how to tell if an employee’s workload is too high

If you have an employee who tells you that her workload is too high or who can’t get through everything on her plate, in some cases you’ll know pretty quickly that she’s right; you’ll be able to see for yourself that the workload is indeed overwhelming. But in other cases, you might not feel quite so sure. If your gut is telling you that the workload should be manageable but your employee is insisting that it’s not, how can you figure out what’s really going on?

These steps will help you assess whether a team member’s workload is indeed unrealistically high or whether the issue might be something else (such as a need for better systems or more training or a performance problem).

1. Think about what you’ve seen other employees in similar roles do. If you have other employees in similar roles or have managed people in the role before your current employee came on board, looking at what workload they’ve been able to manage will give you an excellent source of data about what level of productivity is reasonable to expect. Of course, you should be sure to factor in any significant differences; the productivity of the person three years ago probably isn’t a good metric if the job has expanded significantly since that time. But looking to what others have been able to achieve in a similar context is a good way to inform your thinking about what you’re able to expect.

2. Pay attention to the pieces that you are able to confidently assess. You might not be able to get into the weeds on everything your employee does, but she probably has at least a few responsibilities that you are very familiar with. If you know from those projects that she has a strong work ethic, works efficiently, has good judgment, and is resourceful in solving problems, you can probably extrapolate from that knowledge to trust her judgment on the rest of her work. On the other hand, if those pieces seem off, it’s reasonable to conclude that the rest may be too.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Sit down with your employee and really dig in to what the workload looks like. How long does each type of project that she’s responsible for take? Why? How is her time getting allocated? What roadblocks is she running into? By asking these types of questions, you might discover that work is taking much longer because your staff member is dependent on another department that moves very slowly (and then you might be able to address that with them), or that there are excellent and unavoidable reasons that projects take longer than you thought they would, or any number of other insights.

Note that in having this conversation, you’ll get the best results if you don’t put your employee on the defensive. Make sure to convey that you want to collaboratively problem-solve; this isn’t a “gotcha.”

4. Ask about trade-offs. In talking with your employee, make a point of asking whether there are trade-offs that could allow work to be accomplished more quickly. For example, you might find out that 85% of a project can be accomplished quickly but the other 15% takes much longer, and it might be reasonable to handle that 15% differently (streamlining it, pushing it back, or even cutting it entirely). Or you might find that there are other shortcuts your employee could be taking, or that there are places where “good enough” would be sufficient and where perfection isn’t necessary, but that she didn’t realize that would be okay with you. Managers often assume that employees will point out potential shortcuts or ways to streamline a project on their own, but employees often figure that if those shortcuts were an option, you would have said so earlier.

If you do the four things above, you should end up with significantly more data to inform your thinking, and should be much better positioned to assess whether your backlogged employee is indeed facing an unrealistic workload or whether there are other issues to resolve.

If you do the four things above, you should end up with significantly more data to inform your thinking, and should be much better positioned to assess whether your backlogged employee is indeed facing an unrealistic workload or whether there are other issues to resolve.

I originally published this at Intuit QuickBase’s blog.

{ 71 comments… read them below }

  1. hbc*

    Regarding the last item, I’ve been on the employee end of this so many times. “Ugh, X takes so much time.” “Why are you doing X, why wouldn’t you do Y?” “Um, because I had no idea that Y was an option or even existed.”

    I really try to get at those pain points with my people preemptively. Asking them what feels like the most inefficient part of what they do, what they spend the most time on, what is one thing another person can get them that would make their lives easier. I had a whole department over the moon with the investment of about 15 minutes of IT time to add a bar code to a report and a $20 scanner.

    1. 2horseygirls*

      I said the first week in a new department: “Why are we hand-keying this data, when we can pull a report that gives us 90% of the data, and we can cross-check it against the forms, but if something is illegible, at least we have someplace to start? We will save time (why it took two secretaries two weeks to key in 130 basic background check forms is a whole other question), improve accuracy and be way more efficient.”

      I actually now know what the ray of death stare feels like. It was the beginning of the end.

      I did it “my” way, and the error rate was 2 out of 375 forms (not including students who didn’t know their first name from their middle name, or who didn’t actually put down their legal name).

      After I was terminated, my boss told the temp that replaced me to hand-key everything. There were 12 errors out of 120 forms. Yes, I giggled like a loon when my former department chair told me ;) hee-hee.

      1. the gold digger*

        A friend noticed the same thing when worked for the City of San Francisco – they were doing tear and type.

        He suggested they automate the process – that he knew how to do it – and got the same Ray of Death Stare. He was putting jobs at risk!

