"Sometimes it's physically impossible for a reduced staff to take on the amount of work that may be required after major staff reductions," said Schuman. "Let's say there are 50 things the group was built to do but with less people now they can only do 40. What do you do about the last 10?"
Don't start with your boss to solve the problem, although you may eventually end up in his or her office. Instead Schuman suggests the department manager along with his or her team take the first steps in tackling work load issues. "Being willing to go up the ladder to fight for your people is a big move, but don't go unless you're well prepared with specifics and suggestions," advised Schuman. The following will give you some ideas about how to start the process.
Building a Map/Setting Priorities
1 - Bring everyone in your group together to map what the department is responsible for doing.
2 - Establish priorities from high to low.
3 - Examine work load distribution. Are some people super swamped and others able to take on more work? If so, consider redeploying work based on key priorities that have already been outlined in the mapping process.
4 - Is there any work that can be pushed to other departments?
5 - Are junior staff members and entry level assistants being fully utilized? Consider enriching their jobs and giving them more responsibility. 6 - Can you take on non-paid undergrad or grad school interns? (There's even a movement afoot for "executive" interns, basically people that may be unemployed and willing to work for free in order to learn a new skill set.)
7 - Are there reports that are being done out of habit more than out of necessity? Can any of these be eliminated?
Shuman also suggests that you may want to look at process improvement. Processes that have been around forever may be inefficient. Making them more efficient not only is an effective time saver but it makes people feel better about their job. GE's Work Out Program is a great source of information on this topic, says Shuman. "Just try Googling "GE Work Out" and there are 700,001 entries. That's more than enough to get you started."
Once you've done your mapping, built your priority list and considered all of your options, there still may be too much work to do. Now it's time to go to your boss for his or her advice, but you'll be having the conversation armed with specifics. There's a good chance you'll not only come away with some much needed help but you will have earned respect from your staff and from your boss for undertaking the process.
Consequences of Burn Out
"You can only burn people out for so long," Schuman said, as a final caution on what can happen if you don't address the workload issue. "Yes, it's a terrible economy and everybody is expected to do more, but if they hit burn out they become less efficient, get angry and lose their emotional commitment to the job. And once the economy improves, it's always the best people that will leave you first if you haven't dealt with the issues."
Gary Schuman is president of New York based CDL Consulting, who works with senior executives at several of the major media companies.