January 18 Responses

The question drew about 50 responses from HR professionals across campus, focusing on a handful of common themes. Following are specific strategy recommendations organized by theme, along with select comments from respondents.

1. Understand perceptions

“I think we first need to analyze the concern. It could be perceptions are wrong... We can’t solve the problem if the underlying issue has not been identified.”

  • Conduct forums or focus groups: Arrange opportunities for open dialog to boost understanding and yield ideas.
  • Hold regular feedback sessions with leadership: Routinely connect unit leaders with team members to find and fix problems early.
  • Quantify workloads: Establish and use key performance metrics to improve comparisons and tracking over time.
  • Step up communication: Regularly provide information about how projects and responsibilities are distributed.

2. Establish accountability

“Everyone needs to be held accountable even if that means conflicts arise.”

  • Assess workload regularly: Evaluate workload distribution together on a recurring basis, reassigning responsibilities as needed.
  • Highlight workload in performance evaluations: Make this assessment a formal component of review and career-development processes.
  • Adapt job descriptions: Regularly update responsibilities to reflect workload redistribution.
  • Standardize expectations: Address workloads and accountability during onboarding and beyond.
  • Support progressive discipline: Provide the training and tools to manage workload problems effectively at unit and central levels.

3. Focus on supervisors

“We have a pretty strong cultural tendency to treat employees the same across the board…We should neither want nor expect everyone’s output to be the same. But we should use the tools we have to differentiate, and should train and expect our managers to do so.”

  • Enhance supervisory training: Provide additional resources for supervisors to develop overall skills and new approaches to workload-managements issues.
  • Evaluate on supervision: Emphasize supervisory responsibilities in assessment and development of managers.
  • Consider 360 reviews: Solicit more feedback on supervisors’ performance and focus on addressing workload, accountability, and related challenges.

4. Evaluate priorities and processes

“Identify tasks that are mundane or out of date and eliminate, freeing up resources and time for priority and critical tasks.”

  • Start at grassroots: Let workgroups begin the process of sharpening focus and offering changes.
  • Provide tools for individuals and groups: For example, adopt the Covey quadrant model for prioritizing tasks that are urgent and important.
  • Improve time tracking: Adopt standard systems for tracking time spent on projects and use resulting data to set priorities and identify efficiencies.
  • Streamline hiring: Make specific processes like hiring more efficient in order to quickly add resources that address priorities.

5. Value top performers

“At times the work goes to employees who have a proven track record of excellence and meeting deadlines. Supervisors may shy away from the average employees or the one who needs extra attention. Thus, the cycle of uneven workload distribution continues.”

  • Expand cross training: Ensure optimal backup support and shift responsibilities on the fly during peak-volume periods.
  • Add capacity where needed: Make it easier to bring on additional support—including temporary and student staffing—to provide relief.
  • Make recognition programs more flexible: Decouple performance incentives from annual evaluations to give supervisors more flexibility.
  • Enhance succession planning: Identify career paths for strong performers and keep workloads manageable as they progress.

See our January Call to Action for steps that HR pros at all levels can take to support top performers and manage workloads overall.

6. Address HR-specific needs

“I am the only one who does what I do in my department. I don’t really have a backup…”

  • Establish multi-unit backup: Designate central or shared support that smaller units can access.
  • Enhance training: Continue providing distributed HR personnel with resources on routine functions and targeted areas like change management.
  • Document the basics: Set targets for number of employees per HR rep, for example, and provide standardized breakdowns of daily, weekly, monthly, and annual functions.
  • Review classifications: With changes in responsibilities, ensure that HR pros are assigned to appropriate classifications.