Eliminating Workload Disparities

Why is it that, typically, 80% of the workload is carried out by only 20% of the people?


Samin Saadat
Executive Director, Posted on Jul 20, 2023

Sometimes, you might notice that some team members are working a lot while others don't seem to have much to do. This can create problems and make people disengaged. There are several reasons why this could happen:

  • Some team members may not take responsibility for their work and avoid doing their fair share. ( this is a major symptom with multiple possible root problems)

  • Some team members may lack the skills and training to handle specific tasks, so others do more.

  • The distribution of work among team members might not be clear, causing some to have more job than they can handle while others have less.

  • Sometimes, team leaders don't delegate tasks properly, leading to an uneven workload with unclear expectations.

  • When there's a lack of psychological safety and open communication, some team members may not feel comfortable expressing their concerns or asking for help.

  • Poor time management and prioritization skills can also contribute to an uneven workload.

When there's an imbalance in workload, it can cause frustration and unhappiness within the team. To fix this, we'll discuss ways to make sure everyone gets a fair share of work and feels responsible for their part. To help you with this, we've prepared a list of questions you can ask yourself and your team during reflection meetings to find the problem and develop a solution that works best for everyone.

“Managers and employers, here's something important to remember: you can only do half the work needed to empower your employees to perform at their best. The other half is up to your employees. So, trying to control, micromanage, please or avoid won't lead to a long-lasting solution. It might provide temporary relief, like a painkiller, but not a sustainable fix.

Here is a list of questions you can use during reflection meetings to address workload disparities and find the right solutions for your team

Transparent Workload Allocation

The first step in achieving an equal workload distribution is to ensure transparency in the allocation process. Managers should communicate the criteria for assigning tasks and projects to team members. Transparency will help employees understand that workload distribution is based on skills, expertise, and project requirements, not favouritism. Additionally, managers should be approachable and open to discussing any concerns regarding workload discrepancies.

  1. How are tasks and projects assigned to team members, and what involvement do team members have?
  2. How do you ensure workload assignments based on skills, expertise, bandwidth and capacity of team members?
  3. How are new tasks or urgent requests integrated into existing workloads?
  4. How does the organization handle workload distribution during peak periods or tight deadlines?
  5. Is there a process for reassigning tasks if someone struggles with their workload?
  6. How do you ensure there are regular meetings or check-ins to discuss workload and potential adjustments?
  7. How does the organization handle cross-functional workload allocation or interdepartmental collaboration?

Encourage Open Communication in a Psychological Safe Space

Create a work culture that encourages open communication about workload challenges. Employees should feel comfortable expressing concerns about their workload without fear of repercussions. Regular team meetings can provide a platform for employees to discuss their current workload, share ideas, and collaborate on potential solutions.

  1. Do we have a designated meeting space where team members can openly discuss their current workload and request support to ensure successful task completion?
  2. How can we foster an environment where team members feel comfortable sharing their struggles and seeking help when they feel overwhelmed? What steps can we take to normalize and recognize this behaviour?
  3. Do we encourage team members to share positive and negative experiences related to their workload and its impact on their performance?
  4. How do we ensure that team leaders and managers are receptive to feedback and suggestions from team members concerning workload challenges and potential improvements?
  5. How do team members collaborate to support each other during busy periods or when someone faces a heavy workload?

Flexible Work Arrangements

Offer flexible work arrangements, such as remote work or flexible hours. This approach allows employees to manage their time effectively, resulting in increased productivity and a better work-life balance. Employees can better handle their workload without feeling overwhelmed when they have more control over their schedules.

  1. How do we ensure we are being rational and realistic about what tasks can be done in a more flexible schedule? What control can we provide to the team members about their work schedule?
  2. How often do team members face conflicts between work and personal responsibilities, and how are these conflicts addressed?
  3. Do team members have the ability to take breaks or time off when they need to recharge after a peak time without feeling guilty or pressured?
  4. How does the organization handle urgent or time-sensitive tasks when a team member is not available during regular working hours?