        1. Lily in NYC*

          This is maddening! I also work for City govt, and now I feel lucky that our bosses are always looking for ways to streamline things and that they are very open to suggestions. I have been working on a new assignment for a few months, and I’ve been asked to create a list of roadblocks and redundant requirements and they want to know if I have ideas how things can be improved. It’s empowering and makes me feel more ownership of my work. We have new leadership – the former leaders made employees feel like criminals for trying to take initiative. It’s a refreshing change.

      2. SusanIvanova*

        And then there’s the person who just doesn’t do things, but comes up with all sorts of reasons why it wasn’t done. Coworker Coffeecup got his nickname because I could have covered everything assigned to him on top of my own job just by drinking an extra cup of coffee – by the time he got fired (not, alas, for being useless) his task list had shrunk down to things that we could totally live without. Everyone on my software team had refused to work with him because if you relied on him to write a component, you’d still be waiting. Just to prove the point, as soon as he was gone I knocked off a dozen things on his list in one day.

        1. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night*

          When I started my last job, I replaced another full-time employee. Within a couple of months, I was able to complete all of their daily tasks within the first two hours of each day. I have no idea how this person stretched a 10 hour job to 40 each week! I eventually wound up taking a bunch of other tasks from others in my department so I wasn’t twiddling my thumbs for 6 hours a day.

      3. Anansi*

        I work in government and I can definitely sympathize. Recently, we were talking about the best way to implement a new IT system designed to catch data errors. Great. Except what they decided to do was run EVERYTHING through the old (crappier) system first and then when it caught problems, send the problems through the new system. But the entire reason we needed a new system was because the first one was missing so many problems. When I suggested maybe we run all the data through the new system everyone looked at me like I was speaking in tongues.

        1. auntie_cipation*

          Why does this remind me of when the vacuum won’t pick up a piece of string and so we pick up the piece of string, inspect it, and put it back down to run the vacuum over it again? Yup, that’s a piece of string, just like it was before.

          Crappy system finds a problem. Problem then submitted to snazzy system, which — what? confirms, “yup, that there’s indeed a problem!” ;-) sigh.

      4. Vicki*

        At one job, we had no QA. When the program ran, one or two of the scientists would then eye-check the results (genetic sequence data. Seriously?) and then throw a fit if there were any errors _he saw_. (think ATCGATCGATCG$TCGATC).

        Then there was a mad race to fix /work around the _one bug_ (in data or program) that caused this one problem.

        But when I said “Why don’t we QA of the programs and get write some data checking code?” I was told, “Oh, we’ll be replacing the entire system in 2 years; it’s not worth the bother.”

        That company, by the way, is no linger in business.

  2. EA*

    It’s crazy to me how much workloads can vary from person to person, so I think its smart for managers to keep an eye on it. I started a new job 6 months ago. 2 temps were in the position before me, and they couldn’t keep up. On my first day, piles of work was left for me (think 2 months of expense reimbursements). I have no issue with the workload, and find myself inventing projects to organize myself better and keep myself busy. I have had issues convincing my supervisors to give me more work, because they are fearful of overloading me based on past experiences. It baffles me what the temps were doing with their time.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      I find that the people who are the least productive in my office are the ones who spend the most time on Facebook and YouTube. I restrict myself to checking here a few times a day for a couple of minutes each time – I never go on FB or YouTube. There are people here who pretty much do nothing but surf the web – we audited a large division here a few months ago because other depts. were complaining about their lack of responsiveness. Apparently they found rampant web abuse from almost everyone in the division and actually fired three staffers for being online all day.

      1. EA*

        Yea.. I can see that. I have lazy coworkers. I actually assumed the temps were disorganized, but that might be giving them too much credit.

        I also work in a large organization that makes firing people difficult (multiple written warning, etc). If people got caught being online all day/doing no work, they would still get months of warnings. One girl fell asleep at work regularly and still got months of warnings.

        1. anon today*

          I’ve been at this job less than 4 years and am considered very productive employee. My coworker- who has been here over 10 years (and is on the same level as me) spends her days looking up flight fares, chatting with people on gmail Facebook, pretty much anything but doing actual work. The funny thing is there is a way to track how much every worker is doing. My numbers are in thousands, hers made it up to 600 (barely). Annual reviews are coming in April and she is happily oblivious about it.

          1. EA*

            So this is probably a better question for the friday open thread- but how did everyone find an organization that will actually fire people? I am in my late 20s and have worked for 3 companies in 2 fields. All rarely fired/held people accountable. They are not crappy places to work either- they would just rather wait until people leave or push them out. It just irritates me and I would like to look for an organization that actually managed.

