Motivating Overworked Employees

I was recently asked what may be done about motivating overworked employees. In particular, what could assist those in workplaces that are directed by external parent companies; have tight deadlines and volumes of complex work; team members located in different geographic locations and time zones; numerous customer demands and changes to product. What indeed! What would hit the mark for those with flagging energy and enthusiasm levels and a loss of motivation?

If only there were easy, quick fixes or a single action that could trigger multiple, magical solutions. There isn’t. However, for most problems or difficulties there are potential solutions – it’s a matter of finding them. It’s about shifting the focus from ‘the problem’, to what’s contributing to the problem and then to ‘what’s the way forward’. Here are some ideas to consider:

Check the systems – Sometimes the use of the organisation’s systems i.e. communications, purchasing, shipping, aren’t as good as they could be and the people using them find them lacking, frustrating, time wasting and energy sapping, over time. So, time spent checking the systems, to see if they assist or hinder employees do their job, is a good start. Identify, with the involved personnel, what systems are being used, then critique them. Determine what works well and less well. Find solutions to the parts that aren’t alright, then implement the changes and check to see that that they have been beneficial.

Check other organisational factors – Sometimes different organisational factors create additional, unwarranted work. For example, conflicting messages from different managers in different locations about what’s needed, may contribute to rework, duplicated activity or gaps. Or, an inconsistent application of particular policies and procedures, throughout the company, may also have the same effect, as might different views as to what’s an acceptable or unacceptable standard. An uneven distribution of workloads may also mean some staff are overworked and others under employed. Ask employees to identify confusing or conflicting organisational messages, applications or processes. Ask employees what effect these factors have on their work and their motivation. If the effect is negative – wasting time, effort and creating additional work, determine what the possible solutions could be, then implement the changes.

Try the Stale Scale – If you have overworked employees who you believe have lost or are losing their motivation, ask them to rate their current levels of motivation, using a scale. For example, one, representing no motivation left through to five, representing high motivation. Ask them what factors have contributed to their loss and ask them to identify 5 things within their control, that they could do to help them get their motivation back. Encourage them then, to do whatever’s needed.

Try a change of scene – Sometimes people get tired and bored with the same old, same old – the workmates, the team, the project, the environment – month in, month out. Explore whether time spent in another team, on different work, in a different environment or section, would give individuals a lift to their spirits and provide them with positive stimulus and challenge

Check the leave – Sometimes the overworked keep working, working, working, because there is just so much to do and so little time to do it all in. The deadlines are relentless and there really is no one else to do their work. Heard this before? If this is the case, annual leave or regular breaks generally aren’t being taken and therefore, there is no opportunity for regeneration and rest. This contributes to the cycle of overwork and lowered morale. Do check employees’ leave situation and assist them to take regular breaks.

Create artificial pauses – Sometimes it’s necessary to stop to go faster, which means taking time out as an individual or as a team to do something else for a while. For example, take a long coffee break. Talk about non-work related things. Linger over a team lunch. Tidy up the office, throw out the clutter or change the furniture around. Do whatever is useful as long as it creates a pause in the usual flow and pressure of work and allows people to be still for a bit.

Check people are ok in their roles – Sometimes people mentally leave their jobs yet remain physically in them, often unhappy, demotivated and unproductive. Listen to your staff. Identify those who have expressed dissatisfaction with their role. Explore with them whether a change of scene or the fixing of specific organisational factors or systems would help. Get them to consider other personal strategies which might assist them. If after this, they’re still unhappy, encourage them to explore external career guidance and support. It could be that they need to go on to other things.

Acknowledge efforts – Sometimes pressure of work means it’s difficult for staff to see the value of their contribution and what has been achieved to date. Regularly acknowledge individuals’ efforts and thank them for their contribution. Provide regular progress reports of what’s been achieved and where it fits with the bigger scheme of things.

Determine levels of control – Sometimes employees feel they have no control over their working world and they are totally and utterly at the beck and call of others. This can be hugely demotivating and demoralising. Have they some control over their work flow, workloads, work priorities? If so, have they lost that control? With all the busyness, have they lost their overview? Check with employees, so they know what they have control over and what is out of their control.

Ask staff what motivates them – Sometimes we don’t ask this question directly and therefore assume or guess as to what motivates and demotivates each employee. Motivation is very personal and it’ll be different things for each person. So ask. Once you know the specifics, you can then look to see what could be done organisationally to assist motivation and what could be done more appropriately by the individuals themselves. There are no easy answers however, only potential solutions. Work with your staff to find the way forward – it’s not just your problem – it’s also theirs.�

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