“Rahul is in the middle of a meeting for a new product launch that is due in next couple of weeks. His team is responsible for production & inventory management and Rahul is about to present his team’s progress. Just then, his phone buzzes with an email from IT team that is working on the invoicing mechanism of the new product and requires Rahul’s input on the product mapping in IT system. Rahul signed up to be part of the product mapping exercise at the behest of his boss, but he is hard pressed for time at this point. He delivers a great presentation and the CMO raises a few queries that need to be answered in the next two days. Just while he was about to leave the conference room, he gets a call from the corporate communication team that wants his inputs on the marketing communication for the new product. Highly stressed with the workload, Rahul drags back to his cabin and is really worried how he would meet all his collaborative obligations.”
Many of us can relate to Rahul in the above situation. Most ambitious employees end up becoming ‘work-magnet’ employees in their organization. These are the employees who attract more work because of the virtue of their reputation and ability to perform better than rest of the team members. These employees feel it’s their obligation to help teams that require their help. They can’t say no to anything that comes their way and end up signing much more than they can effectively deliver. They are drawn into every meeting, committee and discussion because of their work-magnetism. Something that begins as a high-growth opportunity ends up becoming a source of work related stress and attrition.
In today’s corporate culture, there is always a scarcity of time and manpower across organizations and the balance between work and life is gradually shifting towards work. As organizations are moving from hierarchical to matrix structures, the silos are breaking down. Cross-functional team-work is perceived as a sign of healthy organizational culture. Employees are also valuing collaboration for the power of its collective intelligence and diversity of perspectives. Apart from this, there is always the notion of better results that comes along with cross-functional collaboration. Certainly, there is much to celebrate about collaboration but its impact on individual work performance is often ignored.
High performing employees identify themselves with their ability to contribute, being in the know of things and having access to senior management. Cross-functional collaboration serves as the single-point solution to all of these requirements. At the same time, every employee has a set of critical work duties that they must perform on their own. This is mostly the work that needs to be done on a routine basis serving as an input for other activities in the department. As one grows in the organization, they gain expertise in business operations and become a valuable resource for their team. Often, it is in this period when chances of becoming a ‘work-magnet’ are magnified and the employee starts attracting more work than ever before. This means more phone calls, more meetings, more e-mails and more travel that the employee must deal with on a routine basis.
Everybody loves collaboration, right?
What is the first feeling you get when you are nominated in a cross-functional committee? Is it of supercharged excitement or of loathing? In an ideal world, the former should be the desired emotional state. After all, you would be working with colleagues from different domains who bring in different perspective and you would share a fraction of the overall work as it’s a team effort. But that’s not often the case. The dynamics of collaborative work are not simple arithmetic. Studies have shown that around 30-40% of value-addition comes from only 5% employees in a team. Collaborative and cross-functional work requires higher levels of engagement and consensus building than individual contribution work. Though, it appears easy on the surface to have 4-5 cross functional team members to address a challenge, it’s much more complex. Cross-functional teams are not chosen in scientific manner and human perceptions, egos play a critical role in such teams.
The reputation & meeting conundrum
Reputations often travel faster than any intangible thing in an organization. Once you are perceived as capable and willing, you would attract more work through your work-magnetism. If you enjoy this work-magnetism, you would often find yourself contributing more than the rest of the team members. This continues till a point where you become a bottle-neck in the whole process. Work begins to get delayed because of your multiple engagements. Your desire to maintain a helpful reputation defeats its own purpose and leads to the disruption of the workflow. Your inability to say ‘no’ to the projects creates a ripple effect on the performance of the teams in which you are nominated.
Meetings in workplace have an importance of their own. If you are invited by your boss to attend a meeting, chances are you have limited choice but to attend it. Over a period of time, meetings are seen as a status symbol and employees often jostle to be invited to them. Attending and being part of a meeting enables an employee to reaffirm his or her importance in the team.
Collaboration is more than a one-off interaction. It’s more than merely attending a meeting. There are pre and post activities that require dedicated hours, resources and efforts. Quite often, a meeting that should not take more than 15 minutes to conclude ends up gobbling an hour from your work-day. The reliance on human interaction is often the most time-consuming aspect of collaboration that take away critical time from rest of your engagements. If you are a work-magnet, you are often part of meetings that could have easily been avoided.
Why work-magnets become work-magnets?
There are many reasons why an employee turns into a work-magnet. The first is the inherent feeling of insecurity that comes with saying no to work. Employees link their reputation to their ability to take on work. Saying no to work brings the feeling of becoming dispensable in the department. The idea of being replaced by someone else leads to an individual taking more work. If you would say no, someone else might say yes and end up in the good books of the management. The fear of missing out is one of the biggest drivers for becoming a work-magnet.
There is also a tendency of over-estimating one’s capabilities while being offered new work. Most employees believe that they can squeeze out time from their schedules to take on more work. While this may sometimes be true, on most occasions employees fail to estimate their actual efficiencies and sign up for more they can deliver.
How to avoid the work-magnet trap?
- Step back and take control
The first step is to step back and take stock of the situation. Stop being harsh on yourself and realize that when you are underwater without an oxygen tank, there’s a limit till which you can hold your breath. After that you need to come to the surface to breathe. Know that limit for yourself in professional sphere. Realize that it’s important to deliver quality work and honor your commitments to be really valued in the organization in the long run. The focus should be on maintaining reliability in the organization circles and knowing how much for you is too much. Your credibility increases if you deliver a true picture of your workload to your boss instead of taking up work assignments left, right and center and not delivering on time.
- Open-up and discuss
Another thing you should do is to discuss your workload with a senior colleague or your boss. Chances are they have been in the same situation as yours and can actually guide you better. You may be wondering my manager knows my situation but still pushes me to take extra work. In this case, its always good to ask for suggestions on streamlining your workload. Also discuss your situation with your trusted colleagues. Remember, your boss might not always cut the slack, but your team members can always help you by taking something off your plate. Your colleagues should always be on your side, keep them close.
- Have an alternate plan
Most employees create an outline of the problem before approaching their manager. The smarter thing is to think about probable solutions before you discuss your problems. Your time is precious but so is your manager’s. Create a list of jobs that can be distributed, deferred or deleted from your portfolio to someone else in the team. Saying something like, “I need to finish this task before the end of the week, can we defer this new assignment for next week or put someone else on it for the time being” to your manager maintains your professionalism towards work.
- Avoid impulsive yes or no
Managers are often unaware of how much time it would take to finish each individual assignment for myriad reasons. Evaluate and discuss what’s already on your plate and request your manager to prioritize your assignments. If you are unsure, don’t agree on the spot and take some time to think rationally. Instead say, “Can you elaborate my expected contribution in this project, I will evaluate my pending engagements and get back to you by evening or tomorrow?” Buy more time for decision making.
- Don’t distance yourself from the team even if you say no
Even if you decide not to take up an assignment, its professional to provide help to team members whenever you can. While your priority remains on your own engagement, you are still presenting a positive image to the rest of the team members. You can serve as a sounding board for your team members to listen to their ideas. Don’t overdo this as you would end up becoming a work-magnet again. Show to your team that you are a responsible co-worker and earn their trust.
At ValuEndow Consulting, we help companies in looking beyond the organization charts. We offer Organization Network Analysis (ONA) service to our clients for examining relationship and collaboration patterns among the employees. It helps in identifying connections irrespective of job titles and roles. Mapping the organization network helps in identifying value creators, bridges, influencers and bottlenecks among your employees. Unleash the power of networks in your organization.