November 21, 2022
General
20 minutes
Libby Marks

Everything You Need to Know About Workload Management

So much to do and so little time? Discover how to improve workload management in our recent guide.

If your team is working long hours to try to keep up with their allocated tasks, you may have an issue with workload management. 

Whilst overtime is sometimes necessary to tackle unexpected peaks in workload, long-term reliance on excess hours is actually counter-productive. It’s shown to 

  • Reduce productivity and mental acuity
  • Negatively impact project outcomes and staff satisfaction
  • Increase burnout and staff turnover
  • Kill 745,000 people a year 😲

Whether your resources are simply struggling to cut their to-do list down to a manageable size or regularly wrestling with 80 hour weeks, improving your workload management practices should be on your agenda.

Here’s everything you need to know about workload management  - and how to apply this learning in practice - for the benefit of your business and its employees.

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What is workload management?

Workload management is the process of forecasting, planning, distributing, scheduling, and monitoring workload. It can be done at an individual, team, or organization-level.

It ensures:

  • Work is distributed evenly and fairly between resources
  • Workload is realistic and manageable 
  • Project plans are accurate and achievable 
  • Resources and budgets are optimized

Team workload management is a rewarding process that combines a range of management techniques including:

  • Project management
  • Resource scheduling
  • Capacity planning 
  • People management
  • And more

Why is workload management important?

Workload management is essential for any organization that strives to be operationally efficient and profitable.

Ultimately, the purpose of workload management is to deliver the best results for your business - by reducing unnecessary costs, maximizing ROI, supporting high productivity, and making the most of your most valuable resource - your people.

Here are some of the benefits of workload management. 

  • It creates realistic work plans that you can actually deliver - reducing the risk that you overpromise and underdeliver to clients
  • It minimizes delays and disruptions - so your plans are more likely to be delivered on time and on budget - boosting your bottom line and brand reputation 
  • It optimizes your resources to deliver the best ROI - by allocating work evening between team members, it ensures your resources are earning money but never burnt out 
  • It maximizes staff satisfaction - by creating an empowering work environment that challenges but never overwhelms - so staff churn is kept to a minimum
  • It supports retention and recruitment goals - by anticipating workload and supporting capacity planning, so you’re ready for what the future holds

As well as the business benefits of workload management, there is also an ethical imperative. Workload management is part of the duty of care you have towards your employees, protecting their physical, mental and emotional health. 

By managing workload effectively, businesses can make sure their employees aren’t one of the 745,000 dying from long hours each year.

What causes workload issues?

There are lots of reasons employees might feel overwhelmed by a heavy workload. These could be personal factors that make them more prone to feeling overloaded. Or could be down to management or organizational factors. 

Unrealistic expectations 

You may have unrealistic expectations of what your resources can achieve in a particular timeframe. Your expectations may be unrealistic if you’ve

  • Not fully appreciated the complexity of a particular task or what it involves
  • Not understood factors that a task is contingent on - which could cause delays or extra work
  • Overestimated their confidence and competency to complete a task
  • Overestimated their current capacity to take on the work 
  • Underestimated the impact of manual processes, poor systems, and admin burden 

These can all lead to tasks taking longer than expected. If you keep adding more tasks, it can create a backlog, overwhelm, and burnout. 

If heavy workload continues unaddressed, the problems can be compounded. Unfinished work from this week can flow into next week, meaning your employee is even further behind when Monday comes. 

It’s extremely important for managers to get into the mud and understand exactly what different roles entail, day-to-day, to make sure they schedule work realistically. 

Using time-tracking software can help understand how long different tasks take, so you can adjust your expectations.

A demanding work culture

Some sectors are notorious for their unforgiving culture of long hours. When an organizational culture normalizes long hours, employees can be influenced into thinking their workload is acceptable - through management and peer pressure. 

Consultancy firms and games development are two industries known to be tackling their grueling overtime culture and poor work-life balance.

Uneven workload distribution

Is there anything worse than feeling completely overwhelmed by work, only to see a colleague complaining they don’t have enough to do and hunting for something to occupy themselves? 

If this happens in your team, you have an issue with workload distribution. Keep reading to learn how to tackle it…

Having in-demand expertise

For some people, heavy workload results from them having specialist expertise. If you’re the only person in the organization with a particular set of skills, you’ll be in high demand.

