Managing an excessive, toxic workload

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Rey Elbo

In The Workplace

We don’t have a strict management policy against absenteeism and tardiness. We use the biometric timekeeping device for security reasons and not for attendance record-keeping. We were told by management that we are responsible adult human beings and therefore should be treated as such. In fact, our work schedule incorporates flextime where everyone must be physically present during the core period from nine in the morning up to four in the afternoon and log in eight hours of work every day Monday to Friday. Despite this ideal set-up, many employees are stressed out due to heavy workloads and stiff deadlines that lead us, many times during the week, to bring our laptops home in order to work overtime. Is there a cure for us? — Bewildered.

A pastor was so proud of his new “loose-leaf” Bible and decided to use it as he began preaching a series from the Book of Genesis. On the second Sunday of his series, he was on the story of the fall of man and as he was reading his text he read: “And Adam said to Eve…” Then he turned the page to complete the verse but looked puzzled for a few seconds.

Finally realizing what had happened, he looked up rather embarrassed and said, “…it looks like a leaf is missing!”

Sometimes, no matter how you think your management has become lax in enforcing the attendance policy, it can knowingly or unknowingly remove a leaf by being strict in some other way. In fact, I know of some major organizations that even pay the highest pay and perks package in their industry but demand unreasonable performance standards and targets. It amounts to the same thing.

Organizations implement flextime policies and relax their attendance rules out of consideration for workers battling the hassles of their daily commute, but make up for it by overloading their people. It’s a simple case of whatever is given by the right hand is taken back by the left hand.

But, don’t despair. There are many ways to manage your situation, including the following:

One, offer a mutually-acceptable compromise with your boss. The next time he overloads you with Project ABC, inform him that you are working on Project XYZ that already has a stiff deadline. He may have forgotten about it. Therefore, it’s reasonable to remind him about it and ask the possibility of putting Project XYZ on the back burner to allow you to accept another project. Emphasize the fact that it is humanly impossible for you to do both simultaneously under the desired quality standard and timeline.

Two, challenge the rationale for why a certain project must be done. It’s a sensitive matter. Therefore, do it diplomatically the best as you can. Offer a counter-argument that invokes the greater interests of the organization. Learn when to say: “I’d like to accept such a task, but maybe there’s another way of completing that project. Allow me to think it over for one day and I will get back to you with another solution.”

Three, ask for assistance from other departments, if necessary. Someone said: “Be strong enough to stand alone. Smart enough to know when to seek help. And brave enough to ask for it.” Almost, always, it’s reasonable to ask for help from other people when circumstances warrant it. If you don’t ask, the answer will be always “no,” and you’ll regret it later when others are more than ready to assist you.

Four, apply the principles of Lean Management in everything you do. Be critical of unnecessary steps or non-value adding steps or documents that are repetitive and superfluous. For instance, in hiring people, don’t require job applicants to submit their birth certificate and passport, which contain the same information. Or avoid creating a situation that requires many signatories to a single document.

Last, have a clean and uncluttered work desk that gives you a clear mind. You can’t fool your boss or anyone that you are too busy with so many papers and documents on top of your desk. Don’t believe Albert Einstein when he said “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, then what’s the meaning of an empty desk?” Obviously, he was joking. If not, admit the fact that you’re not Einstein.

Whatever happens, there are times that you will have to accept additional work, even though it is straining you hard. The best that you can do under the circumstances is to believe somehow that you’re being trusted and your boss remains confident in your ability to complete all the assigned tasks on time, at the best quality while using less resources.

ELBONOMICS: Being busy and being productive are two different things.


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