Workload Management Strategies

At some time or another almost everyone feels as though they have more work than they can cope with. However, not all stress is bad, and it is often cited as a key factor in helping people respond to crises, adapt to change and excel when a peak performance is required; for example, in an interview or presentation. When coping with stress at work, the important thing is not to let your workload grow to the point where you are completely overloaded.

The most common sources of work-related stress include:

1. Continuous and tight deadlines.
2. Dealing with crises on a daily basis.
3. An excessive workload.
4. Role ambiguity and conflict.
5. Constant negative feedback.
6. Inadequately trained support staff.

If you are overloaded then you need some workload management strategies to remedy the situation.

This will be easier if you have the facts to back up your case and are confident that you are working as effectively as possible by using an appropriate workload management strategy.

The most common sources of work-related stress include: continuous and tight deadlines, an excessive workload, role ambiguity and conflict and the need to deal with crises on a daily basis.

If you are overloaded then you must take steps to remedy the situation. This will be easier if you have the facts to back up your case and are confident that you are working as effectively as possible by using an appropriate time management strategy.

Avoid Taking On Too Much

A significant contributor to workplace stress and overload is the inability to say no, which results in people taking on far more work than they can realistically manage. It is a natural response to want to accommodate requests made by others. We don’t want to disappoint them, let them down, give the impression that we can’t be bothered or are too lazy to help.

Sometimes tasks may sound so enticing that we are tempted to take them on and worry about finding the time for them later, this is especially true for work that is some time in the future. However, it is important to think realistically about your workload. Ask yourself: “are you likely to have any more spare time in the future than you have at the moment?”

One of the major factors in developing the ability to say no is to realize that if you take on things that you subsequently haven’t got time to do well, then you will be letting everybody down. A job done badly will reflect poorly on you, your colleague and perhaps the whole organization.

It is very easy to agree to take on more responsibility, to be seen as a keen and competent employee. It is much more difficult to admit that overload is a problem and then to take action to remedy the situation. If you feel that you are becoming overloaded then you may decide to try to negotiate a reduction in your workload.

How to Negotiate Your Workload

If you have never questioned the demands of your manager or organization before then this may be rather daunting. The most effective tactic may be to restrict your negotiations to a specific task or project that you identify as causing you the worst problem.

Here are some important guidelines to consider when considering workload management strategies:

  1. Specify your objectives precisely
    For example, if you felt deluged by low-level customer enquiries, you might suggest: “delegating the handling of first line customer enquiries to the receptionists”. This approach provides a framework for the negotiation and prevents the risk of your request being mistaken for a general complaint.
  2. Prepare your evidence
    If you can produce a time log detailing the amount of time that a particular task has taken you and can show the associated cost, this will often make for a more convincing case.
  3. Prepare counter arguments to the likely objections
    The best way to prepare counter arguments is to look at the situation from your manager’s perspective. Seeing things from your manager’s viewpoint should help you to devise a solution that they will find acceptable.
  4. Decide in advance what compromise you would accept
    If both you and your manager are going to be happy with the outcome over the long-term, then there may need to be some form of compromise. Decide in advance what issues you are likely to need to give ground on.
  5. Become More Task-Orientated
    Some people are primarily task-orientated, whilst others are primarily people-orientated. Task orientated people often find it easier to say no, as they tend to evaluate requests against task related criteria.

They will ask themselves whether or not they are capable of and willing to perform the requested task. This enables them to make a more objective decision in response to a request.

People-orientated individuals are more likely to ask questions relating to their relationship with other people and their desire not to disappoint them. If you feel that you would like to become more effective at saying no, then try prompting yourself to think more carefully about the task involved each time you are requested to take something on.

Ask yourself questions like:

1. Can you tackle this task?
2. Are you clear about precisely what it entails?
3. Have you got the time to take it on?
4. Can you do the job well?
5. Is there someone else better equipped to do it?
6. What happens if you need to disengage from the task due to other commitments?

If your responses lead you to believe that you’d be unwise to take it on, then it is in nobody’s interest for you to agree to it. Try to clarify your reasons and explain these in a clear and concise way when declining the request.

  1. Be Prepared to Say ‘No’
    In most circumstances you have every right to decline a request. However, if you let yourself worry or dwell on past occasions where you have declined a request then you are more likely to accept future requests, regardless of their importance.
  2. Consider Your Response
    Try to predict circumstances in which you are likely to be asked to take on extra commitments and prepare some form of response. When requests arrive unexpectedly, ask for time to think about the request before responding.
  3. Don’t Apologize
    Don’t fall into the trap of being over-apologetic. Say what you want to say in a clear and concise way but don’t sound like you are making excuses. If people get the idea that they can talk you round, then they may persist until they are successful. The other drawback with adopting an apologetic approach is that the requester may feel that your reasons for declining are tenuous, and doubt the reasons you have given.
  4. Think Ahead
    It is a natural assumption that it is easier to book the time of a busy person well in advance, and it is all too easy to accommodate such requests. However, are you likely to be any less busy in 6 months time than you are in three weeks time? If your future commitments are uncertain then be very careful about agreeing to things even if they seem to be a long way off.

