I recently reviewed the six mismatches between the job and the individual employee which can lead to job related burnout. I want to take you on a more in depth look at each of these mismatches, the how and why people come to hate their job or work environment so much. I’ll discuss one of these each week for the next six weeks.
The first of these job-employee mismatches, work overload, seems almost universal nowadays. Everyone seems to be expected to do ever more with less or for less, usually in the face of cost cutting measures undertaken to maintain profit margins.
Downsizing, budget cuts, layoffs, reorganization efforts all usually result in three things – more work intensity, more demands on time, more job complexity. In short, people are required to do ever more with less and less. This can leave individuals exhausted emotionally, mentally and physically.
Businesses are in business to make money. You cannot stay in business otherwise. You can come at this notion from a purely altruistic angle and say that you are in business to serve people but how many people can you serve from a business that is failing or bankrupt? With either perspective, when costs are rising ahead of profits and product or service prices are raised to what the market will bear, then the only other way available to maintain profits is to institute cost cutting measures.
Unless you are in business solo, employee salaries are the largest business expenditure you will have. If you are the owner of a business with shrinking profit margins then letting any superfluous employees go is the easiest and fastest first step back toward profitability. That is the employer’s perspective.
However, once you have removed any non-essential employees, further reductions in staffing will begin to impact the functions of all remaining employees. With fewer and fewer hands to do the work, work intensity and complexity must increase within ever smaller per task time frames. That is the employee’s perspective.
Eventually, a point is reached when the demands of the job out strip and outpace the ability of the individual to adequately perform the job. The employee suffers, the product or service suffers, the business suffers, and ultimately the customer suffers.
I hear patients talk about bosses who continue to pile work on their desks or ask them to take on and manage new responsibilities. The employee, of course, feels obligated to try and do the extra work. My profession is not immune to this. Physicians, like me, are required to see more and more patients in less and less time.
Employees feel trapped. They are often loath or fearful to tell their manager or boss, “no more, I can’t possibly do all of this work”. Or, “I have all I can manage at this time” and then refuse any requests to take on more work or responsibility.
The managers or bosses, never hearing an emphatic protest, continue to ask the employees to bear ever more of the workload. Even when protests are made or complaints are lodged, many bosses may dismiss them with a statement like, “Oh, I’m sure you will manage. You always do.” Or, “This is just temporary until things improve.” Or worse, “If you can’t do the work, I’m sure someone else can or will”.
Sometimes both bosses and employees will often buy into the hopeful notion of multitasking. I hear the word multitasking and I just laugh. Of all the silly notions to come down the pike in the last 20 years this has to be among the worst and most absurd.
Multitasking is a myth. The human brain can do one thing at a time very well or multiple functions at a time sub-optimally. There is no such thing as multitasking if you have a requirement for excellence.
Business and manufacturing operations have become so complex multitasking has become an impossibility. If you ever doubt this have a conversation with someone touting the benefits of multitasking and ask if they would be in favor of having a surgeon multitask while performing a life-saving operation on one of their family members or on themselves.
No? Well, maybe they would love the concept of a multitasking airline pilot or air traffic controller. Look at all of the distraction issues mobile devices have created. Social networking on a device while simultaneously trying to do something else is a form of multitasking for which no one gets a passing grade.
But, with great and sometimes valiant efforts, the employee often does somehow manage ever increasing workloads which only serves to reinforce the bosses notion that the employees can handle all the work they can dole out. This leaves the door open for future workload increases.
So begins a circular downward spiral toward employee burnout and business failures. You know, it just doesn’t have to be this way. There is a way out of this work overload burnout trap.
Please, come back here next week as I continue this series on the job-employee mismatches leading to burnout and what to do about them. In the meantime, have you ever been asked to handle more work than your capacity to deliver? If so, what did you do about it? If you are overloaded with work and not voicing your concerns, is the situation getting better or worse over time?