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An Expert Answers Questions on Overload

January 1, 1999
Related Topics: Retention, Workforce Planning, Featured Article
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Mr. Wert is Senior Vice President and National Practice Leader for the Human Resources Organization Consulting Practice of The Segal Company. In this capacity, he has responsibility for business development, practice operations and account management, and he serves as the senior strategy consultant and project manager for a variety of client organizations. Mr. Wert has extensive experience in designing HR business plans, realigning HR structures, work processes, and service roles, integrating new HR technologies (e.g. PeopleSoft), and identifying outsourcing capabilities and best practices. He facilitates executive teams to define the vision for their "human capital" and helps them clarify how a differentiated human capability will build competitive advantage and organizational performance.

Q: I work in a regulated government environment where additional staff is not an option due to legislative indifference. I’m also bound by FLSA requirements and a limited budget. What happens when people get overloaded, I can’t hire more, and they aren’t allowed to work overtime due to budget issues?
A:
Your issues are not atypical in many organizations today. Although some time commitment is involved, two avenues of exploration might be:

Review and prioritize work: Review the duties and tasks of each staff member. Quite possibly there might be duties performed that should be performed in another functional area or do not need to be performed at all. Then identify which tasks/duties have priority over the others.

Review the work processes: Look at how work is being performed. Are any unnecessary steps being taken? Should and could technology be better utilized? Remember, you want to work smarter, not harder.

 

Q: How can we motivate people when our company’s numbers are so low, we are forced to layoff? Key, cadre employees now carry twice to three times their normal load and we’re afraid they will burn out before our numbers rise again and we can hire back to relieve the burden. How can we keep our golden team players energized? (We’ve been in this slump for two years, no quick end in sight.)
A:
Some possibilities include: 1) Give them a stake in the business, if they don’t already have one. Personal ties to company profitability may shift focus off of increased workload and onto increasing productivity. 2) Honestly communicate the financial status of the company and highlights of the plan to turn it around. 3) Implement non-financial recognition awards. Through this you can tell employees "we know you have more work, and we thank you for your extra efforts during this time."

Q: What are some of the most effective "retention" incentives being offered today?
A:
The effectiveness of retention incentives is going to be influenced by other factors, such as culture and company history. Popular incentives being offered today include greater flexibility and alternative work schedules, career development, job rotation, public recognition for contributions, and increased opportunity to work closer to the top or on projects with increased bottom line responsibility.

Q: We are an employee-owned company of 250 employees. We do not have an HR person. Many of us feel this would be valuable to the company; however, the President does not. How do we build a case for one?
A:
Why do you think an HR person would be valuable? What’s the business reason? Is there low productivity due to morale? Is there potential litigation due to workplace issues? You need to quantify for your President the "value" that this role would bring to the company. Describe the role that the individual would play in the organization. Essentially, write the job description. Identify how this role would aid the President in reaching company profitability goals. Consider citing benefits of such a role in competitors or similar size organizations. Show the President what other companies are doing and the positive impact on the organization.

An alternative you can explore which can bring the value of a HR person without the increased headcount is to contract the services of a Professional Employer Organization (PEO). PEOs provide a variety of outsourced HR services targeted to small businesses, most of which have no HR representation. The types of services provided can range from payroll and taxes to recruiting and orientation.

Q: One more question: how to build a case for a new vacation policy. We now get 5 days after 1 year; 10 days after 2 years; 15 days after 10 years. Any good web sites that would validate that this benefit is outdated?
A:
Our experience has been that most companies offer a slightly more generous benefit, but your business conditions may necessitate the "constraint."

A simple way to obtain information would be to informally call some companies in the area and ask them what they offer, as a local benchmark. Or, you can ask a consulting company to design a policy for this and other matters that would be competitive with companies of similar demographics. You can also look at the reasons why employees leave the company and see if vacation is cited. If vacation can be tied as one reason employees leave, this would make a stronger case.

Q: How to reduce STRESS for a department of 12 who acts as a sales support group for a consumer products manufacturer that sells to retail stores across the country. They are involved in account planning and replenishment orders. They get it (stress) from all sides: customer (timing and completeness of order), sales force (more and timely information), manufacturing (meeting production schedules), and distribution (making planned shipments).
A:
One alternative is to restructure and organize work by work process and then by customer group, instead of the existing functional structure. Another alternative is to hold internal customer supplier meetings to talk about service requirements and establish service level agreements that you monitor for each other.

Q: How do you get someone who clearly recognizes that he has a work overload problem to take the time out to identify the responsibilities that could be and need to be passed on to someone else?
A:
Try the "velvet hammer" approach. Be empathetic that they are overloaded, but clear that if they don’t step out of it, it will never get done. Also, ask if the reason they’re not doing it is because they mistrust others or because the work activities add to their perceived power and influence in the organization.

Q: How exactly would you identify "overload" as opposed to poor time/workload management by employees with self management responsibilities?
A:
Try a fishbone diagram to discover the root causes of being overloaded. Brainstorm concerns around individual causes, system causes, structural causes, technology causes, etc. If the drivers appear to be more in one category, then that’s probably the area you need spend time improving. We use fishbone diagrams at our company to address the same question and it’s very helpful.

Q: There are only two HR people for 185 employees and my boss is going on medical leave for cancer. I am already swamped and thinking of running away. What can I say or do to get my boss to realize I can’t handle my current workload, much less hers as well?
A:
Unfortunately, your two HR people to 185 employees ratio is aligned with industry average, so be careful if citing statistics. What you may want to look at are ways to eliminate work, make better use of technology, or outsource administration such as payroll and benefits administration. Employee self service is helping many HR groups add more value to their organizations.

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