Here's How to Get Workload Distribution Right in Your Team

If some of your team members have a never-ending to-do list, while others are feeling bored and unchallenged, you might have a problem with workload distribution.
Mae Angeline
June 29, 2022

Have you ever worked in a team where it felt like you were handling all the tasks while your colleagues spent their time scrolling on their phone or getting coffee? If so, you've experienced uneven workload distribution – and you're surely not alone. But now that you're in charge of task distribution, how can you avoid creating that same scenario?

According to the Harvard Business Review, managers can be tempted to assign multiple tasks to the most productive members of the team. While this might get the task done, it's likely to mean that the best members of your team feel overburdened and resentful. They may even leave.

As a project manager, creating an efficient workload plan is critical to keep an ever-increasing workload distributed fairly across your resources. In this article, we will discuss workload management and essential tips to ensure your team has proper task distribution.

Does your team have an unbalanced workload distribution?

To prevent an imbalance in your team's workload, you must first be aware of what an unbalanced workload distribution is. An unbalanced workload distribution means that some resources are overworked, and others underworked.

The way an unbalanced workload distribution shows up depends on your company, your staff, and the project you're tackling, but commonly it results in:

  • Some staff working longer hours while others aren't pulling their weight.
  • Employees spending longer on specific tasks because they aren't a good match for their skill sets.
  • Oscillation in an individual's workload, so that they are sometimes overloaded and then underutilized at other times.

An unbalanced workload distribution is an indication that resource allocations need to be improved. In the short-term, it affects your employee performance and productivity on the task at hand. Over the long term, unbalanced workload distribution creates an issue of overworked employees, which affects overall team performance and retention.

Is an unbalanced workload the same as a heavy workload?

An imbalance in workload distribution is different from managing a heavy workload, although the two can co-exist in the team. A heavy workload, at the team level, occurs when the team has more functional and administrative tasks to complete than its capacity. In that scenario, even with a balanced distribution of workload, each person will be overworked.

But when the problem is in the distribution of workload, some individuals may be overworked even though the team technically has the capacity to handle the project.

What are the signs of an unbalanced workload?

As project managers, you may be unaware that your organization is already experiencing unbalanced workload distribution. Here are a few signs you might notice among your team members:

  • Some employees take a large amount of time on breaks while others are stuck at their desks, even filing overtime just to finish their work
  • Project leaders require new hires despite having several equivalent workers on their roster
  • Employees experience a constant struggle with burnout and work stress, or difficulty in staying motivated daily
  • A steep decline in employee retention

When project managers take control of workload management, important changes can be made so that duties are assigned efficiently to each team member according to their skills and capacity.

How is workload measured?

Measuring workload can be challenging. After all, no two tasks take exactly the same amount of time, even with the same skilled operator performing them. There are also differences in the load a task presents to different employees: an employee whose skill set matches the task may find it an easy undertaking, while an employee who lacks the necessary skills may find it takes more time and mental energy to complete.

In fact, workload measurement is such a complex task that NASA has actually researched the topic, and evaluated methods of measuring workload effectively. The NASA Task Load Index (TLX) approach provides what is generally considered to be he most comprehensive measure of workload.

The TLX is based on subjective assessments, and takes into account the mental energy, physical energy and time demanded by a task, as well as the level of performance, frustration and effort related to the work. These assessments are then combined to give an overall workload value for the task, allowing you to compare two workloads and assess which is heavier.

You may be relieved to hear that you don't need to stretch to NASA levels of task evaluation in order to implement an effective workload management plan. However, there are two aspects of a task that you should take into account: time and skills.

Time is the most common form of workload evaluation. By evaluating how much time each task on a to-do list should take, it is possible to assess whether the employee will be overworked or underutilized.

However, these time estimates depend on the person performing the task having the necessary skills, so it is also important to consider the type of task. Effective workload distribution depends on assigning the right tasks to the right people.

What are the risks of distributing work unevenly in a team?

When an unbalanced workload distribution leads to overwork, it can result in deterioration of the physical and mental health of your employees. Along with these personal changes, there are risks that can affect the success of your project and the company's profit margins.

  • Resentment and conflicts

Uneven distribution of work is a prime cause of resentment between colleagues, especially when the tasks do not require specialist skills to perform. As an overworked employee's frustration builds up, and they may find it challenging to focus on one task, resulting in workload build-up or stagnant deliverables.

At some point, conflicts may arise between team members, and ultimately the imbalance leads to job dissatisfaction, due to the desire to be treated fairly or equally.

