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Monday, November 29, 2010

Sending mixed messages

Employers often send mixed messages about the work/life balance their organization offers, paying lip service to the idea of workforce health and wellness without really committing to it. This can be very difficult to resolve. Employees become fearful: “What if I don’t put in the extra time like others in my department? Will this slow down or prevent a future promotion?”

Most employees want to be seen as team players. They do not want to risk being viewed as lacking commitment, energy, or enthusiasm. Companies and leaders need their people to be agile, responsive and improve their productivity.

Technology helps organizations be productive 24/7. Well-equipped international companies can respond to customers and colleagues in every time zone. Businesses use social media web sites to connect with customers and prospects across physical, geographical and technological boundaries. However this 24/7 cycle presents a paradox. Since people cannot work around the clock and always be instantly available, this makes the 24/7 pace unsustainable.

Instead of shorter work weeks, technology – i.e., global Internet connectivity – has increased everyone's workload. Email is just one example. Most people feel overwhelmed by the hundreds, if not thousands, of messages that arrive each and every day in their inbox. Some important messages may be overlooked or, worse, a power outage brings your email server down. A new prospect or customer inquiry may be forever lost.

While it appears that human productivity has increased a thousand fold, in reality we are accomplishing less and are increasingly less productive than perceived.

It is time for leaders to re-evaluate their goals and expectations. Simply telling your people to take a long lunch or use their vacation time is not enough. When workforce talent is stretched so thin, burnout quickly results. Reassess timelines. Push, but be reasonable about timeframes and expected outcomes.

As a leader, coach your employees on their decision-making skills. Help them create decision-making guidelines and adequately prioritize so they can effectively manage their workloads. Your goal is to help them avoid focusing on the wrong things – i.e., the non-critical path tasks – and keep them focused on the critical work. By effectively influencing your decision-makers and coaching your staff on setting goals and milestones, this will keep them on track and prevent projects from stalling.

Reward efficiency – e.g., your team accomplished project goals ahead of schedule and under budget. You will earn their gratitude and trust.

It is important to both commit to and maintain a work-life balance. If your team does not have the opportunity to re-energize, they will make costly mistakes. It is far better that they accomplish optimal results the first time around.

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