Recently, as I was leaving the office for the day, I noticed one of my employees was still toiling away. I asked why she was still working -- we'd recently wrapped up a major project, and I couldn't think of any other work that had to be done at that moment. She told me she was catching up on some less important work and that if she didn't, it would keep her up all night.
On one hand, I respected her work ethic. But I also wanted to tell her to go home -- she needs to have a life outside work. I also felt a bit bad. Was I one of those leaders overworking his employees? After all, one study found that 28% of employees felt overworked, with another 28% feeling overwhelmed by their workloads.
While I don't think I'm a leader who overloads his employees, it's a common problem. On top of the tangible work employees have to get done, they have to attend meetings, manage disruptions, return phone calls and emails and travel. It's no wonder people can't get everything done in eight hours. As a result, employees become stressed and anxious, and they may fall behind at work. Eventually, this can lead to severe health concerns. They may feel they have no choice but to leave your organization.
What would employees do if they had extra time and weren't maxed out? Would they find worthwhile uses for that extra padding in their schedules? Here's what they'd use it on:
1. Establishing a relationship with leaders and co-workers
"Relationships are one of the best predictors of happiness in any field," Christine Carter, author of The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work, told Monster. In fact, a Gallup poll reports that workers with close friendships experienced improved employee satisfaction by 50%. Additionally, a survey discovered that 75% of employees claim that having a relationship with their boss influences job satisfaction because it enhances trust and morale.
Building a relationship with others doesn't have to be complicated. It can be as simple as taking an interest in your colleagues outside work and checking in with them frequently. If time is an issue, suggest that your teammates eat lunch together, encourage more collaboration on projects, allow a little cooler talk and schedule team-building activities.
Also, stop saying you don't have time. Instead, find an open slot in your calendar, and schedule one-on-one meetings for more pressing matters. If something can be dealt with quickly, like in an email, set aside five minutes to answer a question or share a resource that can help with a problem. Another option is to set "office hours" so employees know when to track you down for quick answers.
2. Investing in their growth and development
One of the reasons talented employees quit is because they don't feel they have opportunities for growth and development. Research from the "What Would You Do with More Time?" survey by The Workforce Institute at Kronos Incorporated and Future Workplace found that "Regardless of age, role, level, or country, all employees wish they could spend more time developing new skills, as it was the top-rated answer for both individual contributors (44 percent) and people managers (40 percent) alike -- with exactly half of Gen Z respondents and 47 percent of Millennials craving more time to develop skills."
You can help your team with this by providing formal mentoring, professional training and cross-department training. You can invest in training for their developing soft skills, such as emotional intelligence. Also, give your employees a chance to grow personally by letting them work on a passion project.
I know what you're thinking: Where you can find the time to do all this? You could start running more effective meetings. Cut them down to 30 minutes or only invite key stakeholders. That saved time could be earmarked for professional and personal development.
3. Helping others
Giving back to the community is extremely important to Millennials and Gen Z. In fact, it's one of the leading considerations when younger generations are job hunting -- some would take a lower salary to work for a cause they support. And helping others is good for your bottom line because it drives employee engagement and loyalty.
Offer flexible scheduling or sponsor team outings so employees have the chance to volunteer for a cause that's important to you and your team.
4. Getting around to basic self-care
Kronos also reported that following developing new skills and helping others, both managers and employees wish they had time for personal maintenance. This includes having time to eat, take a mental break or catch up on behind-the-scenes details.
As a leader, you can assist your employees with this by creating a culture that focuses on these areas. Institute an employee wellness program; give your team a proper lunch break. Also, share with your teammates time management techniques like how to prioritize, automate, delegate and outsource. You could also suggest that they try out methods like the Pomodoro Technique to help reduce distractions and boost focus.
5. Developing long-term or significant projects
Managers and employees, according to Kronos, would both like to have time "to innovate, brainstorm new ideas, or find a better way of doing things."
Again, this is something you could help with. Create a culture that encourages innovation by soliciting feedback from your team, rewarding employees' ongoing learning and ideas, providing them with the right tools and documenting your team's triumphs and failures. You could also host creative retreats or weekly brainstorming sessions.
It may sound like a tall order, but granting autonomy and allowing your employees to set their own schedules (within reason, of course) is also a great tactic. This allows them to capitalize on their peak periods of productivity and creativity.
While your teammates may believe they don't have enough time to get around to accomplishing these five things, the truth is that these efforts start with proper time and calendar management. As such, you should coach your employees on how they can work smarter, not harder. Empower them with the tools to set limits and ask for what they need.
Help your team find ways to make more time in their schedule, and you'll be rewarded with happier and more productive employees. Best of all, your trust in them is likely to trigger loyalty, meaning all the time you've invested in them will continue to pay off.