8 Ways to Help Your Overworked Team

Especially in government, we constantly talk about doing more with less. But most often, those conversations focus on physical resources like office supplies, amenities, or space. And when we do think about the human element, it’s often in detached terms like ‘labor hours’ or ‘workforce supply’.

However, if you manage an overburdened team, you are all too aware of the human impact budgeting can have. Unfortunately, for the same reason that your team feels overworked–a lack of resources–you’re probably low on ways to alleviate the burden on staff.

You can make that burden a little more bearable, though.  Here are a few tips to keep your staff engaged, even when they are forced to take on more work with less support:

1. Highlight your goals. As much as you can, focus on the end goals of your work, rather than the work itself. If you hear employees lamenting over a time-consuming task, remind them what purpose that task will ultimately serve. Working in the public sector, your missions are extremely valuable. Don’t let your employees forget that.

2. Focus on individuals. There are two sides to this coin. First, find an employee who maintains a great attitude in the face of mounting workloads. Then, try to build off of that enthusiasm, citing that employee as an example for your team. Conversely, you also want to watch out for any employees who are being particularly negative. Especially in a team setting, one person can really bring down the rest of the group and, before you know it, you’ll have an entire group who are feeding off of each other’s dissatisfaction. If you do notice someone bringing down the mood, pull them aside and ask them to help you brainstorm ways that both of you can help improve morale.

3. Provide incentives. Just because your budget restricts you from giving monetary recognition, doesn’t mean you can’t reward your staff for a job well done. Allowing your team to leave early on a Friday, or planning a free activity offsite, can be a great way to recognize successes without stretching your budget.

4. Make time for fun or relaxation. On that note, you may want to take time to celebrate your team, but feel that the constraints of work don’t give you the opportunity. Force yourself to make the time for you and your team to stop working, even if it’s just for a couple of hours every month.  In any scenario, a rejuvenated team will be much more productive than one that’s bogged down in work and never takes a break.

5. Carry your weight. Even the most dedicated and self-motivated employee will begin to feel resentment, if they notice their manager is leaving earlier or doing less than the rest of team. If your team is staying late to get work done, put in the face time to stay there with them. If you don’t have enough work to keep you in the office, that’s a good indicator that it’s time for you to pick up some of your team’s workload.

6. Empathize. Let your employees know that you understand their workload and the difficulties that it poses. Even if you can’t do a lot to ease their burden, assuring them that you are aware of their needs and trying your best to address them is crucial to keeping up morale. But be careful. There is a fine line between empathizing with your employees, and adding on to a pile of complaints.

7. Recognize their contributions. Never miss an opportunity to highlight what your team is doing well. This will keep the momentum going, even when workload is building up. And if you feel like you’re the only one sending this message to your staff, encourage others in your organization (preferably higher up) to recognize your team as well. The only thing worse than having too much work, is to do it and feel like no one is taking notice.

8. Ask. Finally, if you can’t think of anything else to do to help your overworked team, ask them. Simply saying, “what can I do to make your job better or easier?” is a great way to show you care. Hopefully, your team will also have some constructive ideas as well.

Do you have any other tips to help out an overworked team? Let us know!

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John Armstrong

Taking the regular meeting outside the office and eating lunch at a cafe helped lift morale of team last month, hopefully we can continue this positive experience in subsequent meetings.