Training and Development

Invest in employee training and development to enhance skills and capabilities. A well-trained team will be better equipped to handle tasks efficiently, reducing the likelihood of employees being overloaded due to a lack of expertise. Ongoing learning opportunities also contribute to higher employee engagement and job satisfaction.

  1. Are team members adequately cross-trained so that others can easily step in if an unexpected situation arises?
  2. Does our team possess the skills to prioritize and manage their time effectively, understanding the significance of tasks labelled as essential and urgent within the company?
  3. Are we dedicating enough time to slow down and focus on teaching the necessary skills now, to increase our speed and efficiency in the future ultimately?

Establish Clear Goals and Expectations

Clearly define team goals and individual responsibilities. Employees can prioritize their tasks when they know what is expected of them. Ensure that these goals align with the organization's overall vision so each team member understands their role in contributing to the company's success.

It would be best if you asked the following questions addressed every time you delegate a task, regardless of how small it is:

  1. What is the purpose/context of the task? Why is it important?
  2. What is the objective/goal we try to achieve?
  3. When is the completion date and time?
  4. When is the check-in point?
  5. How long does it take to complete the task?
  6. Who is responsible for completing the task?
  7. Who is responsible for providing feedback to delegates? Who do they report to?
  8. What is the extent of authority to make changes? How much autonomy is available to make changes?
  9. What resources/support are available to complete the task successfully?

Implement Self-Accountability Practices

Encourage employees to take ownership of their work and be accountable for their tasks. Each team member should take responsibility for their workload and actively find ways to contribute to the team's success. Stress the importance of meeting deadlines and taking the initiative to address workload imbalances positively.

  1. How do you ask your employees to regularly share updates on their progress, mistakes, lessons learned, and highlights? 
  2. Do employees take time to reflect on their own contributions to the highlights and challenges of the team?
  3. How do we ensure employees sign up for tasks and take responsibility for completing them successfully? 
  4. Is the workload distributed in a way that considers team members' individual preferences and strengths?
  5. How do we prevent team members from being free riders and promote a more collaborative approach?

Foster Self-Awareness and Assertiveness

Encouraging self-awareness is crucial for employees to recognize their limits and capacity. Each team member must understand their capabilities and workload capacity. This enables proactive communication with managers about workload challenges. Being assertive about workload concerns helps maintain a balanced task distribution. Employees should feel empowered to express when they feel overworked or notice others struggling. Team leaders should foster an environment where such concerns are welcomed and supported.

  1. How can we make it common for team members to be open about their workload limits?
  2. How can we help employees become more aware of their workload capacity? What questions can we ask them to reflect on whether they have the right amount of work?
  3. How do we acknowledge and incentivize proactive and assertive employees and work collaboratively?

A balanced workload is crucial for maintaining a positive work environment and ensuring employee engagement and retention. It's crucial to prioritize establishing processes and a culture that constantly reflects on and readjusts workload distribution, as mishandling this aspect can lead to various other issues within the organization. When managed properly, a harmonious workload boosts employee satisfaction and productivity, benefiting the organization.

About the Author: The human brain, behaviour and interactions with their environment never fail to intrigue Samin Saadat. After spending long hours in psychology labs at UBC and completing her Masters at the Sauder School of Business, she entered the workforce and observed a gap between what research suggests and what companies actually do to increase productivity and profitability. Over the last 10 years, Samin has developed expertise in people growth and culture building by working closely with business owners and individuals to develop the right mindset, skills and environment for cultivating a thriving workforce. Also, Samin strongly believes every single individual, regardless of their race, age, status, gender, position, mental health matters and physical conditions deserves to reach their full potential and they all have something unique to offer. Now, Samin is on a mission to bridge the existing gap in the workforce and support individuals and companies to reach their full potential through Jalapeño Employee Engagement—leveraging technology and psychology to bring research findings to life to help companies save invaluable dollars and to help individuals enhance their quality of life.