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How Lean Is Too Lean?

How do we determine if our workforce is too lean following layoffs? We had an additional 27 people leave voluntarily. What signs should we look for to indicate the employees are overworked and stressed out? — Not Enough Cooks, administrative assistant, utilities, Giddings, Texas
January 25, 2013
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Related Topics: Work/Life Balance, Policies and Procedures, Retention, Dear Workforce
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Dear Not Enough Cooks:

There are three reliable sources of information to indicate how well employees are managing the workload.

First are behavioral indicators. Are more people taking sick leave now compared to pre-reduction? Are there more complaints, more team conflict? Is the loss of 27 employees higher than your previous turnover rate? What's the conversation like in the break room—or do employees no longer have the opportunities to mix and chat? Are employees routinely working longer hours and weekends? Have leave applications slowed down? Have customer complaints increased?

To support these behavioral observations, your organization ideally would gather empirical data from former and/or current employees.

Second, employees who leave may be able to provide reliable information about the impact of workload.

Implement an effective exit interview process to enable the organization to understand the true causes of loss. For example, of the 27 who left last year, who did so for reasons that your organization could have influenced? If those resignation reasons relate to overwork, then conduct a cost comparison: how much does it cost to replace staff and retrain new people to full productivity, compared with how much it costs to reduce workload pressures through various means.

Reasons for resignationNumber of employees affected

Overwork/long hours/poor work-life balance:eight people

Adverse manager practices or behavior:four people

Low pay:four people

Lack of challenge and development:four people

Conflict with team:three people

Prefer fulltime parenthood:two people

Return to study:one person

Overseas travel:one person

To replace eight employees with an average salary of $60,000 (using a conservative 30 percent of salary as replacement cost) would equal $144,000. Some of that money should be reallocated to reduce the workload of remaining employees: For example, by hiring additional staff, adding new skills or improving your processes.

The third source of reliable information comes from current employees.

Only if your organization is prepared to address issues of overwork should you then ask employees about their experiences in your workplace.

Conduct a survey with a sample of staff and explore the things your people consider great (and not so great) about your company—and how these people would change things if they could.

Employees will identify means of reducing workload, other than just employing more people. Workflow improvements, removing red tape, skills improvements: A range of simple solutions can emerge when you ask people for suggestions on improving their life at work.

If workload pressures cause an adverse reaction, then it is sound strategy to reduce turnover risks by gathering information directly from employees, who should be your most prized asset.

SOURCE: Lisa Halloran, Retention Partners, Sydney, Australia

LEARN MORE: Flexible scheduling and a commitment to work/life balance can help boost retention of key contributors.

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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 The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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