Hidden Opportunities for Your Burned-Out Employees

Broken and burning matchstick representing burned-out employee
Photo by Sebastian Sørensen from Pexels

Improve employee satisfaction and increase efficiency by letting your burned-out employees focus on what they do best.

I’m sure you’ll agree overwhelmed and burned-out employees are a problem with every company. It’s particularly severe in overworked nonprofit agencies. A nonprofit coaching client told me they had too many tasks and not enough staff. We used the five-step process outlined below to get as much efficiency as possible from their limited resources. Their employees were excited to focus on what they did best rather than waste time on mundane tasks.

You can use the same process to increase your employee satisfaction while improving efficiency. The secret tool for this is a business staple that’s often overlooked. It’s the process you use to assign tasks to people or job titles.

Recording where tasks are assigned today is simple documentation. Mapping where to move tasks in the future is strategic planning. Moving low-value tasks off your best employees prevents burn-out and improves efficiency.

I’ll first list a series of benefits you get from strategically organizing tasks and assigning them to the right people. You can achieve these benefits with a five-step Task Optimization Planning (TOP) process that I’ve used with clients and will explain to you in detail in this article. Let’s start with the benefits.

Benefits

List of TOP Process Benefits

Efficiency

Using staff more efficiently means less need to hire new staff. The TOP Process allows you to identify people with more time than others. You move tasks off overworked, burned-out employees to staff with more capacity to even out the workload across your staff.

Use a group of people to identify who has excess capacity and who’s overworked and burning out. Planning as a group promotes efficiency because the group makes the hard decisions about which departments truly need more resources. Lots of people will claim they need resources. Let the group decide together if whose the priority for scarce resources.

Effectiveness

Moving tasks is often haphazard at best. An overworked staff person is burning out and so things are taken off their plate. Soon another person is too busy and it happens again. Managers are endlessly scurrying to grease the next squeaky wheel. Some overworked staff say little until they burn out and take a job elsewhere. It’s constant reaction instead of management.

Doing the exercises below as a group allows a deliberate, coordinated shifting of tasks. Moving a big task from one person to another requires coordination. The person receiving the new task must move tasks to other people. Working with many tasks at once also helps define how many new people need to hire and what their tasks will be.

Employee Development

As companies grow, their employees grow with them. Staff climb up the organization chart and everyone becomes more specialized. Your current employees may be the department managers or technical leads of tomorrow.

Mapping out future organization charts sets the development path for current employees. Employees know what skills they will need to learn or develop to perform their future tasks. Clearly communicate potential future titles as opportunities if the employee continues to develop. It’s never a guarantee.

The gap between where employees are now and what skills they will need to grow with the company creates their development plan. Staff work on tasks today that prepare them for the positions that will be needed tomorrow. Clear expectations highly motivate most employees.

Clarity of Responsibilities

Managers often scramble to update an obsolete job description before they can post a job to replace an employee. The listing of tasks in the sticky note exercises below defines the job description of each person. After the steps below, each person’s job description can be quickly updated from those lists to reflect their current and future tasks. Updated job descriptions reduce your legal risk and improve employee satisfaction.

Recruiting

Organization chart planning may lead you to assign a group of tasks to a new position that needs to be hired. Have you ever been thinking about buying a certain type of car and then start noticing them everywhere? The same happens with employees. You’ll be amazed at how often you’ll identify someone with the skills you need when you know what you’re looking for.

You’ll be amazed at how often you’ll identify someone with the skills you need when you know what you’re looking for.

Quick Assignment of New Tasks

Having an organization chart allows quick assignment of unassigned tasks. Tasks constantly surface that no one thinks is their responsibility. Everyone assumes it’s someone else’s job. So, it doesn’t get done. This leaves customers or other employees unhappy.

An organization chart that lists current tasks allows quick assignment of tasks that might fall through the cracks. You can identify people or departments that do similar functions and where there may be the capacity to take on the task.