In these cases, it’s especially important to protect this MVP from overwhelm and exhaustion. Because if you lose them - to voluntary turnover or burnout - then you’ll be stuck.

Use utilization reports to understand which individuals, role types, and skills sets are in continual high demand and look to recruit more ASAP!

Under-resourcing 

Workload can become unmanageable if you don’t have enough resources to deliver. There are lots of reasons your team could be unresourced.

If someone is off sick or on holiday - and the rest of the team has to pick up their urgent tasks - this is a temporary issue. You can resolve it by helping your team members reprioritize their to-do lists.

But sometimes it’s a longer-term issue - for example, there’s a hiring freeze, you’ve been unable to recruit to a specialist position, or been blind-sided by an unexpected skills gap. 

Effective capacity planning can help prevent these issues - surfacing and forecasting demand for resources so that you can recruit in a timely way.

capacity vs confirmed worload
Runn's capacity planning charts will help you compare confirmed workload vs capacity to look into the future and take better decisions.

Poor management 

No-one teaches us how to be good managers. Often people are promoted to management roles without receiving any specific training. This means they’re ill-equipped to manage other people effectively.

If specific teams are struggling with heavy workload, consider investing in those team managers to improve their skills, so they can prioritize work and support their staff better.

Personality traits

The problem may also arise from the individual themselves. Some people are more prone to disorganization, procrastination, poor prioritization, overwhelm, and burnout than others. 

The WHO - which describes burnout as an occupational phenomenon - recognizes that personal factors can make people more prone to experiencing it. 

When this is the case, their manager needs to step in and provide training and support to help individuals overcome these challenges and thrive in their role.

(Psst. If this sounds like you, don’t worry. We’ve got some tips on how to organize your workload coming up 💪)

The unexpected

And, of course, there’s the unexpected. Sometimes the universe throws a curveball and your team is suddenly swamped with unexpected work. 

It could be that another team all gets the flu and you need to take over to meet a deadline. Or an ad hoc project from a major client that you can’t refuse.

We’ve got 5 tips for managing ad hoc projects, when you’ve finished this article :-)

What are the signs of workload overload?

A person is overloaded when they're working at the limit of their ability. Some common signs that you might need a workload management plan include:

1) There aren't enough hours in the day to finish all the tasks when they're due. Working extra hours is the first sign that your workload has gone south and become unreasonable.  

2) You make mistakes. The first sign of being overloaded is you start making mistakes. There is a point at which you can't do everything, and once you're past that point, there is no control over what will happen next.

3) Unhappy clients. It's easy to lose track of things when you have lots on your to-do list. Not getting client work through on time, or not completing it to the usual standard is typical of being overworked.

That being said, if you find yourself or your team unable to meet deadlines, staying late hours, and working on weekends, workload management may be something you want to look at and improve significantly.

For a project manager, it's vital to develop workload management skills. Read on for our tips to manage team workload effectively.

How to handle unbalanced workload in a team

If workload is unbalanced in your team, you’ll have some staff that are overutilized and some that are underutilized. This isn’t just a problem for staff morale. It poses a real risk to your business too.

Overutilized staff are likely to be stressed out, lose productivity and mental acuity, and be at greater risk of ill health or resignation. Whilst underutilized staff are costing you money without delivering your expected ROI. Plus they could be feeling bored, frustrated, and plotting their escape. 

Research from Deloitte found 77% of people say they’ve experienced burnout in their current job. So it’s in your interests to get workload distribution right in your team. 

To do this, you need to understand the utilization rates of your resources - as well as what they’re able to do - so you can spread work more evenly between them. It could be that you have skills at your disposal that you didn’t know exist…

A centralized resource calendar records who’s available within your team or organization - including their skill set, skill level, cost to the business, capacity, utilization rate, and more. 

workload calendar
Runn's People Planner will help you allocate resources to projects and track availability now and in advance.

Equipped with this knowledge, you’re able to allocate tasks according to individuals’ availability and competency to do the work required.

This allows you to balance your team’s workload and keep all your team members working at an optimal level.

Tips to manage workload effectively

1. Estimate tasks

Workload management is impossible without estimating how much time the project will take. Your team members should be involved in the estimation process as they have more knowledge as to how much time they might need to complete a certain package of work.

