Wearing Too Many Hats Is Grinding Your Workers Down
The past year exposed all manner of entrenched workplace thinking, brittle process gaps and interdependencies for businesses. Many of these have now come into sharp focus — and how organizations react will very much define their chances of future success.
For some time, people have felt over-extended. Relentless productivity drives, the glamorization of high-growth trajectories, the adoption of lean and agile ways of working, and decisions not to replace departing staff all contributed to the remaining workforce feeling squeezed.
The last year only accentuated such feelings. While best-in-practice employers juggled workloads and kept employee experience at the fore, others clearly struggled. Staff felt pressured to work harder and longer, while defending themselves against suspicions that home-based workers don’t put in enough effort or hours.
One in five people in the global workforce felt their productivity and workload was "misunderstood by their employers" in the current climate, one survey found.
Another survey of 13,000 knowledge workers in eight geographies including the U.S. found “having too much work to do” was the top barrier to productivity, and that seven in 10 workers experienced burnout in the past year as a result.
Do You Know Where Knowledge Sits in Your Organization?
If you surveyed your own teams today, how many would be performing roles that exactly matched their position description? How many have taken on additional roles, some by choice, others not? How well do you understand what each and every person in your organization does?
We went through this exercise several times this past year as organizations tried to navigate a path through pandemic-related uncertainty. We documented the multiple hats people wore internally. With each hat comes an accompanying domain of knowledge and expertise. If businesses don't know what knowledge sits where, it can easily be lost, particularly in times of crisis.
Times of crisis often accentuate challenges. During COVID—19, staff often did what they felt was necessary to ensure their employer appeared responsive and flexible to customers’ needs, even if it meant temporarily acting out of position or completing processes outside of their immediate area of expertise.
However, that situation is as unsustainable as it is undesirable in the medium to long-term.
For businesses starting to move beyond the pandemic into recovery and growth phases, it is important to pause and map what you have now: the changed processes, changed roles and changed people.
Related Article: One Business Outcome of the Pandemic: Organizational Knowledge Loss
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Easing the Strain on Employees
One positive which has emerged from all of this is a greater emphasis on staff well-being and mental health. These conversations are starting to extend to areas workers had on their wish lists for some time, such as a desire for more permanent flexible working arrangements and for technology that eases their day-to-day workload.
As Gartner noted back in 2019, "reducing reporting or automating workflows are just some of the small changes organizations can make to help workers have a productive and satisfying day."
We're starting to see this take shape. Documenting what people do on a day-to-day basis — whether part of their job description or not — and how over-extended they are is crucial to understanding how and where they might benefit from automation. Mundane, high-volume daily tasks can then be automated using technologies such as robotic process automation (RPA) or intelligent automation (IA).
This can ease the immediate burden on staff, and keep any extra burden at bay, since systems will be in place to understand on a rolling basis what each employee does. Visibility and transparency into the employee experience, using process mapping tools, is a path to creating employee satisfaction.
Related Article: Planning a Return to the Office? Don't Forget to Do This One Thing
It’s All About Retention
Keeping people happy is particularly crucial in the current employment market. Anyone who has tried recruiting in the past few months will understand just how competitive the race for talent is.
While people will always move on, and some of that is outside of your control, it makes sense to avoid the recruitment market if possible.
Staff workload is a mappable and manageable process that is within the control of organizations. It’s past time to make it a priority.
About the Author
Chris Ellis, technical director at Nintex, gained invaluable experience in SharePoint, Office 365 and the Nintex Platform as a pre-sales solution specialist within the partner network. Hailing from Aberdeen in Scotland, his work with the Nintex Platform exposed him to the full lifecycle from analysis and requirement gathering to delivery, support and training, contributing across a spectrum of projects in various industries and in some interesting places.