The Ultimate Guide to Effective Workload Management

author Ranee profile imageRanee Zhang
Feb 02, 20239 mins
What is workload management?

Even the most successful teams sometimes take on too much work. If you’ve ever found yourself swamped by a seemingly never-ending list of tasks with no end in sight, it’s likely poor workload management was in part to blame.

Our research has found that a heavy workload, unrealistic deadlines, and too much multitasking can lead to a decline in productivity, poor job performance, and an increase in absenteeism and staff turnover. On the other hand, organizations with effective workload management systems tend to have higher levels of employee satisfaction, engagement, and retention.

In this article, we discuss everything you need to know about effective workload management to ensure you distribute your workload effectively amongst your team members for maximum productivity and ROI. So let’s dive in. 

What is workload management?

Workload management is the process of planning, scheduling, distributing, and then monitoring workload across your business operations. This process can be implemented at an individual, team, or organizational level.

While team workload management involves tracking your team's utilization, performance and KPIs one of the most important elements of workload management is effective delegation.

This involves ensuring that the workload is distributed evenly, with each team member receiving their fair share of the workload and no more.

It may be important to note that time management and workload management, while interrelated are not the same thing. Workload management is a strategic approach to planning, scheduling, and tracking work for team members across an organization, in order to deliver project success for clients in realistic time frames. This involves having the right resources and being able to allocate them to the right projects at the right time.

Why is workload management important? 

Workload management is vital for teams looking to be operationally and financially successful. 

When implemented properly, team workload management ensures you are making the most of your entire team to reduce unnecessary costs and maximize profit and productivity.

The benefits of proper workload management include:

The ability to set realistic deadlines and goals- ensuring that you are not overpromising and underdelivering to clients and other stakeholders.

Minimizing delays and disruptions and mitigating ad hoc projects- Proper workload planning means that projects are more likely to be delivered on time and on budget. This in turn leads to a boost in profitability and brand reputation. 

Optimization of resources- Effective team workload management means that the work is spread evenly amongst your team members, with work allocated to the most appropriate people. This maximizes your team’s output while ensuring there is little chance of burnout. 

Reduces Staff Churn- By empowering your team and spreading the workload evenly, staff will have a better work life balance and lower levels of stress, while also feeling valued for their contribution. This leads to higher staff retention rates and less staff churn.

It supports recruitment and forward planning - Effective team workload management allows project managers to anticipate future workloads and recruit and plan accordingly.

Further to this, and perhaps more importantly, workload management is part of the ethical responsibility companies have to their employees. An effective workload management process ensures that you are protecting your team’s physical, mental, and emotional health by making sure they are not feeling overwhelmed in their role.

What causes workload issues? 

Several factors may lead to team members feeling overwhelmed by workload issues. Some of these may be personal, such as a  susceptibility to stress, or concerns outside the workplace. 

Many of these factors, however, are down to organizational aspects and a poor workload management plan. The following elements have been shown cause workload issues.

Unrealistic Expectations

While all managers want to shoot for the stars, having unrealistic expectations of what your team can achieve in a set period is one of the quickest ways to see your team become overwhelmed. Unrealistic expectations may be the result of the following:

  • Underestimating the complexity of a task and the resources required to complete it

  • Not fully understanding the external, and internal factors on which a task is dependant

  • Overestimating the team’s capacity and ability to complete all the tasks within a project

  • Underestimating the current workload 

  • Underestimating the impact of manual processes, admin, and other systems in place

These factors can lead to work piling up week upon week, leaving your staff drowning in a pool of seemingly neverending tasks. 

Effectively managing your team's workload means understanding exactly what your team does on a day-to-day basis to ensure you don’t overload them unrealistically. 

A Demanding Culture

Certain sectors are known for their unforgiving and demanding work culture. Organizations that normalize working long hours tend to influence their team into believing their workload is acceptable. The result of this can literally be fatal, with research by the World Health Organization finding that overworking leads to serious health issues and even death.