      2. Nobody*

        Yeah, my coworker who complains about workload more than anyone is also the least productive. She recently lodged a formal complaint against our management for an unreasonable workload, and they responded by getting a report from IT on the internet usage of everyone in the department (they are the type of managers who think that if they check one person’s internet usage, they are legally required to check everyone’s). They found that several people spent hours surfing the Internet every day, and the person who lodged the complain was, to no one’s surprise, the worst offender, often spending more than half the day surfing.

        I wasn’t at all worried about them checking my Internet usage, because I know that they can and I basically pretend that my manager is looking over my shoulder every time I open a browser window. I never go on Facebook at work — not even on my lunch break.

        1. Mitchell*

          Do you work in my office :) !! I hired a former military and she is unbelievable at ‘oh I’m swamped’ and ‘whew, trying to keep up with all this work…’ etc. to point of nausea. She had another worker snowed with this BS until I pointed out that new worker is doing workload of 75 year-old woman who retired 5 yrs ago.

          Other employee does what used to take me 10 hrs a week, she manages to make it take 30. Granted she is nowhere near as smart as me, but seriously? Guess that’s why I have to be the boss.

    2. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.*

      I think some people just work faster than others. I can do the workload of two people, accurately, and still check on non-work things all day.

      1. MsChanandlerBong*

        Exactly. I just started a long-term freelance gig with a company that promised 40 hours per month. Unfortunately, they based that estimate on how long it took the last person in my position to do the work. Apparently, it took him 40 hours to do what I can do in 12, so I’m not making as much money as I expected. However, the client has been nice enough to give me non-writing work, so not only am I getting a few more hours, I am also learning new skills that I can add to my resume/use to get higher-level work.

      2. Anansi*

        I think a lot of this is the ability to work efficiently. I have a coworker who does about 1/4 of the work I do, and takes longer to do it. The issue isn’t even that she’s lazy or slow, it’s that she bogs herself down in work that does not actually need to be done. For instance, we spend a large chunk of our time organizing events, and a small part of that process is sending out the invitations (which we have a boilerplate form already made). She spends MASSIVE amounts of time trying to perfect the processes and boilerplate that is never made public, but doesn’t focus nearly enough time on the event itself, which is the real product. Nobody cares how pretty the invitation looks if the event is a fiasco.

        1. Looby*

          This, my co-worker literally will spend 40mins to an hour composing a 4 sentence email. Which she frequently sends to me for review before sending out. These are not complicated missives nor going to huge audiences but she just bogs herself down in minutiae every day. She also spends well over her regular work hours in the office each week, coming in at least one weekend a month to catch up, but I genuinely believe her workload would be manageable to almost anyone else.

      3. annonymouse*

        It also depends on the type of work you do and a persons strengths and weaknesses.

        My current job is a 60/40 split between admin and customer service/sales work.

        Obviously in my customer service work I can’t make it more efficient if people are asking me questions, wanting to talk about fine print – well not without being rude and getting complaints.

    3. Bunny Purler*

      I have a ludicrously busy job which has been grinding me down for ages. My new boss, who actually did the job himself once upon a time and knows full well what the workload is like, has tackled this head on by appointing another administrator who will work an extra day per week (I am on 3 days, she will be on 4) and I will be moving to more project based work. I am extremely glad that this is happening, but in my darker moments I am terrified that the new administrator will be scarily efficient and make me look like a right slacker. My boss chuckles and says he doesn’t think this will happen!

    4. Not So NewReader*

      I spent years supervising light assembly. This involved probably greater than 200 people over a bit more than a decade.

      My observation is that everyone has their own pace and once in a while you find a person who can do EVERYTHING quickly. Those are the superstars who you know that you can give them whatever to do and they just go right through it. I would guess out of 200 people, I saw 6-8 people who were like this. (This was interesting because I do not think of myself as one of those people who quickly adapt to new tasks. So it was eye-opening for me. I do better than I thought.)

      The next thing I learned is that there is a baseline level that most people can meet on a regular basis. On any given day they can get x amount done. Yes, some days are better than other days. This is why you try to look at productivity over a period of time rather than a day or two. And some people, such as the superstars, really skew the data. But when you are trying to find what an average person can do on an average day, there is a clearly seen range that most people can hit. Using more than one person as an example, you can better understand what level is superstar level and what level is normal.

      Most people can learn to streamline their efforts and get their productivity into that range on a regular basis. Some people come by it naturally. The people with natural ability to streamline tasks are the ones who show others how streamline.