Documentation

How many times has something needed to be done and people remember a past discussion about who should do it, but no one remembers the final decision? Document decisions like this on your organization chart so they’re never lost.

Your chart easily tells everyone who’s responsible for each task. Identifying unassigned tasks forces managers to assign it and document that assignment.

The Five-Step TOP ProcessTM For Less Burned-Out Employees

Many companies don’t strategically map out tasks on their organization chart. They view the process as confusing and overwhelming. I’ve developed a simple five-step process with clients that will move your staffing plan from scattered to strategic. It’s called the Task Optimization Planning (TOP) Process.

I’m not promising that each step is easy. The hard work of planning captures the performance benefits outlined above. The steps will give you a clear path that you can follow confidently to a solid plan.

Here’s an overview of the five steps:

  1. Identify tasks
  2. Identify resources
  3. Prioritize tasks to be transferred
  4. Assign the tasks to resources
  5. Commit to the transition

Now let’s look at each step in more detail.

Step 1: Identify Tasks

No one knows the tasks performed in the company better than the people that currently do them. Have them write each process they perform on a sticky note. They should think about four types of tasks:

  1. What they’re doing that can’t be delegated.
  2. What they’re doing that can be delegated.
  3. What they aren’t doing but it’s a task that should be done by somebody.
  4. What they would like to do but aren’t.

You can do this step in a few different ways depending on the size of your company.

For small groups, each person lists all their tasks on a sticky note. Each person puts their name on a piece of paper and then puts their sticky notes on this page. They then select some tasks they think should be moved to other staff. The sticky notes with these tasks are taken off their page and onto the grid on step #3. Allowing staff to provide input to the change process like this makes them more committed to transitioning tasks and satisfied with the task changes.

Having a page for each person is impractical in a large organization. In larger organizations, each department (rather than each person) has a page with sticky notes listing their basic tasks. During this process, the tasks move from one department to another and then each department later decides how to assign tasks to each person.

Step 2: Identify Resources

The next step is to search for all potential resources. Here are some examples:

Other Staff

Your best staff can become bogged down and burned out from tasks that would be better assigned to other staff. Focus your strongest staff on creating systems, solving problems, and managing others. Move well-documented repetitive tasks to other staff.

Virtual Assistants, Interns, and Contractors

Hiring employees is a big commitment. The hiring process (job description, posting, interviewing, etc.) and training usually take weeks if not months. Hire contract workers if you’re not ready for the cost of a full-time new employee.

Systems

You may want to invest in systems that provide efficiency rather than hiring more staff. As you grow, the cost of a good system is less than adding staff to perpetuate current manual or inefficient processes.

Volunteers

This resource is usually only available to non-profits but some for-profits can barter for a little help. The agency I mentioned earlier in this article had a large pool of donors that they could ask to volunteer. Current volunteers could be reassigned to other tasks. Small businesses sometimes use friends on an informal basis. For example, I have a client that owns a coffee shop and café. She offers events after regular business hours. Loyal customers and friends help at these events in exchange for a waived event fee.

Flexible Scheduling

Consider part-time staff or remote staff. Being flexible gives you access to more potential employees or allows you to retain your best staff. I worked at a company that would let their best staff work remotely if they had to move to another city. We didn’t have to hire and train a new person to replace them. Two-thirds of the staff I managed at one company worked remotely at least part-time. The variety reduced burnout. The staff loved the flexibility while efficiency increased.

Step 3: Prioritize the Tasks

Tasks can be reassigned in one big session or gradually over a series of sessions. Mapping them all at once allows better balancing of task assignments and better coordination of the process.

On the other hand, trying to do everything at once can be so overwhelming that nothing gets done. You can opt for a hybrid approach where a few critical tasks first go through the mapping process. Later, process a larger number of less-critical tasks.

