrace big-picture thinking and not feel they will be criticized for admitting that they have too much to do. As a leader, you have the challenge of listening with an open mind.
Every business has its busy times; most employees understand and expect that. Everyone can endure a revved up workload for a while. The problem is when people start to think that those busiest times are going to become the status quo. Therefore, make sure that after these strenuous periods, people have a chance to catch up on tasks and restore the balance.
It’s easy to think that giving a good performer more work will result in a solid outcome. This is especially true if they are not verbally complaining. If you’re not careful, however, any short-term gain will be shortlived and your long-term productivity will be limited.
Ken Okel works with smart leaders and association members who want to unleash employee production, performance and profitability. Ken shares his experiences from the high pressure worlds of broadcast news, hurricane relief and professional ballet. To learn more, visit www.KenOkel.com