Ineffective Workload Distribution

For those in the team feeling overwhelmed, there is nothing worse than seeing another member of the team twiddling their thumbs. Ensuring that everyone’s workload is relatively even will reduce inter-team resentment and ensure everyone is carrying their fair share of the assigned tasks.

What are the signs of workload overload?

When people are working at the limits of their capacity, they will begin to show signs of workload overload. Common signs that your team needs help managing their workloads include:

Overtime is the Norm

One of the most obvious signs that your team’s workload is above capacity is when your team is constantly having to put in overtime. If people are working late or fielding requests outside of work hours, it is time to reevaluate your workload management strategy.

Unnecessary Mistakes

When a team member is making unnecessary mistakes that are out of the ordinary it is usually a surefire sign that they are at capacity.

When people have a lot on their plate, their minds can become cluttered, making it more difficult to process information effectively. This can result in a decrease in cognitive function, which in turn impairs their ability to think critically and make sound decisions. It can also lead to confusion, fatigue, and frustration, which can further contribute to mistakes.

With studies demonstrating higher stress scores are significantly associated with lower productivity scores, ensuring your team’s workload is at the optimal level will reduce the risk of mistakes and eliminate the need to unnecessarily reassign tasks.

Unhappy Clients

Unhappy clients have to be one of the clearest indicators that your workload management strategy is not working as it should and your team is overloaded. If the feedback from your clients is that you are not meeting deadlines and are failing to complete projects to your usual standard, you need to evaluate what isn’t working. Proper time management and resource management means hearing this feedback and pivoting your strategy to ensure you are continuing to meet your KPIs and keep your clients happy. 

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

Regardless of how effective a project manager is at managing their team’s workload, there will inevitably be times when they feel swamped by multiple projects. 

If the team has taken on too many ad hoc projects, or team members are out sick, the workload demand may feel increasingly overwhelming, leaving you feeling like you are drowning in a sea of requests.

Having a range of strategies in place to manage a heavy workload is an essential part of workload management and will empower project managers to not just tread water, but to ride the waves to the shore of workload management success.

1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

For people working in the fast-paced world of project management, it can be tempting to want to be able to do it all. However, acknowledging your limitations is one of the most essential project management skills. 

In life, and at work, there will always be elements that are not going to plan. Intelligent management of your team’s workload means evaluating the things that are not working and pivoting to find solutions. Being honest about your limitations with yourself and your team will allow you to delegate tasks to those most capable and ultimately lead to successful project management. 

2. Play to Your Team’s Strengths

The quickest for a project manager to free up their time is to allocate tasks to other team members. Rather than trying to take on the highest priority tasks, consider who on your team has the best skill set for these projects. Knowing when and who to delegate to will save time, and money and ultimately empower your team. 

3. Prioritize Tasks  

When starting a new project it can be tempting to look at every task as being equally important. And while it is important not to overlook anything, it is equally important to prioritize the most important tasks and to allocate resources accordingly. 

But how to decide what are the most important and urgent tasks? The Eisenhower Matrix, sometimes referred to as the Urgent-Important Matrix is a productivity framework that helps you to do just this. 

The Matrix is divided into four quadrants, allowing you to section tasks into to do, to schedule, to delegate, and to eliminate. Using this matrix is a fabulous way to prioritize tasks in your team’s workload.

Tips for effective workload management

Workload management is a little bit of a balancing act. Project managers are constantly juggling projects, tasks, deadlines, and skills while trying to keep all these balls in the air. Even with the right project management tool, it requires constant reevaluation and a range of methods to ensure everything goes to plan.

The following intelligent workload management techniques should help you to manage your workload and maximize your team productivity.

1. Analyze your team's workload

Before starting a new project, project managers should have a clear understanding of their team’s current workload and where there is resource availability. For teams of larger than ten people, they will often have several projects running at any one time. Making use of a resource management tool will allow you to see how much bandwidth individual team members have will be invaluable in managing workloads and ensuring fair and equal resource allocation. 