You can create a workload schedule to understand how much time individual tasks within a project should take. This helps you assign a realistic workload to your resources, as well as forecast project schedules realistically. 

Give workload planning the time and respect it deserves. It can make the difference between delivering great project outcomes on time and on budget, or missing the mark entirely. And when 50% of employees ranked heavy workloads as one of the key stressors in the workplace, it can make your team happier and more productive too. 

2. Set achievable deadlines

Perhaps the most important takeaway from this entire article - be realistic.

Unrealistic deadlines are the silent killer of your team culture. They’ll erode goodwill and steal away staff satisfaction - until your team is feeling overworked, underappreciated, and disenchanted with your management style.

There’s lots to consider when setting deadlines.

  • Has the team done this type of work before? Then they might be a little faster
  • Is this something new to them? There might be a learning curve
  • Is the work innovative? It might take time to get right 

It will help to involve staff in task estimation, as well as review data from how long similar tasks have taken in the past. 

Remember, at least 20% of staff time is taken up with essential - but less immediately productive - tasks like meetings, emails, training, mentoring, even toilet breaks. So aim to only schedule 80% of their time. 

And always allow some buffer room around deadlines for contingencies, delays and unexpected disruption.

3. Prioritize, prioritize, and prioritize again

When every task is an urgent task, teams can feel overwhelmed. From an individual team member's perspective, having an ordered task list gives them a starting point for their work. Once one task is finished, they know what to focus on next - this also reduces downtime in between different pieces of work.

If their to-do list isn't prioritized, they may spend unproductive time figuring out where to start, or what to do next once they've completed a task. Not only that, but a long list of tasks just feels overwhelming.

4. Develop a resource management strategy

Team members are among a workplace's most valuable resources. To get the best from them, it pays to be deliberate about how you plan to utilize them. This means proactively managing workload to keep each team member fully utilized without feeling overworked.

A resource management strategy gives you visibility over individuals' bandwidth, understanding how much work they have on and creating a plan for their upcoming work that is challenging but achievable.

Resource management is firstly about understanding the supply of resources you have - in this case, the number of team members on staff and the reasonable amount of work hours they have to give to projects. Once you know that, you can allocate resources to tasks based on work priorities, ensuring resources are looked after so that they remain productive without being overwhelmed.

5. Create a resource calendar

A resource calendar gives you a bird's eye view of your whole team's capacity across a set time period. It gives you the advantage of knowing what is assigned to different employees, so that you can take that into account when allocating new pieces of work.

Resource calendars are particularly helpful in project planning. It helps you to see granular information about individual team members' availability, including their upcoming vacation time, public holidays, and start/end dates for different projects and milestones. This knowledge helps to inform your workload planning by ensuring you're allocating an appropriate workload to each team member.

A resource calendar also helps to see all of the tasks a team member is working on. It can even break this information down to specific time periods so that team leaders understand what someone is doing at a particular time of day, or when they're next available for extra work. Not only does this prevent overload, but it helps with resource allocation so that the entire team is productive as much as possible.

Your calendar becomes the overarching source of truth for resource management. The result is a central document that is accessible and visible across business departments. This helps to ensure remote teams and staff at different locations have the same intelligent workload management, reducing silos and encouraging transparency among all team members.

6. Distribute project tasks evenly

Intelligent workload management is about assigning tasks equally and evenly. It's always best to aim for an equal workload for everyone, but this equality is hard to achieve without visibility.

For example, if you have a specialist staff member working on a long term project within their speciality, and you have another project that requires their skill set, it can be easy to allocate that piece of work to them out of habit. However, a project manager may not realize that another newly hired team member is also capable of performing that task, and has more availability.

Rather than sticking to old habits and assigning tasks based on what you've always done, it's best to check the pool of available staff members and allocate tasks according to who has the most capacity. This prevents some staff being overwhelmed while others are under-utilized.

7. Minimize multi-tasking

Multi-tasking may seem efficient, but no one can do two jobs at once efficiently. 

In reality, someone who is working on multiple tasks at one time is likely to be much less productive than if they were focusing all of their energy into just one thing.

Context switching is known to be highly disruptive, as people need to take time to reorientate themselves with the task at hand, work out what they need to do, maybe logging into different software, having to remember their password… 

It’s better to block out time to focus on one thing at a time. See some tips on managing individual workload below. 