      I found it helpful to tell people to think of ways to make the tasks easier. If it required a major change then come talk to me first. Or if they wanted to just talk it out with me that was fine also. This is where it got interesting with all their inputs and all the things they thought of. I learned so much. They would come up with ideas such as moving a machine 90 degrees and increase productivity and accuracy. It never would have crossed my mind. One time they reduced an eight person job down to a two person job. My jaw hit the floor, I was awed. They changed the order of the steps to accomplish this feat.

      I think that encouraging people to find ways to make their own jobs easier is important to say out loud. It’s not obvious to everyone and some people assume they do not have the authority to make changes to their tasks so the tasks are easier. It’s one of those topics where having open and on-going conversations is beneficial over time. Synergies start to kick in also.

      1. Doriana Gray*

        This is an excellent point (about people not all working the same). Another thing is, make sure you’re really comparing apples to apples. In my last division, there was a woman on my team who was bringing in a ton of money and closing down files hella quick, quicker than anybody else on the team. Our manager started complaining that the rest of us weren’t as productive as her, but failed to realize that a) we were all at different levels and b) we all did different types of work. I brought in money across three separate product lines, two of which are notoriously harder and take longer to close, and was the junior-most member on the team. I still brought in close to a million dollars last year, but did my manager care? Nope, I didn’t bring in as much as coworker (who had five-seven years of experience versus my 11 months) who worked on only one product line, the quickest product line to turn over. One of my other coworkers brought in a little less than the superstar and our boss still have him crap about it – never mind the fact that most of his cases ended up in litigation, thus would take longer to close and collect funds.

      2. Mitchell*

        Your post illustrates what we managers are continually told – that staff should be able to suggest improvements and that we should act on them. Sadly, my staff ‘satisfaction survey’ reports they are frustrated that their ideas aren’t used – but I’ve done every job in the office in the past, and only 1 of my staff EVER has any ideas, so I guess you are right that very few can streamline their own workflow. It’s the other 2 nitwits who think they are brilliant – but their ideas always involve self-aggrandizement and non-work related tasks. Actual work that the organization needs done is at the bottom of their lists. Narcissism …

  3. Gene*

    I think you left out a major factor, employees are different. You sort of touched on it in #1.

    I’ll use myself and coworker as an example. He’s been doing this job for about 10 years now and is very good at it. I, however, have been doing this job for 35 years and am simply better at it. There is a lot of regulatory minutiae in our field that I’ve seen in the past that he may not have (we have a 6-foot shelf of books of Federal regulations that we implement). So when something a bit out of the ordinary comes up, I can say, “Oh yeah, this is what I need to do.” He will have to figure out what the problem is and either ask me or start looking at regulations to figure out what the proper action is.

    We have similar assigned workloads; since we are currently at half staff level, he’s a bit overloaded and I have time to read and post here.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      In part that is the 25 year difference showing. I suspect you have outstanding recall for those obscure regs also. That is okay. Your coworker is quietly training his brain to be like yours. When he has 35 years in, he will probably be a lot like you.
      Currently, I have a boss that has been in her field for decades. I have been working for her for just over 3 years. I will never get to where she is at. But I can tell you it is a delight to work with someone who is in command of their subject. I have learned not to take that for granted.

  4. Jillociraptor*

    “Make sure to convey that you want to collaboratively problem-solve; this isn’t a ‘gotcha.'”

    I think this is key and you give so many great ways to help the employee to identify what the issue is. The fact is, if the employee isn’t able to get their work done, the workload is too high — for them, with their current skills and mindsets. That’s not a permanent state, but it’s important to tease out which factors will actually help them achieve what needs to get done. Important for both the manager AND the employee.

  5. LQ*

    I’ve been amazed by the number of times I watch someone using a computer and taking 10 steps where they could have taken one. I try to be thoughtful about will this person remember it and will this actually save them time before I share. (Because I always want to share.) Depending on what they do sometimes just basic computer tricks can save people a lot of time, not everyone, and hopefully not the big chunks of time. But I’ve seen some really backward computer processes that when I stopped to ask why they did it that way the answer was basically, idunno. And a quick fix or two could cut hours off a process.

    1. JessaB*

      Yes, and that they haven’t means they didn’t think of that. And people who do not have any idea that a certain process or step is available do not ask about them. You cannot ask questions about a matter that you have no idea exists. So I agree with everyone on the “this is not a gotcha,” this is a “there is this thing, did you know that?”