Saying ‘No’ to Your Boss

There are three common reasons why saying no to your boss is a different proposition to declining requests from colleagues or clients:

Firstly, it may appear as though you are refusing to do the normal activities of your job.
Secondly, you may worry about giving the impression of not being as keen as your peers.
Finally, your boss may just overrule your objections and make you do it anyway.

Generally speaking there are only two valid reasons for declining work that is passed down. Firstly; that your existing work will suffer and secondly that the work is beyond your level of competence. This means that any workload management strategies you use must be based on one of these reasons.

It is important to construct a good case to support your argument, you should put your points clearly and concisely and don’t come up with too many objections. This invites your boss to use the weakest to undermine your whole case, without giving you the opportunity to counter with your stronger points.

Another useful approach can be to devise a plan for how the task could be tackled, without taking the full responsibility upon yourself. You might even turn a request from your boss into an opportunity to offload some routine work, thereby freeing yourself to address the current request properly. It can assist you greatly to get the boss on-side by sowing the germ of an idea and letting them come up with the plan, before endorsing it as a great way to proceed.

If you feel that you are becoming overloaded then you may decide to try to negotiate a reduction in your workload. It is helpful to specify your objectives precisely, prepare your evidence and counter arguments and anticipate the need to compromise.

One of the biggest problems many of us face is knowing how to say ‘no’ to some of the many requests we receive. Task-orientated people tend to make objective, task-related, decisions whereas people-orientated individuals tend to make subjective decisions based on relationships.

Stress and Workload Management

Everyone has their unique level of over-commitment that leads to stress at work. Knowing when you are approaching this level and taking positive steps to keep control are key to maintaining your performance and productivity. You need to be aware of your stress symptoms.

You may recognize that you become more irritable, indecisive or lack confidence. You could have persistent physical signs, such as, more frequent migraines, indigestion, pains etc.

Your workload negotiations will fall into two main camps, those with your direct boss and those with colleagues. You may employ the same tactics for either group, but you need to be aware of the higher risks you encounter when negotiating with your manager and be more conscious of the environment your negotiations take place in.

Who ever you are negotiating with you must ensure that you don’t feel obliged to accept such tasks or projects unless it brings some benefit to you. The ways to identify and handle such negotiations are described in our free eBook on this topic.


Focus on the benefits to You
When undertaking such negotiations you must make sure that whatever the outcome you benefit from that decision. It is essential that you approach the underlying reason for such discussions from your own viewpoint.

You need to appear sympathetic to request but present your case from a position of strength. This may be returning a past favor, working the request so that there is a mutual benefit to accepting the task or gaining a promise of future help.

You may also choose to accept the task to your workload because it provides a unique opportunity for you to acquire a skill, expand your knowledge base or improve your visibility within the organization.

If you decide to accept a task part of your decision making process must assess the impact this additional task will have on your existing deadlines. Finally clearly define your terms of acceptance and the other person’s expectations.

Identify the root cause
You may find that you spend a significant amount of your time in these negotiations. If this is the case then you must identify their source. The diagram above shows the most common root causes and you will have to take time to assess and prioritize your outstanding tasks and why they remain on your list of things to do. Our free templatePrioritizing your tasks’ will help you to conduct this exercise.

In each case you will need to ask your self why these causes keep reappearing and what you can do to eradicate them. If you cannot do this then how you intend to make the cause more manageable.

1) Is someone within the organization sitting on information causing unnecessary delay?
2) Is there a problem with the organization’s processes that needs to be fixed?
3) Why do certain problems keep on reoccurring?
4) Is there confusion over whose role it is to perform a task?
5) Are there sufficient resources to perform the task as required?

By researching such queries you may find that other people or divisions within the organization do not realize that they are doing, or not doing something that is having unforeseen consequences elsewhere. Now you have the information you need to prepare your case for against accepting the task.

Key Points

  • The feeling of being overloaded is increasingly common in today’s workplace.
  • Prolonged exposure to stress can lead to anxiety, exhaustion and burn-out.
  • One of the main contributors to stress and overload is an inability to say ‘no’.
  • It is important to think realistically about your workload.
  • Be careful of trying to accommodate too many demands on your time.
  • If you are not confident of doing a job well, then it may be best to decline it.
  • Task-orientated people tend to make objective, task-related, decisions.
  • People-orientated individuals tend to make subjective decisions based on relationships.
  • Your existing work will suffer or the work is beyond your level of competence.
  • Make your points clearly and concisely and don’t come up with too many objections.
  • Use the opportunity to offload some routine work, making time for the current request.

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