Blog Entries:

Some posts from The Methodology Blog around the time of The Causes of Overwork, Part 1

Archives by Subject:

More Resources

The Causes of Overwork, Part 1

Friday, March 4, 2011 by Slaughter Development

If you’re working too hard, putting in too many hours and not getting enough sleep, there is certainly a culprit. In fact, overwork is caused by at least one of exactly three reasons.

Here’s the list of workplace issues that lead to frustration, exhaustion and collapse:

  1. Unreasonable expectations - You are asked to do things which are just not possible.
  2. Unnecessary interruptions - You are being bugged by people for things that just aren’t worth breaking your concentration.
  3. Inadequate skill - you don’t have the training or ability to do assigned tasks.

In this three-part series, we’ll cover these factors in detail. Today, what are “expectations”, and why is the modifier “unreasonable” the ultimate destroyer of workplace productivity?

The word “expectations” is at the core of this problem. We used to think of our jobs as a set of duties. Do the work according to the process set forth by management, and your role continues. Fail to do the work, and you lose your job. Our careers were a series of tasks, and were measured by how well we performed those tasks.

Somewhere in the 1970s and 1980s, however, the corporate world began to started to replace words like “tasks” with words like “expectations.” This coincided with an renewed emphases on outcomes and total cost of ownership. By “setting expectations” instead of “assigning tasks”, management is in effect saying: “we only care about results.” Fail to meet expectations, and your boss will get angry.

Unfortunately, there’s a clear problem with using outcomes as a way to specify work—expectations can become impossible to meet.

To change expectations from possible into impossible, we just have to adjust parameters such as time frame and quality. Compare:

Read this book in the next six months vs. Read this book in the next six minutes.

Find and correct as many errors as you can vs. Find and correct every last error, period.

Arrive at work on time, or call in sick vs. Never arrive late or miss work.

The problem, naturally, is further compounded when employees have many different simultaneous responsibilities or managers.

If you feel you’re being burdened by unreasonable expectations, what is really happening is that you are being asked for outcomes which are physically impossible. The solution is to push back and ask for process-oriented guidance. Try these phrases:

That’s an aggressive deadline. Can we work together to identify the necessary steps we will need to take to meet it?

I have other priorities, but this may take precedence. Can we look at my current workload to decide the right order to complete tasks?

I’m happy to look for any weaknesses in the proposal. Can we develop a model for ensuring that this analysis is as comprehensive as it needs to be?

Unreasonable expectations are one of the greatest causes of overwork. Challenge outcomes and focus on processes. Support the sequence of work, not just the result. Learn more from Slaughter Development today!

❖ ❖ ❖

Like this post? Here are some related entries from The Methodology Blog you might enjoy:

The Causes of Overwork, Part 2 - The economy may be slowly rebounding, but that’s no reason to be exhausted. Here’s part two of The Causes of Overwork.
Read on »
The Causes of Overwork, Part 3 - It’s time for the final installment in our three part series about why people are overworked. In this episode, we cover the most shameful and difficult factor of all.
Read on »
Remote Work Week - This week, The Methodology Blog at Slaughter Development will be covering the latest perspectives on  working remotely. Read on »
Want to learn more? Register now for the 2011 Productivity Series

Leave a Reply

Switch to our mobile site