Coping with work overload - Business Works
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Coping with work overload

by Marielena Sabatier, CEO, Inspiring Potential With almost half of UK managers working an extra day of unpaid overtime per week Marielena Sabatier, CEO of Inspiring Potential, looks at how UK business leaders can create strategies for working more effectively in high-pressured environments.

In July, research was published by the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) revealing that nine out of ten (94%) workers in the UK work over and above their contracted hours each week. The survey of over 1000 ILM members found that overtime is firmly embedded in the UK working culture, with 76% of people routinely working late in the office or at home. In fact, a survey by the Office for National Statistics (December 2011) shows that the UK has the third highest working hours in the EU.

There is no getting away from the fact we are working in an increasingly 24/7 business environment. Nearly everyone has smart phones and tablets so they can access their emails constantly. This can lead to some managers feeling like they never get away from work and switch off. So, are there strategies to help us work more smartly and cope with pressure without damaging our productivity?

Firstly, it is important to remember that we all still have choices and can make small changes to the way we work which can make all the difference. Setting good habits around email management can really help people claw back time and increase their effectiveness.

a false sense of productivity

Some of us spend several hours each day checking emails, responding to messages immediately and managing our inboxes, often to the detriment of urgent priorities and 'real work'. This way of working can also create a false sense of productivity we think we have been working for hours, but actually we have simply been responding to messages and putting off making calls or tackling urgent deadlines. These habits can also set the wrong sort of expectations for bosses, clients and teams who will come to expect immediate responses to everything and feel miffed if they don't, which can create additional pressures.

Establishing good email management habits can pay huge dividends. Rather than checking emails constantly, time should be set aside once or twice a day to process emails. People should also prioritise the more important ones and let go of the rest. Another good tip for email management is to request to be copied in only on relevant emails and if something is urgent, ask for the message to be sent directly. Some people set up separate inboxes for emails when they are copied in which can work well.

It is important for people to communicate to their clients and teams the times they will be checking messages and responding and when they won't. One way of doing this is by saying they will be online until 6pm, but then after this time, they will be with their family. They can add that whilst they value their work they also need time to relax, recharge and reenergise for the next day. This allows for some breathing space where they can disconnect the phone, switch off from the working day and relax.

Managers also need to build really good teams around them to reduce their own work pressures. With a good team in place they can delegate full responsibility for projects and hold people accountable for their work. They need to develop clear expectations of what they want from their team, the goals, how they expect them be delivered and clear deadlines agreed in writing. Enforcing accountability is essential for creating successful teams as it gives people a real sense of purpose and achievement and at the same time, it takes reduces the burden of work.

having very clear priorities is really important

Lastly, having very clear priorities is really important. Too often people spend hours working on the wrong things - things that are not their responsibility or which are low priority to the business. Clarifying what is essential makes it easier for people to say no to things, easing the work pressure and ensuring that the work undertaken is highly valued.

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