How to assess and create a healthy workload distribution on your team
One of the most challenging parts of managing a team is maintaining a proper workload distribution. You don’t want anyone to feel overwhelmed or burned out by a heavy workload, but you also need all of the work to get done. Plus, on every team there will be those that overachieve when it comes to productivity and those that fall behind. Many managers come to rely on those overachievers a bit too heavily and end up burning out their best workers. That’s why effective workload management is one of the most important management skills to develop.
Many teams have unbalanced workload distributions that end up harming their teams. From the high achievers who get saddled with too many tasks to the less productive workers who get overlooked rather than receiving the support and coaching that they need to get up to speed. Striking the perfect balance is tricky, but we’ve provided seven tips and techniques to help you better balance your team’s workload.
Risks associated with uneven workload distribution
Many leaders don’t see the problem with an uneven workload as long as everything gets done, but there are likely several underlying issues that they are overlooking. Let’s explore some of the risks of an unbalanced workload distribution.
Employee burnout and increased turnover
Employees who consistently work beyond their capacity will eventually burn out. Employee burnout is characterized as a form of work-related stress that causes physical and/or emotional exhaustion. According to the Mayo Clinic, It often results in the employee feeling a reduced sense of accomplishment in their work and experiencing a loss of personal identity.
A heightened workload is certainly something that could create prolonged work stress and lead to burnout, which is why it’s a good idea to evenly divide work among the entire team rather than putting too much work on one person’s task list. A balanced workload should result in everyone on the team having an appropriate amount of work. The workload may feel challenging at times, but no one person should be drowning in work.
Burnout is also a significant factor in turnover, as employees experiencing burnout will not feel motivated, will not feel a sense of pride in completing their work, and may become socially isolated from their peers. Eventually, they may decide that it is time to quit and move to a company that offers better work-life balance and a more manageable workload.
Resentment between team members
If you’re putting too much work on one person’s plate, they’ll likely feel a bit resentful or frustrated. However, the way that this resentment manifests will be different depending on whether there is a high but even workload or an uneven workload. If the workload is high all around, everyone will be stressed and they may resent the company or their manager. This isn’t ideal but hopefully, it will only be a short-term situation and the employer will take steps to bring in more help and leverage other strategies to keep morale as high as possible.
If the workload distribution is noticeably quite uneven, the employee with the higher workload will often direct some of the resentment or frustration toward their coworkers. They may feel that the others are not pulling their weight or are contributing to the workload distribution issue.
This is often even worse for morale than the employee resenting their manager or the company itself. It leads to more interpersonal conflict within their peer group, breaks down the bonds between peers, and hinders teamwork. With a Gallup study showing that having a close friend at work boosts employee engagement, productivity, and retention, it’s important for managers to try to create work environments that foster friendships or at least friendly interactions between team members, and an uneven workload can hinder that.
Over-reliance on specific team members
Sometimes small businesses put more reliance on their highly productive team members in place of hiring added employees. One person shouldn’t be doing the job of two or three full-time employees, even if you know that they can. The obvious reason to avoid this is that they will inevitably experience burnout and need to slow down at some point. Employees know when you are overly reliant on them and they feel that pressure.
The other issue is that relying too heavily on one person will backfire when they need time off. If a single person accounts for a majority of your team’s overall productivity, you will be in a bad spot if that person needs to take time off. Efficient employees also get sick, take vacations, and even need more long-term leave like FMLA leave at times.
How to better manage workload distribution in your team
Now that you understand the risks of unbalanced work distribution, let’s explore how to fix it and re-balance your workload.
Know your team’s capacity
Leaders should know what their team’s capacity for work is. Improper workload distribution is often the result of a team leader trying to stretch their team beyond capacity. Knowing your team’s capacity as well as each employee’s individual workload capacity will help you become better at workload planning and resource allocation as new projects arise. There are also capacity planning templates available to help you organize and plan for your team’s capacity to handle projects or tasks.
Use a project management tool to monitor assignments
Using a project management or workload management tool can give you a clearer picture of your team’s workload and how balanced it is. If you are just handing out work to whoever is available or to the person that you know will get it done quickly, it can be hard to discern whether there is an unbalanced workload within your team.
You don’t need to have advanced project management tools or experience to implement this strategy. Using task management apps like Trello or Asana is an excellent way to organize your employee’s workload in a simple to-do list format. It also allows for better workload planning by allowing managers to visualize the current workload distribution and decide where to assign new tasks. They can also get a clear view of the workload balance and see if anyone has too much on their plate.
Divide initial assignments evenly and reward extra work
In some industries, commission payouts or performance-based bonuses make up a significant portion of each employee’s compensation. If employees are going to earn more for higher productivity, you typically don’t have to worry as much about giving more efficient employees extra work. Your high performers are likely working at a faster pace to increase their earnings.
You will want to provide a fair and even opportunity to earn, even if the final productivity metrics and workload distribution may end up uneven across your team. Aim for every team member to start the week with an even workload and allow those who finish early to take on more. This at least ensures that everyone gets plenty of work to do and plenty of opportunities to earn income and hit any required target metrics, while those who want higher workloads can take on extra work to increase their earning potential.
If your company doesn’t offer a formal bonus or commission structure for higher productivity, either keep the workload even or find other ways to reward high productivity. That may be buying them lunch or giving them a paid afternoon off on a particularly productive week, investing in their professional development, or giving them a small, informal bonus or gift card as a sign of appreciation.
Train employees on time management
If several of your employees are falling behind or not managing their time well, that can contribute to an uneven distribution of work. Invest some time into training your team on how to manage their time well and how to properly prioritize their assignments to help them meet deadlines and complete the expected amount of work.
This should include tips on how to stay focused on their work such as scheduling short breaks in between longer stretches of working through something like the Pomodoro Technique, how to better keep track of pending assignments and deadlines, and tips for prioritizing work tasks. For a list of techniques to train and encourage, check out our overview of the top time management techniques to boost productivity.
Automate tasks where possible
There are a lot of great software services out there that can help your team automate time-consuming tasks. These tools don’t replace your employees, they just help them work more efficiently. Even simple things like building follow-up workflow automation and pre-set client email templates within a CRM platform can help sales or customer service teams save time. Offloading specific tasks that can be automated will give your entire team more time to work on the activities that require more of a human touch.
Check in with your employees regularly
You should be meeting regularly with each team member to understand their needs, work capacity, and goals. This is both an opportunity to check in with highly productive team members to see how they are feeling about their workload and whether they are experiencing any early signs of burnout as well as an opportunity to coach lower performers.
It’s important to go in with a problem-solving mindset and really listen to what your employees are telling you during these check-ins. If an employee is underperforming try to find out where the issue is stemming from rather than assuming that they aren’t working hard. There may be certain tasks that they need more training on or they may need help managing their time better or organizing assignments in a clearer manner.
Know when the workload is unrealistic
Know what the average capacity and workload of each team member on a specified team should be. When there is enough work to necessitate an extra person, put out the job posting. If you can’t budget for an extra team member, try to divide the extra work evenly between your existing team members when possible, If certain employees are able to work quickly and help out a little bit extra, be sure to show your appreciation and check in to make sure it is not adversely impacting their wellbeing or contributing to burnout.
You should be prepared to acknowledge that maybe the workload simply isn’t realistic or achievable with your current resources, even if that means having to tell the higher-ups that your team won’t be able to take on extra work or get a requested project done by the due date.