The workforce is overwhelmed perhaps more than ever before. Being fortunate to have a job in this economy most likely means you are doing the work of two people, or more. Many of the companies I work with have embraced a variation of the theme “doing more with less,” which means less staff as well as resources. The problem is, it is not sustainable. Smart companies are recognizing this fact. Trailing indicators like employee satisfaction surveys often provide stinging responses: employees are overworked, worn out, and morale is terrible. As one Chief Marketing Officer at a Westchester County based company told me, “If they could find another job, I think everyone here would quit.”
One reason morale is so low is that people are falling behind at work no matter how hard they work or how many hours they put in. No matter how hard they try, no matter what cost to the other aspects of their lives, there is a constant, nagging feeling that they are not even sure they are getting the right things done. “I’m just fighting fires all the time,” “All I do is respond to emails,” “I keep getting interrupted.” It’s even worse for anyone with management responsibility. If a manager doesn’t answer all emails within 24 hours, his direct reports fill his calendar with meetings, because they need answers and support to do their jobs. Falling behind on emails creates meetings. Think about that.
Everyone also complains about meeting-itis: being required to attend so many meetings there is no time for work. Meetings are often run terribly: everyone thinks that is true–except for their own. The output of meetings is usually a bunch of half-thought ideas with unclear outcomes and no one knowing what the next actions are and who owns them. The way to recover from a bad meeting is to send a bunch of emails to try to figure out what wasn’t figured out in the meeting.
It is not only at work where people are overwhelmed. Personal lives seem busier than ever, as we try to cram more activity and consume more information, with fewer available hours. Running a household is as complex as running a company. How about a family satisfaction survey? Is that a dreadful thought?
Chip Joyce is the Account Executive for the Northeast USA and Global Accounts for the David Allen Company. He has also guest lectured for Columbia, Stanford, and London Business School MBA programs. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org