2. Plan Ahead

While it’s normal to want to dive straight into a new project head first, taking the time to plan will save you time and money in the long run. Begin by breaking the project into manageable tasks with achievable deadlines. You can then begin assigning tasks while assuring that each team member’s workload is fair and equal. 

3. Set Achievable Deadlines

Task estimation, the process of evaluating how long a particular task will take to complete, is a key part of effective team workload management. Being able to realistically estimate how long a task will take to complete means you can assign tasks fairly and with realistic deadlines. Consequently, your team will never feel under or overwhelmed and you can meet the expectations of your clients and other important stakeholders. 

4. Distribute tasks equally

As mentioned several times already, good workload management practices involve ensuring project tasks are distributed fairly and evenly amongst team members. 

This also involves the ability to continually reevaluate the time and resources required for important tasks and pivot accordingly. Certain, complex projects, may take more time or involve more administrative tasks than initially anticipated. Good project management means allocating more resources, time, and energy to challenging tasks in order to stay on top of project schedules. 

5. Break Tasks Down

Breaking down complex tasks into manageable chunks helps to crystallize the project, allowing your team members to see exactly what each task involves. Not only does this help with budgeting and time allocation, but it also creates a to-do list for your team that can be systematically ticked off as they make their way through important tasks. To-do lists help your team to track their performance and serve to reduce anxiety, which can only be good for team performance.

6. Plan Your Team’s Capacity

The statistics are in on this one, an overwhelmed employee is an underproductive employee. Therefore assuring your team members' workloads are fairly distributed at any point is essential in team management. Further to this, it is a project manager's role to set clear expectations and boundaries for your team around work-life balance. For example, ensure that your team doesn’t feel they need to check their emails outside of work hours unless it is imperative to the bottom line.

Employee performance is contingent on how well a project manager can assign tasks fairly without overwhelming their staff.  

7. Understand Task Dependencies

Good project management involves being able to see the forest for the trees. That is to say, a project manager needs the ability to take a bird's eye view of a project and understand all the interdependent, multiple tasks that rely upon one another. Sometimes, one task needs to be completed before another can begin. By understanding task dependency, a project manager can start assigning tasks according to the order of priority and allocate resources as and when needed.

8. Evaluate Team Utilization 

Regardless of everyone’s best efforts, there will always be instances where workload management plans don’t work as efficiently as hoped.

Measuring resource utilization or team utilization can help to give insight into where your team members are spending their time, and whether or not their efforts are contributing to the bottom line.

9. Be Realistic

It is human nature to overestimate what you and your team members can achieve. While this optimism can be a valuable characteristic, when left unchecked it can mean overwhelming your team, missing deadlines, and breaking the budget. By building resource buffers into your planning, you can avoid the likelihood of this occurring.

Start with a 10% resource buffer on top of your initial estimates and see how it helps.

10. Work SMART not hard

In the world of business, SMART goals are goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. By setting your team SMART goals, they have specific, quantifiable tasks that they can achieve within a certain time period. This is a surefire way to motivate your team and set them up for success, no matter what the project is.

Final Thoughts

With research finding 77% of staff have experienced burnout in their current role, project managers need to be at the forefront of the latest workload management strategies.

By prioritizing tasks, breaking down larger tasks, using a workload management tool, setting specific, measurable, and achievable goals, eliminating or delegating unnecessary tasks, using a timer, eliminating distractions, taking regular breaks, learning to say no, managing energy, and keeping track of progress, project managers can help their teams to achieve better work-life balance and increased productivity. 

However, it is also important to recognize that successful workload management is an ongoing process and it should be constantly evaluated, adjusted, and improved to ensure that everyone is on track and that goals are being met.

Project managers can lead by example and help their team members to develop and implement effective workload management strategies, resulting in a more motivated, productive, and satisfied workforce.

Ranee Zhang

Ranee has worked in the SaaS industry for nearly ten years. She loves working with, learning from, and helping develop effective leaders and is willing to share her thoughts through words. Outside of work, you can find her dancing, hiking in the mountains, or reading in a cafe.

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