Monday 25 June 2018

How can I ease my workload without this being frowned upon in my demanding job?

A common mistake is to believe that effort and long hours will always be apparent and rewarded (stock image)
A common mistake is to believe that effort and long hours will always be apparent and rewarded (stock image)

Aidan McLaughlin

Q I have always worked in a demanding role with challenging targets and long hours. I am now in my late 40s and have worked my way up the ladder through hard work and a reputation of delivering projects on time and within budget.

In the past year more and more is being demanded of me and my hours are becoming unsustainable. I don't want anyone to think I am running out of steam, but how do I tackle the issue of an increasingly heavy workload with my superiors and others in my team? I don't want to appear weak but think my health will suffer if things do not change.

A You have outlined a situation that the majority of high-performers face at some stage. Those of us who are most conscientious are most at risk.

We want to do the right thing in the right way. The reality is that longer hours, more effort and a larger workload are not the path to continued career advancement. You may well start to experience diminishing returns. This is called presenteeism, whereby we are physically present but not adding value. There is evidence that the quality of decision-making can be seriously diminished by overwork. The Japanese have an ominous name for this - karoshi (death by overwork). You need to bring balance into your work and life to succeed at both. Here are some ways of achieving balance.

1 Make a list of your tasks and prioritise

Make a comprehensive list of the tasks you are responsible for, from the complex to the mundane. Estimate a realistic amount of time to complete the tasks and examine where your time is spent. Are you concentrating on the vital few activities that deliver most results? Keeping a time log with actions listed and time spent is a systematic way to do this. Use the alarm function on your phone/watch to remind you to fill in your time log each half hour. This is the first step in regaining control and you will start to feel the impact immediately. Having done this honest accounting, move to the next step.

2 Delegation enhances leadership

Organisations value leadership and management skills. A key skill is in fostering the next generation of leaders by mentoring. Take a hard look at your activity log and identify tasks that can be done by others. Identify those with the motivation and skill to take on the tasks.

Don't fall into the trap of delegating only lower-value work. Look at opportunities to coach other teammates or juniors through the delegation. You are now building productive capacity instead of just being a sole contributor.

Enhancing the career of others while developing your leadership skills and lightening your workload is the magic touch.

Concentrate on the important aspects of the job. Many of these are longer term and require reflection and consultation. Your health and well-being fall into this category. Well-being and productivity are held in a dynamic balance. You are the only one who can make this happen.

3 Manage up to advance

You need to beat your own drum to communicate your contribution. A common mistake by high-performers is to believe that effort and long hours will always be apparent and rewarded. As you deliver on important objectives and radically develop your direct reports ensure senior management is aware of your contribution. Do not boast. Always speak of organisational success and approaches that you are using in that regard. The rest is obvious. Build a solid network of well-placed people who have your back. Be assertive when unreasonable demands are placed on you. You will be more respected if you do this.

It is clear you understand that your performance is in jeopardy as a result of the work-life imbalance. Let your managers know the steps you are taking to develop your team and how you are finding more efficient ways of working.

The value you place on your health and your life outside of work is far more important to your continued performance than desk hours or workload. Let those close to you know what your strategy is and enlist their help. Your manager and your team will reap the benefits of your renewed vigour and focus. It is possible to win at work and lose at life. There is no need to make that sacrifice.

Aidan McLaughlin is director of international communications and public relations at Indeed

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