  6. Master Bean Counter*

    Keep in mind that people simply asses their work in different ways and some just may be better at doing the job than others. One person who replaced me at a former workplace is still struggling to keep up with the work load I did easily. So much so that they are seeking out a better software solution now.
    I don’t think it’s so much of a difference in work ethics than it is a difference in how our brains process the universe. Mine was a lot more keyed into the analytics and logic of that job. Hers is a lot more keyed into the softer sides of the job. I spent 7 years honing the technical side of the job. Of course I knew she was going to struggle with it. But I do know that she gets along better with the other departments and I know that side of the job is much easier for her.

    1. Perse's Mom*

      My boss tells people I have an eidetic memory (I don’t) because he’ll ask me for Data Point A or to suggest a client that meets Criteria B and I can think of it or find it in seconds. I know that’s because I consistently work with the same sets of information, so some of it eventually just gets locked down in my memory.

      But I also know people who’ve been doing one aspect of my job for *months* who have to be told and retold and reminded and corrected about the same things over and over again. My boss doesn’t expect those people to churn out the numbers I do; he just needs them to meet a bare minimum threshold of work completed. Though he does seem to expect me and a peer to match each other on everything, although we work on opposite sides of the product and have limited experience crossing the aisle on processes.

      My boss is terribly frustrating.

  7. Over Development*

    I would also say to be realistic regarding your own input and requests.

    In my toxic job I just left, my boss swore she did 40-50% of the event work. In all honesty, she did about 5% because she would randomly go around me and insert herself into things.

    But something that has always messed with my time management are the last minute hand-odds and the “can you just help with this one thing” that was supposed to be turned in two days ago.

    1. Eliza Jane*

      I have been in a place where the “help” I was receiving actually made my job a lot harder. I had a job once where I was swamped, and the answer was to yank other people off of projects and throw them at me for a month or two at a time. I was overwhelmed by a very technically complicated task, and then people would show up and need help ramping up and setting up computer environments, and I’d have to spend time figuring out how to carve out simple enough tasks for a new person to handle.

      It probably led to an average of 10% MORE work for me, after the help the person was able to provide. And whenever I tried to point this out, my boss would get really annoyed and say I said I was overworked, and should be grateful she was finding me more staff to help.

      1. TootsNYC*

        This is something I discovered as well.

        I would hire people to work under me–but there is a limit to how many people I can supervise in our crunch situations. I’ve been able to recruit and retain people who are good and who become familiar with us, so that increases my capacity.
        But staffing up suddenly for a crunch time has a top limit in terms of actual effectiveness because of how much time & energy it takes to supervise people.

        1. RegularAAMPoster-InNewField*

          Same here. I was encouraged by a former boss to do some research and I found that when a crunch situation arises, especially when there’s a product to ship that’s past it’s deadline (or similar-type situation), throwing more bodies and hours at the problem can actually be counterproductive. This was certainly the case in the situation I was in which led to my research.

          1. RegularAAMPoster-InNewField*

            And it’s like you said: training and ramping up the new people takes time away from solving the problem or getting out the thing that is overdue. It can get to where all the middle management people on the screwed-up product/project/thing are tripling their workload without being that much more productive in the process, simply because so much time must be devoted to getting these new people trained and up to task. It seems like one of the best ways to burn through a fixed budget without producing much more to show for all the spent hours.

      2. Perse's Mom*

        Holy crap, yes.

        We’re currently dealing with that. Massive, time-sensitive projects – so let’s give you a bunch of people who have NO IDEA how to do ANYthing in this system, give them a half hour of training, and see how well that turns out. (Not well – some of them have contributed exactly 0% to any of the projects.)

        My boss finally realized that, so we’re getting no help at all with the current project.

        1. nofelix*

          In theatre they have understudies for this reason. By the time you need the understudy to do the job it’s too late to bring them on.

  8. Supervisor Too*

    We occasionally ask an employee to do a work audit in this situation, where they track how much time they spend each day doing each thing, generally for a two week period. Usually the result is a spreadsheet, but sometimes it is more of a time table. This allows us to analyze the workload more objectively and identify areas where the employee might need help or training. Often times, what they needis better information about priorities and expectations.

    So, for example, if they are spending 20% of their time on posting to the company’s Facebook page, and we calculate how expensive that is, we might determine that they need to take a different approach to Facebook which will take less time/ cost less. We might decide that this is a lower level activity that could be delegated to someone who is less expensive per hour. Or we might discover there are technical issues related to their posting which are slowing them down and which we need to resolve. Maybe we need to reduce the number of posts after identifying which type of posts are most successful. But it starts with knowing that 20% of their time is spent on this activity and asking ourselves if that makes sense.

    1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

      I am such a fan of time audits.

      I often use them as a self check of I find myself working late or on the weekends. Often I find its those little tasks that aren’t my job, but I know how to do eating up a ton of my time.

