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4 Ways to Help Managers Handle Heavy Workloads

4 Ways to Help Managers Handle Heavy Workloads

by Shannon Mullen O'Keefe

Story Highlights

  • Managers report being overloaded and having lots of work disruptions
  • This affects their performance and the engagement of their whole team
  • Learn four ways to free up a manager's time to focus on what matters

Most managers are getting crushed. They say so themselves.

When asked, they are 50% more likely than individual contributors to strongly agree they "have too much work to do."

They also report worse work-life balance and worse physical wellbeing than the individual contributors on the teams they lead.

It's easy to see why, too.

Take a look at a manager's job description. They are loaded with tasks, on top of the responsibility of leading and developing their team.

And when managers find time to attend classes for their own development, they often wonder, "Where will I find the time to implement what I'm learning here?"

Lack of time is a problem for managers -- and then it becomes a problem for their teams, too.

Andrew Hill points out in a recent Financial Times piece that, "If managers wasted less time obsessing about their own time management, and more handing some of their employees' limited available time back to them, everyone would be better off."

He cites professor Huggy Rao of Stanford as saying "'[Managers] have a responsibility, in Prof Rao's words, to 'make the bad things difficult to do and the good things easy,' and to ensure that, 'at the end of the day, [the employee] goes back home whole.'"

They have a point. Because employee engagement and development is a key driver of company performance.

In Gallup's bestseller, It's the Manager, Jim Clifton and Jim Harter use research to prove how essential managers are to organizational performance, pointing out that managers are responsible for about 70% of the variance in their teams' engagement.

So, what if your managers had the time to focus on engagement and development without dropping the ball anywhere else?

When asked, managers are 50% more likely than individual contributors to strongly agree they "have too much work to do."

While some managers might need a reduction in tasks, there are other ways leaders can free up their managers' time to focus on their teams.

Leaders can start by taking time to clarify expectations and responsibilities for their managers.

1. Set clear expectations to help managers focus on the right things.

Managers are less likely than individual contributors to know what's expected of them at work. And managers are 67% more likely to strongly agree that they have a lot of disruptions at work.

On top of that, 42% of managers strongly agree they have multiple competing priorities, compared with 27% of individual contributors.

This means managers are being pulled in many directions, and being left without protected time to think, do their own work and respond to requests.

Remember, holding managers accountable for team performance and engagement is a key driver for building a high-performing culture. Sorting this out matters.

So, ask your managers about the demands on their time and how it relates to their own performance goals and role expectations. Take specific note of items that are falling "to the back-burner" or are misaligned with the outcomes they're responsible for.

Now is the time to allow each manager to focus on what they do best to achieve important goals. And then consider what to do with the rest.

2. Individualize responsibilities based on each manager's strengths.

Give managers the opportunity to consider the tasks they most enjoy, remembering that interests can be an indication of strengths and, ultimately, success.

If something is not getting as much attention as you and the manager wish it could, and it is not a primary interest, empower the manager to take it off their plate. If the item you are removing needs to get done, then consider who on the team may benefit from the opportunity to tackle this as a growth opportunity. Is there another manager on the team, or a new manager for whom this work may be a developmental opportunity?

If the manager you are working with is not a natural delegator, they may need support or encouragement to delegate work and give trusted members of the team autonomy to get the job done. Give permission to delegate and see what happens as a result.

The "right number" of reports might also vary based on each manager's individual strengths, talents and the other things they have on their plate.

3. Attract and choose managers for the right reasons.

Some people become managers because they see it as the only way to advance. In fact, one benefit managers point to is that they have more opportunity for career advancement and learning (66% report having access to a professional development program).

While this is excellent for your managers, make sure that developmental paths for other roles in the organization meet their respective needs, too, so that you are not inadvertently attracting managers for the wrong reasons. Keep the same thing in mind for pay structures.

Make sure there are ways "around" the manager role for people to advance and earn more money over time. Gallup recommends starting with objective performance measures and scientifically validated assessments of natural manager talent to determine who has the potential to be promoted to a people leader role.

4. Prune nonessential tasks.

Lastly, as you review the list of tasks with the manager, consider whether some of them are needed at all. If the answer to that is "no," then simply eliminate. Don't be afraid to eliminate busywork or things the manager is doing "because we've always done it that way."

Free up time for better results.

In the end, remember that your managers influence 70% of team engagement, and they need time in their day to focus on that.

Consider that a best practice in employee engagement and development is a minimum of five one-hour conversations annually for each direct report (plus associated prep time). Each direct report needs individual attention to learn and grow -- and the five annual one-on-one connects is a baseline.

Frequent touch bases, team meetings, and casual conversations should also be happening throughout the year -- and those take time, too.

Freeing managers up to focus on their team and what they do best will allow both managers and their teams to do better work, ultimately yielding individual growth and customer impact.

Help your managers focus on what matters most:

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