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  • Writer's pictureAlison LeFew

Why Unrealistic Workloads Hurt Everyone

To meet (always tight) deadlines and accomplish (overly ambitious?) goals, managers often assign an excessive number of tasks to their teams without comprehending the true extent or impact of the required commitment, resulting in unrealistic workloads and systemic work/life imbalance.

I know firsthand how unrealistic workloads put a mountain of stress on a person – on the train of a dynamic leader who worked around the clock, soon I found myself working exhausting hours and still feeling underwater and behind all the time, and ultimately suffered pretty severe burnout in 2021.

For many reasons, we settle into an unrealistic grind in the short-term to “submit this high priority bid” but the long-term effects of working ourselves to the bone will come at great price to all parties.

Unfortunately in the humanitarian assistance and development industry, it is likely that all of us have already weathered (or will weather) the storm of unrealistic workloads a few+ times – we have come to expect and accept that it comes with the territory.

Sometimes teams do make it through relatively unscathed, especially if there is a quick win - ahhh, the validation that time and missed meals with family might have been “worth it”. But more often we just move on to the next and the next and the next proposal.

Unrealistic workloads are a ticking time-bomb for decreased quality and pride in work, stress and burnout, high staff turnover, and challenging inter-team dynamics and communications.

And it’s the darnedest thing, nothing good comes out of expecting or accepting something UNrealistic from a team perspective.

Imagine how freeing it would feel to regularly be able to work toward realistic deadlines, achieve and celebrate individual and team goals, and still have time to take a bike ride, see a friend, or read a book. We know it is possible, but it takes a mind shift – in ourselves as well as in the leaders of our organizations - to focus more toward right-sizing LOE and prioritization, creating process and technological efficiencies, allocating appropriate resources, and encouraging work-life balance.

If you're struggling with a mindset shift that you just can't seem to make on your own, consider whether individual coaching might be a good fit.

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