'Excessive and unhealthy busyness' is a challenge in any business.
Due to the many variables in any business (economy, customers, employees, services, suppliers etc etc), there will always be more things to do than can be done. Now that we have added technology into the equation, and the speed of communication that brings with it, the volume of 'things to be done' is increasing exponentially. We're a lot busier today than we were 60 years ago.
When we spend too much time in this place it can and often does lead to a downwards spiral and vicious circle for teams.
It starts with everyone feeling too busy and overwhelmed creating a breeding ground for poor mental health (the prevalence of which is demonstrated in the record numbers of poor mental health and employee burnout present at the moment).
As it goes on, people start to realise that things aren't being done as effectively as possible, they can see better ways of doing things and want to share these insights, but, everyone's too busy to listen. This leads to staff feeling frustrated and not valued.
Ultimately you end up with an environment where people are desperate to a good job but unable to do so. Everyone is working too hard to achieve sub-optimal results. There aren't many motivation drainers more significant than that.
Why does it happen so much?
It's vital, especially if we are in positions of management or leadership, that we get a firm grasp in our minds of two things when it comes to business, time management and being human:
There will always be a never-ending to-do list of important tasks that need to be done as soon as possible
Humans are genetically hard-wired to want to do a good job and get everything done
It's the combination of these two facts that explain why 'excessive and unhealthy busyness' is such a widespread problem throughout businesses and teams. For hundreds of thousands of years, we've survived and thrived by always being ready to jump into action, by wanting to do a good job so that we can survive as well as be accepted and appreciated by our tribes. As hunter-gatherers, this approach served us well, but in businesses, especially with managers and leaders our natural approach of do do do can quickly become a negative as we have already highlighted.
What can we do about it?
The act of simply raising our awareness around the challenge of excessive and unhealthy busyness and its causes lays a solid foundation for addressing it. But, in the nature of business, when everything that needs to be done is genuinely important, simply knowing being excessively busy can be a bad thing might not be enough to help us create any change.. but knowing the costs associated with this might.
Show the negative impact in numbers
When you are a manager or leader of people, we have already established that you're likely to have a to-do list of very important tasks that need to be done ASAP. That list never really seems to end.
It's this list that allows us to justify to ourselves and others being too busy to be effective. It's not easy to make regular time to step back, breathe, listen and plan when this list is burning over you and your team.
There is indeed a cost to you not doing things on your important list as soon as possible. But, and this is a big but, there is also a cost associated to you and your team being constantly busy. The latter cost is substantially higher than most businesses realise.
Once managers and leaders start to understand the costs associated with people being too busy too much of the time, it becomes easy to justify taking regular time for you and your team to step back, breathe, analyse and plan instead of just quickly jumping to the next important task.
Below are 4 costs associated with excessive unhealthy busyness:
1 - Stress - Short term sick days
As we've already highlighted, humans are naturally hardwired to want to work hard and do a good job. When you and your people are constantly trying to do too many things without a breather both of these innate human strengths become negatives. Our propensity to want to work hard leads to a lack of work-life balance and our desire to do a good job isn't fulfilled. This can create high levels of stress, anxiety and poor physical all of which lead to an increase in sick days.
The UK CBI estimate the overall cost of an average sick day to be £750.
How many days a year does your team lose to sick days?
How many of those sick days were contributed to by the team being too busy, overwhelmed and or lowly motivated?
2 - Burnout - Long term sickness
You will have some staff that rarely if ever take sick days. They show no signs of the workload being too much and they never complain. These are your team members most at risk of burnout when the workload is relentless. They have a lot of drive in the work hard department and the only thing that stops them is when something breaks.
You think they are absolutely fine then maybe after a few months you notice they aren't quite as enthusiastic as they used to be, then maybe after a few more months, maybe years, they have a breakdown.
When you lose a team member to burnout they either aren't coming back or they aren't coming back for a long time. Even if and when they do come back it's going to take a long time for them to get back close to their A-game.
The cost associated to burnout is going to be that person's salary for a bare minimum of three months + the lost outcomes from that person (remember they're usually talented hard workers) + the loss of productivity from the rest of the team who are now a team member down.
It's easy to see how losing just one employee to burnout can quickly create costs and lost income way upwards of £100,000k.
3 - Productivity Levels
The simplest way to track this is to pulse survey your team regularly on how motivated they feel from a score of 1-10. Motivation is essentially a 1-1 measure of productivity levels. As we've covered in detail when people feel too busy at work and not able to do their jobs to a high standard, their motivation levels quickly deplete. Without factoring in the lost income/results associated with an employee's productivity levels, we can establish a simple cost association by dividing their salary by their motivation. For example, if you have a member of staff on £50,000k per year and they are at 50% motivation levels, we can safely say we are losing at least £25,000 with this person. The true figure is likely to be substantially higher due to the lost outcomes derived from that person's high productivity levels.
How motivated are your team currently? How much could that be increased by being less busy and more focused as a team?
4 - Employee Turnover
When people feel frustrated, fed up or dissatisfied with their jobs one of their most likely courses of action is to leave. Losing good employees is one of the most costly things that can happen to businesses and teams. As we explored earlier on in this post, humans are hard-wired to want to do a good job. They want to know that the work they are doing is contributing to the bigger picture. They want to feel like their insights and opinions are valued, and that they are listened to. They want to feel genuinely cared about and invested in, not necessarily with money but most certainly with time.
None of these things are achieved by just doing more work. All of these things require time and strategy. Put your hands in the air if you've been guilty of not scheduling regular employee 121s because you were just too busy. The best employees aren't going to stick around if all you do is work work work. Multiple data-driven reports are being published that suggest many employees will consider a pay cut to work for an organisation that is aligned with their values and has a good culture.
The cost associated with losing good employees is huge. Again, not even considering the lost productivity of that person, average recruitment costs are 20% of the salary of the position being recruited for. You also have the lost productivity of everyone else having to cover that person (which can also lead to them becoming sick and or leaving).
For a role paying £50,000, we can safely say the cost associated with losing that person is A MINIMUM of £10,000.
Here we have covered the dilemma of 'excessive unhealthy busyness' in businesses, why it happens how building a picture of the costs associated with it can help us justify to ourselves and others taking more time away from simple pursuing the to-do.
Next time everyone is feeling a bit overwhelmed and you have another very important thing that needs to be done as soon as possible burning over your head before you jump straight into it at the expense of planning, individual development or team development, remind yourself and others of the potential cost working yourself and your team too hard.
If me working myself and my team too hard for a year is going to generate just:
3 sick days a month x 12 = 36 x £750 = £27,000
1 preventable employee loss at £50k = £10,000 recruitment, 6 months of lost productivity £25,000 min
Total = £62,000
then it starts to become quite easy for me to start making more time for myself and my team.
If you want to get an even clearer picture of the cost associated with working your team to hard to justify taking a better approach I'd highly recommend the following tools from the guys at www.brandexperiences.com
ROI Calculator - An online tool that takes into account your numbers to generate spefic figures
Book - Monetising the Employee Experience