Imagine you take all of your staff to the playground today, so everyone can get a little sunshine and much-needed vitamin D while they work. Each employee brings their workload with them and takes a seat on one of the teeter-totters. Do they all get to swing freely in the air, while balancing a manageable workload, or do some stay stuck on the ground buried in paperwork while others hang idly in the air?
Some employees will complain about being overworked no matter how busy they truly are (and how much time they’re actually spending on Facebook), while others will silently suffer under the crushing weight of unmanageable expectations. And several members of your team may not be accessing their full potential because they haven’t been given enough challenging work to do.
Let’s try to even out the score: make it a policy to check in at every meeting and have each employee give a brief run-down of what they’re working on and how it’s progressing. The idea isn’t to berate them for not getting more done–it’s to see if they’re having serious challenges and need help. (If they’re slacking, the check-in will naturally provide motivation for them to step up because they won’t want to look bad in front of the team.)
The key is to end the meetings when–and only when–at least one person has asked for help, and at least one person has offered help. When the whole team witnesses these interactions, it becomes more natural to ask for support without the risk of looking incompetent. If it’s an expected behaviour, employees will do it more often and build greater camaraderie and trust with each other, as long as they aren’t taking advantage of the system.
You should also be meeting with employees individually as much as possible, for informal and formal check-ins and evaluations, to see how they’re managing their workload. Encourage them to be honest, and be open to hearing feedback that may point to unrealistic expectations on your part. On the other hand, if you know for a fact that they have enough time to get their work done (because you’ve done their job, or other employees have managed it easily), give them some pointers on time-management and make your expectations clear.
Expecting your staff to silently manage their workload and assuming they’ll ask for help when they need it is a mistake that I once made, and I’ll never do it again. I had a manager whom I trusted implicitly, and allowed her to take on several tasks that I’d been doing. One day she forgot to do a crucial task that ended up costing me thousands of dollars, and she tearfully confessed afterwards that she’d been feeling tired and overwhelmed by her job. I had no idea, and I blame myself for that. She never said anything, so I assumed she was fine. And you know what they say about what happens when you assume… yeah. Don’t do that.