      1. LQ*

        I totally agree. I’ve been known to do them yearly or so for my free time. Like am I really spending my evenings and weekends and vacation time the way I want? (It hasn’t quite made sense to hire a housekeeper to come in once a month, but at some point I’m confident it will :))

    2. fposte*

      Do you use any particular template or utility to do this? I was thinking I should try to do this again and I’m wondering if there’s an already-invented wheel I should know about.

      1. Jillociraptor*

        If you use Outlook for work (Gmail might do this too but I’m not familiar with how to do it), you can export your calendar to a CSV document.

        So, for the time period you’re using, you can color code or categorize everything using appointments on your calendar. Pick the categories you want to measure. Code your existing meetings to those categories, and then add appointments to your calendar based on how you spent your time. So, if one of the things I was tracking was time spent managing my direct reports, I would categorize my check ins as Management, and then if I spent 90 minutes writing a PIP for my employee, I’d code that 90 minutes on my calendar as Management too.

        At the end of the time period, you can just download the calendar as a .CSV and do a pivot chart to assess time in each category.

        1. KR*

          Google does the same thing. I won’t walk you through it here, but I’ve done it before through several email migrations.

          1. LQ*

            I use google cal at home to do this. I just keep it up for the week or two that I’m tracking and can add from my phone or my desktop or wherever. First day I generally set a timer for every half hour or so, so I stop and mark down what the task I’m working on is.

        2. Ama*

          This is a great idea. I attempted to track my time at my previous job (the big bosses insisted a particular task was only 15% of my job when in reality it was closing in on 50%), but I couldn’t come up with a good system — and I was already so overloaded that making entries in a spreadsheet was just one more thing I didn’t have time for.

      2. Kelly F*

        Attorneys at firms use 6 minute timesheets. I prefer a physical one at my desk. I draw a line at the time I start something, the client code and a short description of the assignment. Then draw a line when you’re done. Our secretaries enter ours into law firm specific softwarre, but you could enter your own into a different place, like an excel sheet to add it all up.

      3. Bunny Purler*

        I use an app called Toggl to keep track of my work on a daily basis; you can set up different projects, allocate them to different clients, or just use a range of broad headings. Toggl has a timer which will record elapsed time, or you can manually add things. You can download your data as CSV, and import it to Excel. It’s free to use, and I get on with it very well. I work from home, and record all my time using it.

  9. CeeCee*

    An important thing to note about #1 though it to make sure you’re actually looking at a comparable employee.
    We ran into a big problem at my last job where one administrative assistant was constantly getting praised for her work and how much she was able to do, while others were treated poorly because they weren’t able to produce the same work.

    Management seemed to neglect the fact that the “Gold Star” admin assistant worked multiple hours of overtime a day (but was salaried, so no one seemed to mind) and was taking work home to work on after hours and on weekends.

    In short though, we were all made out to look like horribly unproductive employees because the work we did from 8-4, Mon. – Fri. was not comparable to what she was doing 7-6, Mon – Fri. + nights and weekends. (The tables turned a bit when it was discovered that on an hour by hour basis, the “unproductive” employees were churning out more work and part of the reason for her extended hours was to make up for it, but nonetheless it was a very unrealistic comparison.)

    1. S0phieChotek*

      CeeCee — this was just I was wondering about myself. “Management seemed to neglect the fact that the “Gold Star” admin assistant worked multiple hours of overtime a day (but was salaried, so no one seemed to mind) and was taking work home to work on after hours and on weekends.”

      With salaries jobs I completely understand one will definitely have to put in more than 40 hours a week, but what do you do when you get measured against that someone who “doesn’t have a life” and works 60-80 hours a week, when the other people would really prefer to work 50? I know some managers would just say “work smarter, not longer” or something, but sometimes it seems like to get X amount of work in, one really does jus thave to put in more hours — but often people don’t want to/cannot, but then get held up against the employee who lives & breathes that company/likes to work 80 hour week on salary with no OT, etc.

      1. Former Retail Manager*

        I can sympathize with both of your situations. My current job is this way. We are strongly encouraged to work 40 hours a week…however, some people work more and management knows it and lets it go because they need the work those people put out to make their stats. As for what you can do when you’re measured against this standard, the answer is “not much.” If you’ve pointed out that a salaried co-worker is working far beyond the norm for the position, you can only hope that a reasonable manager will see that it is an unfair comparison to compare you to that person. If you are unfortunate enough to work in an environment that encourages working crazy hours at the expense of your personal life, I’d look elsewhere. That type of environment tends to be created at the top and trickles down and isn’t likely to change much if most of the company/firm buys into that work philosophy. Best of luck!