Everyone will have piles of sticky notes from Step 1. Where do you start? I was working with three key employees of an agency over a series of meetings. Each employee picked two sticky notes for the group to discuss at each meeting. I recommended that they picked tasks that were both important and easy for them to reassign. Base the importance of moving a task on the benefits of moving that task. What tasks could you move that would reduce burnout of your best employees? Can you better use lower-cost staff for more efficiency?

Another option is to create a grid on a wall or whiteboard that looks like the table below:

Matrix of Ease and Importance

This grid and resources for other prioritization methods are in my free Prioritization Pack.

Everyone places their sticky notes in the quadrants that best match each of their tasks.

1st Quadrant

The group starts with the tasks in the upper left quadrant that are the highest importance and the easiest to implement. Include tasks from the lower-left quadrant that are difficult to implement but have extremely high importance.

2nd Quadrant

Once you process those tasks through steps #4 and #5 below, move next to the remaining tasks that have high importance but are not easy to implement. The group may discover an easier way to implement the task or agree to commit the high resources needed to complete the task.

3rd Quadrant

Next, look over the items in the quadrant of tasks that are easy to implement but low in importance. This shouldn’t be a big focus of the organization. Assign smaller tasks to a person or department for a quick win. Never do what’s easy at the expense of doing what’s important.

Last Quadrant

The last quadrant to consider are tasks that are both low in importance and low in ease of implementation. Keep a list of these to document them. Someone may identify an easier way in the future to implement them or they may become more important in future years. You can consider them the next time you do this exercise. Don’t waste much time now on reassigning these tasks.

If you are looking for other ways to prioritize goals and tasks, I give step-by-step instructions in this blog post.

Step 4: Assign the Tasks to Resources

For each task that you’ve prioritized to discuss, identify all the people who could do the task. Use the list of resources from step two above for ideas. Once you identify the person or department for that task, move that sticky note off the grid and onto their page.

Consider both the person and the position. You may assign tasks that aren’t directly related to a person’s current position to help them develop new skills. You may assign a task to a person that has an interest in it to increase their job satisfaction and loyalty. You may assign a group of tasks to a new person or title.

Assign easier tasks to someone who isn’t the best fit for the task in the long term but has some capacity now. Simple, well-documented tasks are best for this. Make it clear to the person that this task will move later. If you do make this promise, revisit the task occasionally to see when it’s the right time for the task to move to the appropriate person.

Step 5: Commit to the transition

Coordinate when each task moves with the timing of the movement of other tasks. People can’t take on many new tasks if they haven’t been able to transfer out their current tasks. You’ll discover that you must move tasks in a certain order to keep the process running during the transition. The person currently performing a task may need to write the procedures for it or create a checklist before they can transfer the task.

You may have identified in the planning process that you need to hire additional staff. Use the sticky notes assigned to each new position to develop the job description.

Achieving the transition requires accountability. Each task that’s moving must be assigned to someone to make it happen and have a deadline for the transfer. The group must also set a meeting (usually a month in the future) to check on progress. These meetings may be ongoing until you transfer all the tasks.

Five Steps of TOP Process for staffing maximization

From Constant Crisis to Coordination

Don’t allow staff planning to be haphazard reactions to constant staffing crises and employee burn-out. Take your current organization chart and turn it into a dynamic planning tool.

Documenting each task, prioritizing them for movement, and then mapping out the movement eases the transfer of tasks. Your staff will be more efficient, effective, and less burned-out. You’ll be shocked at how easy it is to identify the perfect new employee when you know what you’re looking for.

Staff planning can be confusing and frustrating. You and your employees can develop a coordinated task transition strategy. Use this five-step TOP process for top efficiency and performance. Want me to help you or your group through it? Send me a quick email to let me know how I can help. I would love to work with you and your team.

I wish you well.

I help small business owners manage their business finances to achieve their personal goals. Check out the Consulting page to learn how I can help you or my About page to learn more about me.

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