Overworked employee

[Reading time: 4 minutes]

There’s always a person

Every organisation has that one staff member:

  • Someone who has worked in the organisation for years.
  • Someone who knows how things really work around here.
  • Someone who is the ‘go-to person’ when something urgent needs to get done.
  • Someone who appears indispensable to the organisation.

There’s always a moment

Eventually, someone sees a problem with this situation.

Perhaps it’s the individual who escalates the problem:

  • They’re stressed and overworked.
  • They feel undervalued.
  • They complain that they can’t progress the more important and more interesting work that has come their way because they’re still knee-deep in their ‘real’ job.

Perhaps it’s the organisation that identifies the risk:

  • Relying on one person means one single point of failure.
  • When this person goes on holidays (if they ever take a holiday), processes take longer and errors increase.
  • If they ever left, the organisation could struggle for a while.

There’s always a plan

A plan emerges to help the individual and to reduce the risk.

The plan might involve additional staff being recruited to ease their workload. Or, a new IT system might be planned to automate some of the lower-value tasks that take up so much of their time.

It seems like a clear win-win for everyone:

  • The organisation mitigates the risk.
  • The individual is freed up to work on more valuable and more interesting work.

There’s always a snag

At some point along the way, the planned change hits a snag:

  • The change is taking longer than expected.
  • The change is more complex than anticipated.

You can see the symptoms. But what’s the problem?

Maybe the planned change really will take longer because it is more complex than anticipated.

But maybe these are all just symptoms of an underlying issue.

Maybe, the delays are because the individual who could benefit from this change may be resisting it.

The person who could benefit the most may resist the most

This isn’t irrational.

You might think this resistance is completely irrational. After all, the organisation is trying to help the individual.

But this is not irrational. It is absolutely logical.

Why would someone who is indispensable to the firm and valued by their colleagues

choose to be dispensable and less valued?

A need to feel valued is real. A fear of change is real.

This isn’t insurmountable.

Change is not just about adding more people, procedures or technology.

Change is also about involving, discussing, truly listening, and re-assuring.

And this can take time.

But taking the time to get it right is better than rushing to get it wrong.

PS I’m certainly not an expert in the psychology of change. Thanks to Daire Lynam (a real expert) for pointing me to the works of John Kotter.