Simple is hard.
Today’s workplace is jam-packed with processes, tools and complex tasks that can kill productivity. Businesses often spend years building useful systems that have, over time, actually made it harder for their people to accomplish their work and move projects forward. Too often, layers are added to a process without improving its quality and, as it grows, no one takes time to prune what’s not working.
Perhaps it’s time to consider Occam’s Razor, the philosophical principle that says, given a choice between two options or approaches, the simpler one is usually better. It advocates slicing through a problem or situation to eliminate unnecessary elements.
Aspiring to simplicity is worth the effort. Typically, employees want to do great work. They just want straightforward processes that help them do it. As an HR leader, you can help by using these four ways to simplify some fundamental elements of the workplace so managers and all employees can focus on business goals.
1) Give employees tools that work, not tools that make work. Technology should make our lives easier, not harder. Whether it’s a tool to manage benefits, or one that facilitates collaboration, delivering engaging technology can mean the difference between a traditionally cumbersome, frustrating experience and one that’s simple and personalized. Enhanced tools can help employees better manage their teams, work schedules, benefits choices, pay and careers. According to a recent Accountemps survey, 64% of millennials report being overwhelmed at work. So do 59% of professionals between the ages of 35 and 54. Simplified technology can assist overwhelmed employees by eliminating unnecessary information and improving communication. HR managers can help reduce stress by making sure the tools that their employees have available actually work for them.
2) Collaborate — when necessary. I’m a real fan of working collaboratively. It fosters rewarding relationships and harnesses the team’s collective brain power to solve problems and to accomplish work more efficiently. But even I’ll admit that sometimes too many cooks make for a messy kitchen. When collaboration gets crowded, productivity can suffer. That’s why it’s important for leaders to occasionally delegate tasks. Managers should cultivate an environment where collaboration comes organically, looking for natural opportunities throughout the day to connect people so they can work together toward clear outcomes. Managers can promote this work style by making sure everyone knows their roles, ensuring that timelines are met, and using collaboration judiciously — just as they would any other tool.
3) Lead the charge to unplug. Ever been part of a tsunami of an email chain that accomplishes nothing but distract you from your work? Yeah, we’ve all been there. This is why managers should consider encouraging employees to disconnect for an hour every day: No calls, no emails, just time to focus on work. The unplugging movement is gaining steam worldwide (in fact, France implemented a law giving workers the “right to disconnect” from their emails after hours). There can be enormous benefits to limiting your screen time, such as reduced stress, improved focus and enhanced creativity. One recent study from Hokkaido University in Japan found that even the mere presence of a smartphone can negatively affect cognitive performance. Just one unplugged hour a day can help employees clear their heads, organize their schedules and catch up face-to-face with co-workers.
4) Be there or be square. In a study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, researchers examined a phenomenon they call “telepressure,” which is described as the urge to immediately respond to emails and messages. The study found that employees who felt this urge most strongly were more likely to miss work due to health reasons. Further, a 2017 CareerCast survey found that deadlines are the No. 1 employee stressor. These studies seem to indicate that one vital way to alleviate creeping email anxiety is to manage in person. Face-to-face meetings used in tandem with platforms that allow users to create agendas and take notes can help employees boost productivity and gain a clearer picture of deliverables.
When he first described his principle, the 14th-century Franciscan friar William of Occam, said: “It is vain to do with more what can be done with less.”
Seven hundred years later, his words still ring true for the modern workplace. Helping managers and employees simplify their work lives makes for more satisfied and engaged workers. And unencumbered by convoluted processes and tools, employees may even deliver more focused, succinct results.
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