The pressure to achieve more with fewer resources is a common challenge in the corporate world. The age-old adage of “doing more with less” (DMWL) has been a mantra for businesses aiming to increase efficiency and cut costs in a challenging economic environment.
While this concept may seem enticing, its relentless pursuit often comes at the expense of employee wellbeing and long-term success. Businesses which adapt this mindset will cut budgets, reduce staffing levels, and push their employees to their limits, believing that it’s the only way to remain competitive. This approach will not only have severe detrimental consequences on the workforce, but it can also backfire and lead to reduced productivity and performance.
In this article we look at the implications of the ‘doing more with less’ mindset and propose an alternative approach that focuses on increasing efficiencies, strategic decision making, and the importance of continuing to invest in employee wellbeing through challenging economic times.
One of the most common ways businesses try to do more with less is by overworking their employees. Longer working hours, unrealistic expectations, and reduced time for breaks are often perceived as methods to increase productivity. Additionally, many businesses may seek to cut costs by reducing or eliminating employee benefits or development opportunities, both of which can negatively impact employee motivation and loyalty. These practices can lead to burnout, lower morale and job satisfaction, and decreased productivity over time. This in can result in absenteeism and higher turnover at a time when recruitment can be costly or even on hold, which in turn only exacerbates workload issues on remaining staff.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, an estimated 2.8 million Australian workers experienced high to very high levels of work-related stress in 2020 (ABS). Research by Safe Work Australia shows that workplace stress accounts for a significant portion of workers’ compensation claims in Australia, leading to both financial and human costs for businesses. Our brains and bodies are significantly impacted by increased cortisol levels during times of enduring stress, affecting our ability to focus, solve problems creatively, and resolve interpersonal conflict. Crucially, all these abilities are required during times of economic strain and workplace budgetary cuts.
The central problem with the DMWL mindset is that it is often a knee-jerk reaction to changes in the market or pressures from global head offices based overseas and far removed from the operational and people concerns of their Australian outposts. As with all business activity, a strategic, consultative rather than reactive approach will allow for informed decision making, deliberate action-planning, considered investment, and sustainable growth over time.
An alternative approach to DMWL prioritises the increase of efficiencies at an organisational and team level By taking a strategic, organisation-wide approach to performance, you will be better able to identify areas where intervention efforts will be most effective. Aspect Group’s advisory team are well placed to help organisations put strategies in place that simultaneously increase worker productivity and wellbeing. Below is some of their advice of how to implement such an approach from an organisational and team level.
On an organisational level, it might involve continued investment in programs and systems that deliver efficiencies and ROI and reduced spend on operations that do not yield substantive benefits to productivity and performance. This non-reactive approach requires business leaders to review their investments and priorities carefully, ensuring that they strategically prioritise initiatives that allow them to remain competitive while maintaining the wellbeing and integrity of their people, in turn increasing outputs and boosting their brand performance and perceptions as an Employer of Choice.
On a team level, there are many ways managers can improve workplace efficiencies. Start by reviewing outdated practices and addressing the quick wins—the simple changes that can be swiftly implemented.
* Are there processes that have grown unnecessarily complex, making it overly time-consuming for employees to carry out their roles?
* Is there a ‘death by meetings’ culture where meetings lack purpose and accountability and waste time?
* Are people unclear about the company strategy and the things that are most important to accomplish? Do position descriptions clearly align with organisational goals and objectives?
Although these tasks might seem insignificant, they contribute to psychosocial risks including high work demands, incivility, low job control and role conflict. Responsibility thrives in an atmosphere of trust where individuals feel empowered to excel in their roles. Empowering employees with greater decision-making authority and job control not only eases their workloads but also increases job satisfaction.
Not only does the DMWL approach and associated increase in working hours required to get more done contribute to psychosocial risks, but research also indicates this way of working has the opposite desired effect. Research from Stanford economics professor John Pencavel found that productivity per hour decline sharply when a person works more than 50 hours a week. After 55 hours, productivity drops so much that putting in any more hours would be pointless. And, those who work up to 70 hours a week are only getting the same amount of work done as those who put in the 55 hours.
During times of financial hardship, sustainability rather than growth should be the central guiding precept for Australian businesses, and they should strategically review their organisational priorities with a view to promote “healthy productivity”, employee engagement and in consideration of long-terms costs and benefits. While many different business activities may be cut during times of financial hardship, programs that support employees should not be one of them. There is an abundance of research that shows that people programs have a significant ROI that help your organisation thrive by creating a healthier, more focused, and more productive workforce (Deloitte, PwC).
Rather than promoting a DMWL culture, actively create a culture that prioritises mental health and allows employees to feel safe and supported. This leads to higher job satisfaction and engagement and a more sustainable and successful work environment. Leaders play a critical role in facilitating this type of culture and are ideally placed help individuals who need additional support, encourage health work-life balance, and build trust during times of uncertainty and change.
In practice, this means continuing to invest in systems and programs that make a difference to your people. These could include:
* Development of leader capability and confidence to coach, develop talent and support teams.
* Investing in leadership development, such as assessments, coaching and training, to ensure that they have the right skills to navigate challenges and leverage ‘network leadership’ principles to influence business decisions and support sustainably success over time.
* Conducting an organisational psychosocial health, safety, and wellbeing discovery review in consultation with employees to provide insight and evidence risks, protective factors, strengths, gaps, and priorities to increase healthy performance and engagement.
* Internal projects aimed at improving systems and eliminating time-consuming manual processes. A simple “stop, start, continue” exercise as a team (with an emphasis on the “stop”) can help in removing elements that are not adding value.
The DMWL model is essentially flawed, and the pursuit of productivity at the expense of employee wellbeing is likely to prove counterproductive. A strategic rather than reactive approach is required to understand where your organisation can increase efficiencies, reduce psychosocial risk exposure and foster employee engagement and where it needs to continue to invest to sustain business activity, promote a positive workplace culture, and support people’s wellbeing to increase productivity and performance in the long-term.