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The Overwhelmed Employee and Other HR Challenges

Posted by Megan Stollery

24-Mar-2014 15:13:00

shutterstock_164194235The recent publication of Deloitte's Global Human Capital Trends 2014 report has helped to highlight many of the complexities that seem to hinder and frustrate most modern businesses, not least for those who work in HR.

The big two drivers - globalisation and technological development - have been with us for some time but the pace at which both progress helps to keep a firm grip on organisations, possibly hindering their ability to take advantage of an improving economic climate. To give an example of ever increasing challenges, the report talks of a world where knowledge doubles every year and skills have a half life of 2.5 to 5 years. 

Across the various trends analysed only 16% of respondents felt their businesses ready to meet future challenges with almost 40% honest enough to say that they are not ready. Alarmingly the areas in which they felt least ready were also identified as some of the most pressing issues:

  • Leadership
  • Retention and Engagement
  • Reskilling HR
  • Talent acquisition and availability
  • Global workforce capabilities
  • HR Analytics

As always there are some sector specific variations. Companies in technology, healthcare, energy and professional services have talent acquisition and retention as their core issues, with most also concerned about building workforce capability. Media and communications businesses joined technology and energy companies in rating the need to reskill HR as a high priority, indicating the significant transformations that those sectors are experiencing.Whilst many of these challenges have been building over the last few years, it was interesting to see a new trend looming large on the agendas of the global HR community - the overwhelmed employee. 65% of executives rated this issue as important or urgent, whilst almost half said that they weren't ready to deal with it.

The feeling of being overwhelmed is driven by information overload, 24/7 hyper-connectivity and message proliferation, manifesting itself in reduced productivity and lower engagement and job satisfaction.

There is a sense of struggling to stay on top of endless meetings, emails, detail and information, with 'being busy' rapidly becoming a badge of honour. More often than not this results in frustration as information proves stubbornly difficult to track down on company systems, and interruptions - whether from social tools, multiple applications or mail & meetings - become constant.

The report also quotes studies that found 41% of knowledge workers were spending time on things that offered little personal satisfaction and hindered them from completing the task at hand.

This is clearly a huge issue for HR professionals. Over 50% of survey respondents felt their companies are not doing a good job of helping employees suffering from 'information overload' whilst almost 60% said their organisations were weak at helping leaders manage difficult schedules and employees manage information flow.

What can be done? It probably starts with helping leaders to recognise the root causes, and then help them to better manage communication flows whilst delegating decision making. Here are three areas that need addressing quickly...

Time Management

Historically the management of time, information and scheduling was seen as the employee's responsibility and if it needed fixing, well then there was always the dreaded time management course. The current scenario requires more than help with personal organisation, as many of the frustrations are driven by the business. There is a need to recognise the 'overwhelmed employee' as a business and productivity issue, not the personal failings of certain individuals.

It could be that more businesses take their lead from the software industry, with short, focused 'scrums' and 'stand up meetings' replacing the more common long, agenda driven corporate meetings. Size is important too, with US research indicating that small teams outperform big ones.

Simplify Processes

The Deloitte report found that people are rejecting increasing features in their enterprise software in favour of simple, 'one click' or 'one swipe' transactions - effectively the 'consumerisation' of corporate systems to help reduce employee time. Their research on HR technology systems showed that ease of use and user interface were the key drivers for greater adoption.

From this you can conclude that complicated processes, involving many stages or levels, are adding to the feelings of being overwhelmed. From performance appraisal to booking leave, retrieving information to organising development courses, technology should be the enabler of smoother, easier processes not the block to efficient working.


There's little doubt that some form of flexible working can ease the workload and the stresses that come with reduced productivity. It doesn't have to be purely locational - it can also mean making use of virtual technology for meetings and interviews to cut down on travel times, limiting meeting duration, banning 'cc' and 'reply all' from emails, looking to outsource administrative or non-core tasks and creating a culture where it's OK to take time out.

Any initiative should be considered that can reduce unproductive or ineffective time, simplify information flow and location, delegate decision making and promote accountability, helping to empower people to focus on what is most important for them to achieve their business objectives.

Whilst many of the challenges outlined in the report arise from increasing complexity, it seems that the issue of the overwhelmed and ineffective employee is one that needs to be solved through increasing simplicity.

Are you seeing this in your own workforce? Let us know what you're doing to ease the situation…


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Topics: employment , staffing , HR , Guest Blogger , Mervyn Dinnen