In a 2014 article entitled “The Overwhelmed Employee,” researchers at Deloitte University Press conducted a study introducing the business world to an emerging concept in HR known as, you guessed it, the Overwhelmed Employee. In an age where employees are more connected than ever, productivity has experienced a surprising downturn. With more access to work, employees experience the effects of what’s being called “hyper-employment,” where the lines between work life and personal life become blurred to the point where employees may feel like they never leave work at all, so tethered they’ve become to their mobile devices. With the ability to do work anywhere, the pressure to produce has a tendency to grow, while the productivity of any given hour actually goes down. By applying simplification of work to a busy work flow, employees can recover their sanity and make productive headway in their positions.
Given this phenomenon, human resources departments are faced with a host of new challenges to overcome, mostly centered on the importance of the simplification of work. The good news is, in an age where businesses and corporations are growing more comfortable with flexing the lines of old-fashioned “9-to-5” working hour restrictions, and moving towards an attitude of facilitating work rather than dictating it, there is hope for the thousands of overwhelmed employees in the global business world today.
Overwhelmed employees – who are they, and who is at risk?
The key phrase to remember here is “information overload.” According to Deloitte University Press, the overwhelmed employee is one who is so well connected via mobile device, social media, or other communications efforts that he or she actually experiences a reduction in his or her productivity. The exact reasons for this downturn are unclear, though it likely has something to do with the inability to disconnect from the mobile world and spend time actively solving problems and moving forward on projects.
Whose Problem is it Anyway?
So to whom does the responsibility of addressing this phenomenon and the simplification of work fall? Is it the responsibility of the company to embrace the more free-flowing, organic work flow of companies such as Google or Apple Inc., or does time management fall squarely within the realm of the employee’s responsibilities? In all likelihood, the most productive and cost-effective answer to this question is both.
Smaller Teams and Shorter Meetings Encourage Productivity
On the HR side of things, the goal is the simplification of work. Lightening the load of the draft horse known as work flow can make a world of difference. More people involved in a task can result in a “too many cooks spoil the pot” situation and increase the time it takes to complete the project. The longer a project takes, the less productive employees feel, resulting in a decline in the level of productivity overall. How many of us have been involved in hour-or-longer meetings that seem to drag on forever and accomplish nothing? HR directors can take a cue from Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos and implement the “two pizza” rule: never hold a meeting with more people than two pizzas would feed.
Another tactic is to hold “stand up” meetings, where employees gather to discuss the project without sitting. Similarly to the benefits of standing desks, holding meetings standing up improves blood flow, energy, and mood, according to dietician Joe Leech, resulting in shorter, more productive meeting times.
Another way corporations can streamline the work flow of their employees is through consumerization of work. This concept uses integrated desktop applications, communication methods, and information accessibility to improve the simplification of work. By employing technologies that are meant to work together, companies cut down on number of clicks and logins, which consolidates steps and reduces the distraction potential and tech support nightmare of using a plethora of unrelated technologies. One major improvement in a global business world is the use of communications technologies like Skype or Zoom to hold business calls. With webcams and connection speeds improving across the world, companies can hold long-distance face-to-face calls with little to no interference. By implementing global communications technologies, companies can dramatically reduce travel time (and expenses), keeping their employees at home and focused on their own simplification efforts.
Awareness of Mind
“When the number of small interruptions outweighs the amount of planned work in a given hour, that impact is felt in slower progress, [and] lower job satisfaction,” say Carol Cain and Saira Haque. This, in a nutshell, is the main expression of the Overwhelmed Employee. So what can employees, possibly even you, do to effectively balance work flow and home life, and simplify your production process to do less work more effectively, rather than doing more with less?
First, becoming aware of one’s mental processes can make a massive positive impact on production level. By training themselves to notice when they are becoming distracted, and replacing poor habits with positive ones, overwhelmed employees can grab their productivity by the horns. Some examples of this would be learning to turn off the phone for a given time period throughout the day, eliminating distractions, and learning to spend dedicated time on a given task.
Awareness of Body
An encouraging trend in companies is the growing awareness of the benefits of allowing employees to have mastery over their own schedules and facilitating a relaxed working environment that accepts social interaction, frequent breaks, and opportunities to exercise. More and more companies, in fact, are incorporating gym memberships, group exercise classes, or office fitness challenges as benefits to encourage their employees to get out and move around. Exercise is shown to improve productivity and energy levels over the course of the day. Other small changes like sitting on an exercise ball and drinking plenty of water can make a world of difference as employees move toward the simplification of work and improve their productivity.
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