Someone told me recently that I was his only manager who ever asked him to specifically report on what he wasn’t getting done. Other managers wanted to know plenty about what was happening — but because they never asked him about what he wasn’t getting to, he assumed he’d just better be getting to all of it.
This works fine if a person’s workload is completely manageable. But when workload is high, it can lead to all kinds of bad things:
* employees who are chronically trying to get an unreasonable amount done, which leads to mistakes and burn-out
* some things necessarily not getting done, and these may be the wrong things
* some things necessarily not getting done, without the manager realizing it and having the opportunity to step in
As a manager, you want your people to proactively tell you about what’s not happening that ideally would be happening. And that’s because you want to be part of choosing what those things will be — not just letting them get selected by default. And you want to have the chance to say, “Actually, X is really important, so let’s push back Y instead / bring in temp help / get Joe’s department to help out with this / use this as the impetus to finally think seriously about adding a new staff position.” Or, if none of that is feasible, you want to at least know.
Alternately, if the problem isn’t the workload but is in fact the employee’s productivity, you want the opportunity to know about that, and to know that these specific things are going undone. You’ll find out eventually, believe me — but if you wait until you find out on your own, the problems may be way worse than if you’d caught them early on.
So you want your employees to proactively talk to you about what things they’re regularly not having time to attend to. And since many (maybe most) people won’t do that on their own, you need to ask them, and you need to make it safe for them to give you an honest answer.
But instead, what I often see are managers who pile on more and more work without asking what’s reasonable, who signal to their staff that they better just find a way to cram it all in, and who are then shocked when they eventually learn that some things aren’t getting done.
This is not to say that you should excuse employees who don’t maintain a high level of productivity; believe me, I have very high expectations when it comes to productivity. Some people who have worked for me would say they’re too high, in fact. (But they’re not.) But it does mean that if you don’t approach issues of workload in a realistic way, with a premium on encouraging people to communicate, you’re basically guaranteeing that some important things won’t get done (or at a minimum won’t get done well) and you won’t even know about it until it’s too late.
So try it. Ask: “What things are you finding that you don’t have time to get to?” And then keep asking periodically. Chances are very high that you’ll learn things you didn’t know.