8. Track time and team's capacity regularly

Team workload management requires constant awareness, which can be easier said than done. 

  • Tasks may take longer than estimated
  • You could be relying on other work that gets delayed
  • Staff members could fall in
  • An unexpected ad hoc project could materialize 

Even with good planning in advance, there are plenty of other reasons why team capacity may change.

It's important to check in with your team's workload as tasks progress and make adjustments where necessary. 

If a team member has time-dependent tasks, a delay can create an overwhelming workload when that delay is overcome. However, if you track that person's real-time capacity, you may be able to re-prioritize another task that gives them more availability later on.

Time tracking is much easier with a visible, central resource calendar that is updated in real-time.

9. Predict what skill sets will be in demand

Workforce planning is another key task in workload management. By understanding the future of your organization, you can see the likely demand for skills and plan to hire or structure the business accordingly. This is primarily the role of HR managers.

There are many reasons why there may be a change in demand for a skill set at a later date:

  • Industry skill shortages
  • New project work
  • Changes in business priorities
  • Staff turnover
  • Global trends

All of these factors feed into the ideal workforce for a particular organization. Being able to recognize that in advance enables organizations to adapt quicker, cheaper and more effectively. For example, you may be able to

  • Train junior staff to step into more senior positions in future
  • Plan for someone to replace those due to retire
  • Manage your pipeline of potential candidates for new roles.
With Runn, you can manage people's skills in addition to their workload.

Workload forecasting is a key element of this activity. Looking at your current and pipeline of work to understand how much time - and how many resources - you’ll need to achieve your desired outputs. 

10. Put work life balance on the agenda

Proper workload management should include conversations about how to balance work and life. This is one of the most effective ways of preventing team members from getting to the point of feeling overwhelmed.

You can encourage staff to

  • Take regular breaks during the working day
  • Take their annual leave regularly throughout the year
  • Work flexibily when possible
  • Leave work at a reasonable time
  • Remember ‘overtime’ isn’t ‘all the time’
  • Flag when their workload becomes problematic
  • Learn and apply workload management techniques

All of these things help staff to refill their cup and decompress from the challenges of their job, which helps individuals to be at their best at work. 

They can also prevent stress and work-related anxiety, which can result in reduced productivity, increased sickness and absenteeism, and employee turnover.

Encourage managers to treat teams in such a way that doesn't overwhelm individuals. For example, if there is a challenging deadline on a piece of work that isn't vital, managers can take the pressure off their staff by relaxing the deadline a little rather than make people anxious and stressed by pushing for it to be done on time.

Speak about personal wins and reward staff for their good work. This helps to encourage a good workplace culture where team members feel valued and appreciated, which in turn incentivizes even more good work.

11. Reduce administrative tasks

Repetitive tasks can become very boring, very quickly. There is a degree of administration in any workplace or position, but it's important to blend in admin work with other tasks for variety and productivity.

This may mean automating administrative tasks where possible, or scheduling this type of work in small, regular chunks so that staff don't have long periods doing types of work that are unfulfilling or not part of their core role.

Reducing your administration is also a great way to save time and costs within the business. Administrative work generally has a low return, while real, core work represents more revenue for the business and is more impactful in general.

12. Measure team utilization

Measuring team utilization is perhaps one of the most insightful techniques in workload management. In one metric, team leaders can identify individuals that are under pressure for long time periods, as well as those that may feel frustrated by their light workload and lack of opportunities.

A team utilization report shows what percentage of your people's capacity is scheduled or being put to use. It's a highly visual tool that enables team or project managers to identify the demands being placed on each team member in real-time.

It can help with resource allocation by ensuring individuals that already have a demanding workload aren't tasked with work that can be done by someone else that has greater capacity.

Team utilization also helps with planning. For example, if a staff member has two weeks of working at above 100 percent capacity coming up, you can plan for them to have time off to recover once they've finished. That can be taken into account in another project plan.

Utilization can also be broken down into billable and non-billable work, creating the opportunity for business efficiencies - as well as improving job satisfaction (see above re: reducing administrative tasks).

What is the best way to organize workload as an individual?

To organize your personal workload effectively, try the following.   

