New leaders in particular deal with more change resistance (and resistance in general) from their employees. Bitter coworkers who were overlooked for the promotion dig in their heels and make life hard for new managers. Some just want to take advantage of the new guy or gal. Others want to see how far they can push you.
That sort of behavior, as juvenile as it is, can certainly be expected. However, in most cases, your employees are pushing back because they honestly feel too busy, overwhelmed even, to take on more work or implement new initiatives.
So when you have delegated an assignment or requested a process change and an employee boldly says “I’m just too busy to do that,” what should you do?
Don’t accept the excuse
Most people are busy. If they aren’t, they probably aren’t putting in enough effort on the job. Seriously, when was the last time you met someone who wasn’t busy? And, for the most part, the excuse works really well. After all, it’s one of the surest ways to prevent the boss or coworker from adding more items to your to-do list. People will stick with what works, so if you continue to accept “I’m too busy” at face value, they’ll continue to use the excuse.
My friend, coach Heli Jarvelin, once said that the word “busy” does us very little. When you say you are busy, you are basically justifying bad behaviors, such as missing a deadline. That’s why I have banned the word from my own vocabulary and around my office. If you don’t want to take it that far, so be it, but at least dig a little deeper to understand why your employees are so busy.
Determine if employees really are “too busy”
Sit down with employees to assess their workloads. One way is to have them list everything they do, along with the approximate time it takes to complete each task. Review the list to determine if they are spending their time wisely. For example, are they spending an exorbitant amount of time on tasks that have little value? Should some tasks be eliminated or assigned to someone else? Is it obvious that they are padding their time by spending too much time on particular tasks?
In some cases, you may find that employees are stretched too thin, and then it’s on you to balance the workload and make it more realistic. In most cases, however, you will find that employees can make better choices about how they use their time.
Help employees prioritize their assignments
If you make every assignment a top priority, you are asking for too much. When employees say they are too busy, ask them to take out their to-do list, and then help them prioritize the tasks on the spot. You may need to extend deadlines, park assignments or eliminate tasks altogether. You may discover that they have competing priorities so you will you need to be flexible about when and how they complete all their assignments. Or you may just have to tackle a task yourself if they are truly overwhelmed.
If you continue to ask for too much, you can continue to expect resistance. Worse, employees could decide to suffer in silence battling an unrealistic workload. That could lead to poor performance, low-quality work, mistakes and eventually turnover. Make sure that you are being fair, and then work with your employees to help them control their work and manage their time more effectively.
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