Four ways to help overwhelmed employees


In today’s post-recession world, most companies are trying to do as much as they can without adding resources – and that often applies to personnel.

overwhelmed worker

Jobs have been combined and duties expanded to the point that employees are often struggling to do all the work they’ve been assigned. A struggling employee is an unhappy employee – and that can result in the boss and other people being unhappy as well.

If you have an employee who is struggling, here are a few areas to consider:

1. Training. An employee who isn’t clear on how to do the job will be less efficient doing it. Think of the mistakes people make when they are trying to figure things out. Mistakes mean rework, which means wasted time. Training on processes is important so that the employee can see the most efficient path.

Training on software can be an added bonus. There are often functions that the software can be programmed to do automatically, instead of the employee going through multiple steps to accomplish the same thing. Experts say most people use only a small percentage of the functionality of software programs at their disposal. Better use of the tools through training could save time and relieve some of the workload stress.

2. Job design. Companies sometimes group tasks together that are less than efficient. Take, for instance, the common “Receptionist/Accounting Clerk” title. The company may think that the individual should be able to handle clerical/accounting work when the phones aren’t ringing, rather than simply sitting waiting for the next guest to arrive or the phone to ring. In fact, many clerical/accounting tasks require concentration that is often interrupted in this job design. That means mistakes, backtracking, rework and so on. The employee may be efficient and effective but is often left feeling like a failure.

If your employees are overwhelmed, look at the duties that are included in their jobs. Do they have to change gears too frequently? Are they handling duties that have similar “crunch times“? Are the priorities of their job duties clear? Consider rearranging duties if it makes sense to do so. (Remember, of course, not to centralize duties too much – you need to keep good internal controls in place, which your CPA can help you evaluate.)

3. Outdated processes. There are times when a process is executed religiously, without anyone really knowing why. “We’ve always done it that way” is a response you might get when asking why the particular step is done or the report is created. It’s a good idea to evaluate your processes regularly to see if unnecessary steps are being taken. A white-board exercise might work for a smaller department or company.

Have the work team walk through the steps of the process being considered, Accounts Payable, for example. Who enters the invoices in the system? What are the approval processes? Who establishes the general ledger accounting? What reports are run, how often and by whom? What happens to those reports (does anyone really look at them)? Who cuts and mails checks or initiates bank transfers?

Once the whole process is drawn on the board, it may be easier to see where unnecessary steps are being taken or where inefficiencies lie. Redesign the process carefully, making sure the proper steps and internal controls are maintained, but removing excesses. The workload for all involved may be reduced.

4. Too many bosses. In many companies, an employee may report to and support numerous people. That becomes a challenge when the supervisors feel or act as though they are the priority of the employee. The result is an employee who is stressed out, juggling conflicting deadlines and generally feeling ineffective.

In this situation, it is important for the employee to know the priorities of the company. What duties take precedence? What individuals, if any, have higher priority than others? Who is the appropriate person to decide how to proceed when a competition for resources occurs? Is there backup for the employee when needed?

A fundamental management principle is that each employee should know who his or her boss really is. One person should have the ultimate say, or employees will find themselves in a tug of war too often. That kind of stress leads to more inefficiencies.

How much work should one person be able to do? That’s a difficult question to answer. Work with your employees to understand their particular challenges and stressors. Do what you can to increase their chances of success.