Sept. 17 2020 09:21 AM

Equip your team to deal with a heavy workload.

The green industry has always been fast paced, especially in the busy season. Layer that with increased projects due to quarantined individuals getting serious about home improvements, the stops and starts of business during the pandemic, the limited labor pool due to increased unemployment benefits and shortage of H-2B workers, and you get an exceptionally heavy workload. The busy season has shown no sign of letting up. Workers are starting to feel like the figure Sisyphus from Greek mythology and his unending work.

According to the Greek myth, Sisyphus was condemned to roll a rock up to the top of a mountain, only to have the rock roll back down to the bottom every time he reached the top. Today’s workload can seem like a task that is never complete. You wake up every morning to find the boulder at the bottom of the hill, the list of unfinished projects growing, and more phone, text and email messages than there are hours in the day to address.

What is a leader to do when the realities of the workload have their teams working long hours and stretched to the limit when hiring additional workers or taking vacation isn’t an option? Are leaders condemned to grit it out and hope for better days? Certainly not! Here are four strategies to help your team deal with this extended busy season and provide support to get through these unprecedented times:

1. Increase effectiveness and eliminate inefficiencies

Make it your goal to be both effective and efficient. Focusing not only on increasing project completion but on doing the right things at the right time with the right amount of effort will create the most impact. Consider the following steps to identify inefficiencies and increase effectiveness:

  • Map out your business processes and look for breakdowns. Broken processes not only slow work but create bottlenecks. Workarounds make these inefficiencies less obvious when the pace of business is slower, but under heavy workloads processes are stress-tested and cracks can easily be seen. Investing a few hours to map out your processes and reengineering them for maximum efficiency yields a great return in effectiveness.
  • Consider different ways to get a job done. Think outside of the box for how to get work accomplished. Ask your team for ideas and listen to their input. Schedule a brainstorming session with a cross-functional group. The best ideas often come from the most unlikely places.
  • Get rid of distractions. With access to more information, communication and technology than ever before, we need to purposely turn off our devices and tune out the constant flow of data. Don’t let these good things become distractions. As opportunities present themselves, learn to say no to things that are not in line with your business goals and could turn into distractions.
  • Don’t waste time on perfectionism. As the saying goes, “The best is the enemy of the good.” Constantly working on something to make it perfect is not productive. It kills time and delays other projects. Remember, great work is what you do for your clients. Perfectionism is something we do to satisfy our own egos.

2. Prioritize and delegate work

With a heavy workload, it is even more critical to take time for planning, prioritization and delegation. With a fixed number of hours in the day and workers on your team, everyone needs to be working on the highest value projects.

  • Don’t jump right into a new week; set aside an hour to review projects. What are the most important? What are the deadlines? What might you be able to shift to later? Use these questions to shape your plan for the week.
  • Delegate everything you can. It has been said that a leader can delegate everything but mission and values. Trust your employees, train them to be efficient and push work down to the lowest possible level.
  • Prioritize work to make sure the most important things are getting done. When things get busy everything seems like it is top priority. A helpful tool to increase productivity and help determine the real priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This is a tool that helps separate your actions based on four possibilities:
  • urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
  • important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
  • urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
  • neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

Lifehack.org has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix.

Lastly, realize you can’t do it all. Be honest with yourself about what is realistic given your team’s capacity, the hours in the day and the demands of the work. Know when you have reached your limit and take proactive steps to remedy the situation by shifting or postponing work, enlisting partners or other creative solutions.

3. Step up your leadership

Difficult times can test and hone leadership skills. Seize the opportunity to guide and direct your organization in the following areas:

  • Increase your communication regarding the current workload and prognosis for the future. Nobody respects a leader who doesn’t acknowledge a problem. Be honest about the situation and what you are doing to address it. Employee burnout can grind down productivity to a standstill. Provide an avenue for workers to talk about their struggles and share how they are impacting their lives.
  • Spend some time reflecting on your own work style. Are you micromanaging your team? Being indecisive? Failing to follow through? All of these traits are not only poor leadership but decrease overall team productivity.
  • Manage team workloads effectively. Make sure difficult tasks are balanced throughout the team and projects are distributed to maximize the workforce you have. This will also eliminate petty grievances due to perceptions about “who is working harder” and keep employees engaged and pulling in the same direction. This doesn’t mean everyone needs to be doing everything. Leverage your team’s strengths and make sure the right people are doing the right jobs.

4. Show appreciation

When the pace is fast and furious, employee appreciation can be overlooked or given a low priority. With heavy workloads, leaders need to be more engaged in recognizing their workforce.

  • Meet one-on-one with employees. Check in on your teams, make sure they are handling the stress of the heavy workload and ask for ideas for improvements. What might seem like a small action or one more to-do on your calendar will yield huge dividends in employee engagement that leads to higher productivity.
  • Keep up with employee recognition. Don’t let your recognition programs get sacrificed by the tyranny of the urgent. While not pressing, employee recognition is important and should not be overlooked. If anything, it is a time to double down as employee retention is closely tied to recognition. If you don’t have an employee recognition program, this is the time to start! It doesn’t have to involve huge sums of money. Research shows that even small tokens of appreciation (think Starbucks gift cards) can be highly effective.
  • Catch people doing things right. Despite a busy schedule, take the time to comment when you see someone doing good work or going the extra mile. A few words of praise can make a big difference.

While there is much happening in the world today that is distressing, leaders should focus on the positives. There are silver linings to be found in these difficult times, and we all benefit when those around us point these out. Just by putting a few of the above bullets into action, you will be doing something positive and making the workload a little less Sisyphean.

Kate Kjeell is president of TalentWell, a recruiting firm that specializes in helping small and midsized businesses thrive by finding and hiring the right people. The firm’s approach can be described in three words: find, fit, flourish. She can be reached at kate@talentwellinc.com.