  • Increased turnover

Even high performers dread long hours at work, and if they feel management is not paying attention to workload distribution, they may look elsewhere for a team where everyone carries their fair share.

The Great Resignation saw millions leaving their jobs for better working conditions, including a better work/life balance. In addition, factors that are closely related to workload distribution, such as the need for recognition, more control over their job role, and level of engagement in work-related activities, also have an impact on employee turnover.

  • Too much multitasking = not enough meaningful progress

If workload is unevenly distributed, the overloaded members of your team are more likely to have to resort to multitasking to get their never-ending to-do list finished. However, this is unlikely to set them up to achieve their best work. Multitasking may seem like a "strength" that can give you the edge when faced with a long to-do list. But in reality, it contributes to stress, frustration, and poorer quality work.

How do you distribute workload equally?

Once you have a measure of your team's workload, you can start developing a workload management plan. Workload management is a method of distributing tasks to your team logically and knowledgeably, making the best use of your resources.

As well as checking that tasks are assigned to employees with the appropriate skillset, you can also check that the overall workload is distributed evenly across the members of the team.

Here are some points on how to help you effectively manage your team's workload:

  • Scope out and plan work in advance

When you want to distribute workload equally, it is essential to be able to categorize and sort out your projects' to-do lists, so that you have a handle on the workload involved and the due dates.

Looking at the big picture lets you allocate the upcoming workload and create a better schedule for your team members. Prioritization of ongoing tasks equally among teams gives you better leverage, especially when handling multiple projects or if you are looking to take on more work. Proper time management planned in advance, and no tasks are left behind as you manage and take on new ventures.

  • Assess the real capacity of your team

Hand-in-hand with understanding the workload associated with your project, you need to evaluate the capacity of your team. In an ideal world, you would always have enough resources for each project. But in reality, your resource availability may be limited and your team's capacity may be unbalanced.

You might have a team of graphic designers available to work on an advertising project, but their backgrounds and competencies are likely to vary. If only one of them has experience animating in After Effects, for instance, all the animation tasks in the project are going to fall to them. In this scenario, your team's real-terms capacity to work on animations is pretty low.

By using capacity planning, you can get into this granular detail and understand your team's actual capacity to handle an assignment or a whole project. In turn, this will help you appreciate where and why workload is becoming unbalanced.

  • Use a workload management tool

Manually evaluating each person's capacity and workload would be a very time consuming task. Fortunately, resource and project management tools can give you full visibility of the workload of your entire team. Indeed, the best workload management tools will make it very clear to see who is experiencing a light workload, and who is drowning.

For example, Runn helps you visualize your team's workload, assign resources to projects according to their skill set and availability, and monitor their utilization. Runn lets you know when one of your team is overbooked, so you can manage their heavy workload proactively before it becomes too much.

  • Address any confusion around roles and responsibilities

A lack of clarity over roles and responsibilities can lead to inefficient teamwork, and a tendency for tasks to be duplicated or left undone. While a system of claiming work depending on who is available works with some teams, in other situations it can lead to an imbalance as a few people routinely pick up the slack.

If you have identified an unbalanced workload distribution, getting the team on the same page is key, so that everyone is clear how assigned tasks, split tasks and other tasks are to be handled.

  • Set high expectations for the whole team

If team members are fully aware of what to expect, they are more empowered and motivated, increasing employee engagement and productivity. Team members also have the opportunity to determine the project's success through realistic goals and have more control over transparent workloads.

A strategic approach to ensuring priorities are met and tasks are completed can help set the bar high. In addition to improving performance, it is a step towards achieving a positive work culture and avoiding employee burnout and frustration.

Use the right tools and find the perfect balance

Resource management tools help you achieve proper workload management and productivity within your business. A reliable tool will help simplify scheduling workloads, speed up the process of planning everyone's availability, and allow you to distribute resources according to project requirements. Once the project is underway, you can also track productivity and progress to ensure your projects have enough resources, and apply contingencies if not.

The right tools will let you see who's doing what and when, to create the perfect workload distribution with just a few clicks. As a result, resource bottlenecks, especially in human resources, can be prevented, and they highlight where you need to focus while ticking off tasks based on the planned capacity of your team.

The right workload management tool will help you understand your employees' needs, allowing you to create organizational solutions that will lead to sustainable workloads, while still meeting project deadlines.

Want a helping hand in managing your team's workload distribution? Runn is free to try. Visualize your team's workload, get immediate oversight of capacity, and forecast future availability. Bring balance to your team with Runn.

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