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I think someone posted the stat here. I believe they said that after 50 hours of work in one week productivity drops dramatically.
        This makes so much sense to me from what I have seen.

      3. Doriana Gray*

        I’ve been that person who worked crazy hours, not because I lived for the job at dysfunctional law firm, but because I needed the OT pay to afford my downtown apartment (I don’t drive so I have to live near where I work). Even when I was working 60 hour weeks for months on end, if you didn’t count the stuff I did in OT, I was still the most productive person in my department besides my team lead and supervisor. Say our goal was to provide 850 updates to clients/review that many case files per week (40 hours) – I averaged 1000 a week easily in that time frame. I just got it. The job came naturally to me, I figured out process efficiencies and short cuts that helped, I got great at giving people all the information they needed up front so they wouldn’t have to come to me a second time requesting further information (which is another time suck), and unlike a lot of my coworkers who complained about the goals, I came to work to work – I put my earplugs in, turned on my music, and knocked out my tasks with little to no socializing during the day.

        Not to say that you or anyone else here aren’t doing the things I was doing, just wanted to point out that sometimes people aren’t using OT for face time and are actually getting stuff done during the first 40 hours and beyond. I know that if my former complaining coworkers had spent as much time on actually completing their tasks as they did on bitching about everything, we probably wouldn’t have been on mandatory overtime for two years.

    2. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.*

      Or if they are hourly and working off the clock. We have a few here on my team who are able to get an amazing amount of work done and management doesn’t understand why everyone else isn’t like that. Rumor is though that those super stars aren’t clocking all of their time.

    3. hermit crab*

      Even though my billable-hours workplace is driving me bonkers lately (I want to count that hour I spent organizing my files as “work,” goshdarnit), I will admit that there are SO many problems that billable-hours models solve (or close to solve), and this is one of them!

  10. Purr Purr Purr*

    I feel like I should passive-aggressively send this to my boss! ;) I’ve been complaining about my workload almost since I started with my current company. My timesheets prove that I’m *always* working overtime and, given that I have almost 10 years experience in my field and never had this situation at any other company, I’m confident when I say it’s the workload and not just me working too slow! In terms of project workload, I’m doing more than 50% of the projects with the remaining 50% shared between a few other people.

    So with that in mind, I don’t understand how my manager can look at the projects I’m working on and my timesheets, as well as having knowledge about my attitude to work, and still come up with the idea that my workload is fine! Each time I complain, I’m told to stop complaining. I would if my manager was doing something to fix the situation. He’s not though, I’ve burned out, and I’m actively looking for employment elsewhere as a result. Good luck to him for finding another person that can do all those projects themselves, especially considering it used to be the work of two people and even they were complaining about the workload!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Some places have the mind set that if you are not suffering then you are not doing real work.

    2. snuck*

      Sounds like a wrong job fit to me ;) For you, what YOU want to do… not your capability.

      Are they all working crazy amounts too, are they happy paying the overtime and it’s part of the culture? If so… run away if this isn’t what you want! It’s not going to change just for you… you are making a wise choice.

    3. Beancounter in Texas*

      Sadly, they might find someone who does do the projects all by themselves. The quality may suffer dramatically, but I learned something from an IT guy a long time ago. “You have can it quickly, working or cheap. Pick two.”

      Also, I hope you find a fantastic job.

  11. Not So NewReader*

    What if you have no one to compare the employee to? Or what if the previous person(s) were so far off the mark they are no longer employed with your company?

    I think there are a few things you can look at.
    1) The questions they ask. Questions are glimpse to how the mind is processing. Does the employee’s questions seem a bit advanced for being so new? More dramatically, do the questions even leave you stymied every so often ? (I mean you catch yourself thinking “Wow, I’m not sure I know the answer, I never thought of it before… This person is looking at this in a thoughtful manner.”)

    2) Completed tasks. Are they done on time? Are they accurate? Bonus points if the new employee is catching previous mistakes of others and fixing the mistakes (or seeking fixes for the mistakes).

    3) Does the employee have ideas on solving a problem she is facing? If the person was new, I did not worry about the quality of the ideas, I just wanted to see thinking going on. I could tell them about the baseline standards and they could develop stronger solutions in the future as they learned what the baselines were.

    4)Bonus points for offering to help out some specific thing that needs work. Even if you have to say no to the offer the employee is looking around her environment and aware of the fact that there are other needs going on.

