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  • Writer's pictureColin McArdle

HR Health Check: Part 2 - Team members are complaining about workloads

In the second part of our HR Health Check blog series, we lift the lid on common HR and resourcing issues, and highlight some of the strategies we deploy to address them with clients.

If your business is confident that workload concerns from employees are genuine, below are some strategies you could consider implementing.

Work allocation

Firstly, you need to identify where work is coming from. Is demand being created by a manager, or is it client driven? Does the manager have full visibility of what a typical day looks like, how long tasks take, and what skills are required to process the demand? It's important to get to the data, context and information using a Lean tool termed a DILO - a day in the life of - analysis.

The DILO is a simple method to record what every minute of paid time is used for. It highlights how people organise their day, and can be analysed to produce standard operating times for tasks. The analysis also assists in the future capacity management and allocation of work.

Skills and capability

Employees who are less skilled in their role may struggle to deal with volume and complexity. Consider the skills mix for a team - is this recorded anywhere? Are managers confident that work is being handled at the correct skill and capability level?

Producing a team skills matrix is an essential tool for work allocation. It helps inform what skills are required, where and when they are needed, and crucially, where training needs to take place to grow organisational capability.

If you have resource and recruitment issues, take a look at the skills of the people you employ first, then identify what skills you need and consider up-skilling to fill those gaps. Companies using this approach are successfully developing their good people, and at the same time reducing recruitment challenges and operating costs.

With an up-to-date skills matrix, managers have the ability to objectively identify genuine performance issues. For example, if it can be demonstrated that a person is trained and capable, but they are taking short cuts or resisting work, it’s time to start a capability management process!

Training and coaching

If this is a simple skills issue, train and fix it! But don’t fall into the trap of thinking one session of training will solve the problem. Training needs to be reinforced through on the job coaching, with timely observation and recording of how people actually work.

Correctly applied 1:1 coaching methods get under the skin of how people are really feeling, what obstacles are getting in their way, and what they can do to overcome them. However, not all managers feel comfortable in running coaching sessions, so companies need to make sure they are fully trained and capable, and critically they have time to do it.

When was the last time your manager sat down with you and coached you to improve your skills and performance levels?

If your company ran a 1:1 coaching improvement initiative, would it help increase staff retention and attract new talent? Would staff feel better supported and listened to?

Standard working practices and procedures

Does everyone work in the same way? Is there standardisation and consistency across the team?

All too often, we find teams work differently which impacts the amount of work an employee can reasonably manage. Other issues include variation in output rates, customer complaints and overall efficiency.

Having set processes with defined one-best-way procedures means everyone works the same way, to the same standard, and with the same objectives. Or at least it should.

Getting your teams involved in developing the best ways of working means they are more likely to follow the processes. The people who are ‘at the coalface’ have invaluable insight into what works and what doesn’t work, which tasks are causing bottlenecks, and where improvements can be made.

Would workloads and individual performance improve if staff followed 'one best way of working'? Think about the potential HR benefits if you were able to increase the number of employees that followed one best way of working.

Problem solving

If team members are complaining about workloads, there must be a problem or problems to fix! Form a team and explore potential root cause factors that are likely to impact workload.

A few questions to ask:

  • Do you know how long tasks actually take?

  • Have you defined a capacity model that uses task time, output rates and volumes per person?

  • Does the problem sit with the output rate per person, or is it related to the input rate?

If the problem resides with the output rate, ask:

  • Is the employee trained and capable (check the skills matrix mentioned earlier) to complete the work types in their work bank?

  • Is the employee using standard ways of working and following procedures?

  • Is the manager coaching and removing challenges for the employee?

If the problem resides with the input rate, ask:

  • Is the capacity model and work allocation process correct and being used?

  • Has the work content or task time changed?

  • Is the work volume truly higher than the capacity model defines?

These questions should help you determine if the workload problem is related to the employee, or the capacity planning and work allocation process.

Finally, if you still can't quite identify a solution and the problem has been around for some time, consider using a Lean and Six Sigma expert to lead a root cause problem-solving project to fix it.

If you would like to know more about Lean and Six Sigma training, we've trained hundreds of people so don't hesitate to book a discovery call with Colin today or call him on +44 07808 840646 to find out more.


Is this a simple matter of employees being awkward and refusing reasonable management instructions? If so, there is a process for that! Time to reach for the ACAS code of practice.

However, consider the aforementioned topics first - work allocation, skills matrix, training, 1:1 coaching, standard ways of working practices and procedures and problem solving. Are you able to provide evidence that employees are trained, capable, organised and supported correctly? Or, have they been set up to fail?

Moreover, before starting emotional, costly and time consuming conduct proceedings, make sure you have checked all these boxes. Can you demonstrate the company and manager has provided the employee with the satisfactory level of resources, training and support? If so, and the employee is capable to perform the work but refusing reasonable management instruction, then it's time to follow the ACAS code of practice.

Keep an eye out for part three of this series

Be sure to keep an eye on LinkedIn and Twitter for the third instalment of our HR Health Check blog series! If you missed part one, you can read it here.


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