Complete Control – A Total Illusion

Last summer I was in conversation with a senior manager in a global company. He was stressed. The guy simply had too much work on and didn’t know what to do. I met him again a few weeks later and having taken the difficult decision to talk to his boss and tell her that he couldn’t cope, he seemed more relaxed. She had responded by helping to reprioritise things and importantly, together they had agreed to stop a couple of tasks. Of course the decision he took shouldn’t be difficult but we have a culture of generally trying to cope with things in the world of work (and this is exacerbated when the fear of losing your job is doing the rounds).

Two weeks ago over on our Facebook page there was a response to an earlier post I wrote titled Busy Sucks. The Facebook note read, “Hey Doug, I’m busy & not as productive as I’d like. But with 1200 job cuts I guess I’m going to be even busier. And even less productive. Thank heavens the Govt cuts aren’t going to affect front line services. Yay! [ironic cheer]”. To our contributor Nigel I say – hand back what’s not important, what doesn’t add value to the plan. Stay sane.

The words Complete Control written in Chinese
The words Complete Control written in Chinese

I was talking with a friend last week who had boldly decided to hand back a piece of work to the business. This difficult decision meant my friend can now concentrate on doing a manageable bunch of stuff well, rather than trying to do too much. I applaud this.

HR has an important role to play in helping people to manage work volumes, particularly in the public sector where there is such pressure to cut staff without cutting front line services (as Nigel highlighted above). Worryingly, in the recent experience of TheHRD and other commentators on his blog, the reputation for managing this critical balance is not good.

We can only control so much – very often far less than we believe. And I don’t think that trying to control and keep hold of stuff, or taking on too much stuff is the way to a purposeful, flowful workstyle, do you?

I’d be interested to hear from you if you have experiences of people having this rebalancing conversation successfully or otherwise?