  1. Write a daily to do list - Start the day by listing everything you need to do. Then extract that into four or five things you can realistically expect to achieve that day and use that.
  2. Prioritize your tasks - Use the Eisenhower technique to work out which tasks to prioritize and which to carry over to another time.
  3. Match tasks to energy levels - Plan more challenging tasks for times when you typically have more energy, and schedule easier tasks (like admin) for when you’re at a lower vibe.
  4. Block your time - Use your work calendar to block out time for different tasks, just as you would for a meeting. 
  5. Try the Pomodoro technique - This is when you break your workday into 25-minute chunks with a five-minute break in between. The idea is that everyone can focus for 25 minutes.
  6. Minimize interruptions - Interruptions are inevitable but try to minimize the ones you create yourself - deactivate email and social media notifications, for example. 
  7. Log your time - Time logging can help you see where you’ve spent you time and spot opportunities to improve your time management.
  8. Tackle procrastination - Procrastination is often a delaying tactic to avoid tasks you’d rather not do. Try to recognize it and reduce it - it only makes your to do list take longer.
  9. And perfectionism - We all want to do our best but sometimes perfectionism becomes a problem. Save your best work for tasks that deserve it and don’t overservice the others.
  10. Ask for help - If you’re struggling with competing demands, tell your manager. Ask how to prioritize your tasks - or even ask for some to be reallocated. It’s their job to help.

What are team workload management tools?

It's difficult to track everyone's workload when people are assigned to multiple projects at the same time. Workload management tools take all of the information from things such as staff calendars, resource allocation, project management tracking tools, staff utilization and workforce planning to create insightful reports about how your workforce is being managed.

Runn workload management software brings together a comprehensive range of metrics to make workload management visible in one place, for all staff.

  • Individual utilization reports in percentage terms, how much is billable vs non-billable, in a daily, weekly or monthly view.
  • Capacity view, helping to see how many hours individuals have assigned on a given day.
  • Filtered reports by role, tags or teams in order to make resource allocation based on the best fit that's available.
  • Staff insights such as their earnings and capacity.
  • Time off, leave and timesheet integration to manage HR functions in the same place as project work, while seeing and testing the impact of different strategies on business outputs.
  • Scenario planning tools to test the impact of different projects on business outputs.

Runn workload management software delivers all of these helpful insights in real time, allowing project managers and team leaders to make informed decisions with the most accurate information.

An introduction to enterprise workload management

Effective workload management is all-important for better employee performance. But it isn’t always easy.

Problem #1 - Software complexity 

Many enterprise organizations manage a bespoke arrangement of different software systems, which makes it harder to get the information you need to make the best decisions.

For example, an enterprise may need to integrate custom applications in workflows, business process management, ticketing, emails and other web-based systems. 

This inevitably creates bottlenecks and difficulty sharing up to date information across relevant stakeholders, and higher costs across a range of individual software subscriptions.

Problem #2 - Software simplicity

At the other end of the scale, some enterprises are hampered by using software that isn’t sophisticated enough for their workload management needs. For example, trying to manage utilization, surface capacity, and forecast future needs  manually using  spreadsheets.

In this scenario, data dates quickly and  decisions aren't based on the most current information.  Plus the whole process takes a lot of time, often requiring the expertise of a data analyst. 

Not only that, but spreadsheets are error-prone and it's hard to make sure stakeholders know which is the most up-to-date version of a particular report.

This typical enterprise approach to workload management leads to more problems than solutions. 

Siloed reporting and resource allocation doesn't deliver on business-wide priorities because there’s no transparency or communication between teams. This means missed opportunities, frustration, and even cross-departmental conflict. 

For example, if the sales team continually pushes through projects that the delivery team don’t have capacity to take on. Or if the HR team are unaware of emerging skills gaps that need to be filled.

Runn workload management software creates one source of truth that can be relied upon by all. Reports are easily exported to CSV, making them shareable and available across all business areas. Furthermore, managers and leaders can easily self-serve real-time data and reports from their own dashboard.

This maximizes efficiency and transparency, and allows managers to deliver workload management best practices that create the best outcomes, both for the business and all individual employees.

Runn also delivers on the ultimate goal of workload management, allowing your workforce to be productive, motivated and fully utilized, while also delivering on business priorities.

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