A not-infrequent complaint I hear from my Facebook friends is “I couldn’t sleep last night. Too many things on my mind.” In a conversation I overheard at Starbucks, someone said, “I have to get going. I have so many things to do!” I will guess that most of you have also made similar statements in the recent past. In today’s fast-paced world, most of us are becoming, at least on occasion, overwhelmed. I don’t know about you, but when I get that overwhelmed feeling I become less productive, less creative, and generally unpleasant to be around.
Feeling overwhelmed is actually a fairly common malady. Whether it’s due to stressful personal lives or working lives – or a combination of the two – almost everyone has had that feeling at some point. For many of my friends and Facebook contacts, much of this predicament is self-inflicted. They are entrepreneurs or employees who are doing multiple jobs on the side. For them, this is the “cost” of being on their own. But for most employees, this feeling is not self-inflicted; rather, the pressure comes from their boss and their job.
The Damage Companies Do
American businesses often operate under the premise that they need to do more with less in order to make the most money. They hire people and work them long and hard. They staff their organizations at the minimum level possible in order to spend as little as possible. As a result, many people have more to do than their normal workday will hold. Many people work well over 50 hours per week, according to a 2014 Forbes article. Add to this their personal activities, and the result is that many people do not get enough sleep. They are not only overworked, but they are also exhausted on top of it! There are costs in quality and productivity associated with operating this way.
Many companies believe that in order to maximize profits, they have to minimize the costs associated with staffing. While there is a modicum of truth to this, as Zeynep Ton of MIT’s Sloan School of Management describes in his book The Good Jobs Strategy, companies that overstaff instead of understaffing are actually more profitable. Their employees are better able to think strategically, they serve the customers better, and they are able to cross-train and learn more. Employees who are more knowledgeable, more relaxed, and more creative are able to produce more and sell more.
In HR lingo, this translates to having “engaged” employees. The reality is that most employees don’t want to be overwhelmed and overworked. People, for the most part, want to enjoy their work, and that expectation is on the rise with the new generation of workers coming into the workplace. Those who have been there for a while may have accepted the standard way of operating as normal. But newer workers are demanding a “new normal.” They want to be engaged, but they don’t want to feel pressured by their jobs. They want to have the opportunity to be productive, but not be driven to do so.
What Can Be Done?
What is this “new normal,” and how can we get there? The solution is simple, but getting there is complicated. It is not a Human Resources solution, but HR can help drive it. It requires a totally different way of thinking from within the management team. The answer? Stop overworking your employees. Staff up, so that if someone is out sick, work doesn’t halt or someone else doesn’t get overworked. It is somewhat akin to the concept of redundancy in critical systems. You have a backup control in case one fails. In this case, you have more employees than you’ve had in the past, with the work distributed among them so that if one person has to be out, others can take up the slack.
With an increased staffing level, your employees will have time to think and be creative. They will be able to leave work on time and spend more time with their families. They will get more sleep. A happy, engaged, productive employee makes more money than one who is not.
Will this be easy? The answer to that is a resounding “NO.” Management has to believe that these kinds of changes are worthwhile. They will have to trust that the employees will get the work done and won’t just start slacking off if they ease up a bit. Management needs to have more patience and focus more on the longer-term benefits in order for things to change. HR will not be able to do this alone. They will have to work with the management team and help guide them through the process. Be aware: making this an HR initiative will doom it to failure. It needs to be solidly based on improving the bottom line. If you want examples of successful companies who have implemented these kinds of personnel changes, check out Fortune‘s The Best Places to Work list for success stories.
International HR Director for OSF Global Services, Andreea is a veteran recruiter who has seen them all. She developed HR recruiting strategies and retention programs that guarantees the success of the company. She is a people person and she handles very easy new relationships with new employees, but her most interesting challenge is to find the middle way between company’s best interests and employee’s needs. To learn more about Andreea contact her on LinkedIn.