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Many workers are familiar with the feeling of having more work to do than time in the day. Authors Erin Kelly and Phyllis Moen explored that idea in “Overload: How Good Jobs Went Bad and What We Can Do About It,” a book published in 2020 and adapted for an MIT Sloan Management Review article.
Kelly, an MIT professor, and Moen, a University of Minnesota professor, studied the IT division of a Fortune 500 company using interviews, surveys and a work redesign initiative called STAR (short for Support, Transform, Achieve Results). Voluntary departures were 40% lower for those who participated in the redesign.
Not just balance
The authors point out that looking at the problem as an issue of work-life balance risks making it seem like an issue only for mothers, involved fathers or those caring for older relatives.
“… overload affects both men and women, at all ages and life stages. At TOMO (the pseudonym for the Fortune 500 company), for instance, younger workers, singles, and people with few or no family responsibilities also felt overwhelmed and overloaded at work,” the authors write.
Employee control, manager support
The work redesign included individual teams making decisions about how to make their schedules more flexible and reduce low-value tasks. The teams also received eight hours of training spread over three months so they could put ideas into practice in between sessions.
Managers also received training on how to be more supportive of employees’ personal lives and used an app that “created new habits by nudging them to act in more explicitly supportive ways.”
The authors note that “when work is demanding, it is essential for managers to give employees clear direction on their performance, goals, and priorities.
“Otherwise, there is a risk that employees will be judged on how many hours they are working, how visible they are to their bosses, and how quickly they respond in a chaotic environment – not on what they are contributing.”