    Just a few things I noticed, I am sure there are more.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Typing while tired and this got away from me. I wanted to add that when I saw behaviors like these and the person still was not keeping up then I definitely agreed that the work load needed to be shifted around. When a person is working at many aspects of their job and still cannot get out from under then that person has too much of a load.

  12. snuck*

    As a business efficiency / process / change management Project Manager I would add:

    As part of number 1 look at the skill set – and the personalities of those involved. And factor these in when employing people into roles – you can train similar technical skills, but asking a person to do complex problem solving or analytical skills when they’ve never used them before is going to take a LOT of time for them to master – just because they are a whizz at a particular program doesn’t mean they actually have the mental gymnastic skills to do what you are looking for. Look at technical skill (these skills can be the easiest to train, and are generally process, software and industry knowledge – facts), work ethic (attention to detail required -high can be good, but it can delay in some roles where it’s not necessary too, do they have a history of working a LOT of extra hours and is this something you want in your team, all sorts of things fall in here), Soft skills (people engagement, team work, these are the hardest to train/change and manage) and personality traits (assume you won’t change these -falls into soft skills and work ethic, but includes things like extroverts in introvert environments, starter/do-er/finisher preferences – are they going to be grinding their teeth because they like to build things and you have them finishing other people’s projects etc) … You get a wrong fit in this stuff and you can quickly get a person who spends a lot of extra time double checking everything, or not enough time reviewing work so errors that are time costly get made etc.

    With number 2 – Take a long think about what the actual measure needs to be. A lot of people measure things and don’t get it right. They measure end output, and number of errors for example. Person A might put more out, and have less errors – but team X has to fix a lot the errors and it chews up a lot of time over there. Person B might put out a few less each day, the same number of errors, but those errors might be easier to fix by the other team. Or measuring how many someone does doesn’t measure the complexity – staff could well be cherry picking the quick easy wins, leaving a very diligent staff member to do the more complex and less fruitful ones.

    Agree wholeheartedly on number 3 – you should always have a chat as part of the process, there’s a lot that goes unseen in many roles, and a chat will help you understand if it’s a people, process or software problem. One of the changes I made was incredibly simple – staff were verifying information across a dozen screens… I designed with the staff a single information screen that would pull up all the information they needed, and took a solid five minutes out of the process for them. A very simple change, but not something anyone had thought about. We did a two hour priorities workshop with the team, got them to throw a whole lot of issues up, map out how long things too, and suddenly it was obvious what the real quick easy fix was. No one had seen it before…. crazy as it sounds. Few thousand dollars of IT dev money, no new calculations – just pull same info from various other screens to one, and bing! all in one place. Bonus – efficiencies for other teams that needed to check a few screens too. What looked like a staff issue (because some staff did the checks AND the full process, while others just did sections) was actually a process issue.

    4. Staff doing the job often know great ways to improve – but don’t know that they can ask for those things – printers put in the team area so they don’t have to get up and walk constantly, or changing the way information is filed (whether it should be printed or saved, whether it needs to be filed by this staff member, or another), where information is found – do they need to click through a whole lot of areas just to find one piece of information, can this information be saved/duplicated (prefer original, not duplication) somewhere that is more accessible. Can the information that’s needed be found and attached by someone else – if you have a decision maker as your bottle neck maybe hiring a support person to do their research and filing will mean your decision making goes quicker. They aren’t asking for an admin person because that smacks of superiority complex (or their JD says they are to do this stuff), but not having one slows everything down there. Chat it through, pull it apart, re-tetris it.

  13. NicoleK*

    #5. Is the position a good fit for their skills, experience, and personality? A person in a job that is not a natural fit may take longer to complete tasks or appear to be less productive compared to a peer in a similar role.

  14. LittleMissCrankyPants*

    Another question to ask yourself as a manager is: am I providing a work environment that allows for this workload to be managed? Or am I constantly pressuring staffers to do more with less, while not allowing for real-life factors such as interruptions (and even sanctioning the interruptions since “customer service” affects *your* bonus), whether processes are clearly documented and in place, and pushing staffers to meet impossible metrics that are based on numbers from home office that do not account for one staffer who *never* processes work because he’s doing other things for you? If you’re so short-staffed that one person being out sick or on vacation completely fubars the entire workload for everyone, then something is wrong. You can’t expect team members to be under the gun nearly all the time and still perform well.

    IMO. :>

    1. nofelix*

      Yeah definitely agree with this. Developing more efficient methods takes time that staff won’t invest if it won’t pay off. For instance, my boss’s habit of impromptu two hour meetings and no-notice urgent assignments makes time planning really difficult. The issues don’t seem immediately connected, but I would be able to much more reliably commit to deadlines if I knew I’d have time to work on my projects.

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