Dr. Nicole Tschierske

How to manage job demands in the workplace

How does the Job Demands-Resources Model apply to the workplace? What concrete steps can we take to help organizations, teams, and individuals to do better work? And how do we manage job demands in the workplace in a way that’s efficient and effective?

In a previous post, I discussed the concept of job demands (the things that suck our energy at work) and job resources (what motivates us and energizes us). But when it comes to job demands, how do we address them? And how can we turn them into resources?

Concrete examples of job demands in the workplace

Clarity of roles and responsibilities

Let’s take stretch targets as an example. These aren’t necessarily bad – the targets themselves don’t directly cause people stress. What’s worth investigating is whether staff are enabled to do their best work when trying to hit their targets.

A common source of frustration in most organizations is having unclear roles and responsibilities between staff members or teams, for example. It’s the constant tug of war between different people wanting to do the same task and feeling that others are operating in their territory. Or you can have the opposite, where everyone seems to be hands-off, and a certain task or area of work end up being no one’s responsibility. So having clarity of roles and responsibilities and handover points within teams is crucial. 

Processes and operations

Other important factors to consider are processes and operations. How can we make everything run as smoothly as possible so people don’t need to use their energy to resolve conflicts or confusion?  

An example of this comes from the work I recently did with a client where the sales team was based in an open-plan office. Naturally, the salespeople were taking a lot of calls, which caused loud noise in the background. That’s a job demand. When noise levels are high, you need increased efforts to fully concentrate on the person you’re speaking to on the phone. So what can be done? Giving everyone a proper chair to sit on in a space where they can focus on their work or investing in top-quality noise-canceling headsets could be good examples of how to manage this job demand. 

How to manage job demands in the workplace and make effective changes

The best place to start with when it comes to making effective changes that allow people to do better work are those areas where a lot of stress, issues, and complaints have been identified. Typically, by smoothing these processes and operations out, you’ll get a greater return on investments.

Methodologies like Lean and Continuous Improvement help in getting visibility of the existing processes. It’s about understanding how the company is working today and identifying the most critical points that need addressing.

For example: 

  • Are processes set up in the right way?
  • And are the right systems in place to support those processes?

Managing these points first allows us to look at the different teams who work together on a particular process. So when it comes to functions:

  • Are Service Level Agreements (SLAs) in place between teams?
  • And if so, are these overly complicated?
  • Do people understand them and buy into them?

On a more operational level, a client might want to establish partnership agreements between teams. This helps define roles, for example. Who are the customers and suppliers in each of the internal processes? We look at what is required from each team and establish what they will deliver and what they will need in order to do so.

Other points that a client might want to look at are:

  • How do teams want to resolve conflict?
  • How can management check in regularly to ensure everyone continues to work towards a joint goal?
  • Are there any KPIs that need to be measured to show that processes are running smoothly?

The key here is to have conversations to understand each other’s needs and expectations.

The value of retrospectives and root cause analysis in wider teams

I have personally seen teams come up with great solutions and results using methodologies such as Lean and Agile. Adopting practices such as retrospectives and root cause analysis definitely works outside tech. When working with clients, I can facilitate rapid improvement events to help generate ideas to solve problems at their root cause, rather than ‚painting over the cracks‘.

So if an organization has these skills and capabilities and knows how to use these methodologies, then I’d encourage rolling them out to other areas of the business.

The way I work with clients to manage job demands in the workplace

When working with clients, I typically set up a meeting of 1 hour-90 minutes to ask questions and get a sense of the situation. I first focus on understanding what the organization is looking for, starting from what doesn’t work vs what’s already good. Of course, the things that already work don’t need changing. In fact, I always encourage clients to build on the good foundations already in place.

From there, we look at gaps.

  • Where would you like to improve?
  • What is your context?
  • What are the constraints we will have to work within?

These aspects may be clear from the outset. I have clients who come to me asking for stress and resilience training, for example. But other times, the client’s needs aren’t as transparent. Where we need more research, we set up exploratory work in the shape of interviews with other stakeholders or workshops. We take the scientific approach of first understanding the existing situation, setting targets, formulating a hypothesis, taking the first steps, and constantly reevaluating. We have checkpoints to ensure we’re on track and getting closer to where we want to be.

When working with a client, I always ensure that it’s your journey. I don’t have the world’s wisdom in my head. In fact, I believe in the collective wisdom of the people working for a company. And I know that given the space to explore ideas, they will naturally come to the surface. 

I’m also a big fan of not concentrating efforts over a short period of time. I prefer working with clients over a longer time so we can shape the processes as required and also react to more seasonal aspects that might arise. This allows for the improvement to come over time and build the skills and capacities internally for the client to continue on their journey once I leave. 

Interested in reducing stress and burnout in your teams?

If you’d like to dig deeper into the topic of stress and burnout in the workplace, I put together a FREE resource called “How to Reduce Stress & Burnout in Your Team” – a science-based approach for leaders of R&D and Tech teams. You can download it here

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