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Helping to resolve conflicts, improve performance, and develop teams in the workplace. Bringing insight, knowledge, and experience to individuals and organizations for over 30 years. 


Helping to resolve conflicts, improve performance, and develop teams in the workplace. Bringing insight, knowledge, and experience to individuals and organizations for over 30 years. 

Making the unpredictable


Making the Unpredictable Predictable and Why That Matters 

Workloads today fluctuate continuously – by the week, by the day, even by the hour or minute. We either have too much or too little to do. Only rarely do we say, “I have just enough time to get things done.” Yet, the world of work will always have instability to some degree just by its very nature. This can create stress among team members, relationship issues between coworkers, or simple burnout – all leading to workplace instability and poor or weaker production. An unpredictable workload can create an uncontrollable workplace. 

Why is there so much flux in workloads regardless of the industry or profession? And what happens when this becomes the norm?

Let’s look at why first. New clients bring new work demands, and existing customers present issues that require resolution. Supervisors and managers impose new projects or change the priorities. Team members shirk their responsibilities or simply don’t show up on a given day. The reasons are endless.

How do these constant changes in workload affect people? They can lead to frustration and anxiety or even poor performance. These reactions are intertwined with an individual’s mood, temperament, personality, disposition, and motivation. For example, highly systematic people do not like their plans for the day disturbed or even second-guessed by others. When the boss asks, “Why are you focusing on that today?” this employee may feel anger or resentment.

A change in emphasis or priority requires a mindset readjustment. Consider it this way. You get your head around a certain task at hand. You know how to start and finish it. But suddenly you’re asked to shift gears and do something else. You may feel this urge to push back, but you can’t. Or if you do, there may be repercussions. If we like to check projects off our list, distractions are distressing, not to mention time-consuming. The major focus or priority can be shelved or even lost. We find ourselves constantly reacting to all these demands, some of which may not be relevant.

What can we do as leaders to manage these ever-changing work demands so that our employees perform at their potential and do so with minimal stress? One approach is to make the unpredictable predictable. Prepare for the unexpected. Train employees to manage the ‘out of the ordinary’ as if it were ordinary. Extreme examples are airplane pilots practicing emergency procedures or hotels planning for emergency evacuations.

In most cases, however, workload shifts aren’t truly extraordinary like those examples, but they are predictable. If something frustrating happens repeatedly or consistently, develop tools to mitigate or prevent it.  

Here’s an example. A specialty food company employee was taking weekly chicken deliveries from a vendor. Every week for at least a month, the employee noticed the delivery quantity appeared to be less than what had been ordered. Not only was this a costly error, but it also affected recipe execution. Frustrated, the employee would run to the neighborhood grocery to purchase additional chicken, paying retail rather than wholesale. To solve the problem, the manager trained all employees to count and weigh items while the delivery driver was still on hand. Invoice adjustments could then be made on the spot. Taking it one step further, the manager spoke to the sales representative about the recurring shortages and made it clear the problem needed to be corrected or she would choose another vendor.

While chicken inventory management may not be on everyone’s to-do list, it’s illustrative of how recurring frustrations can create employee stress, extra work, and additional expense. Yet with proper training and effective communication, the situation is easily resolved. Train your team members to alert you to their recurring frustrations, and give them solutions to manage these changes so they no longer consider them disruptive.

Making the unpredictable predictable requires planning, prioritization and decision-making. As leaders we need to:

  • Recognize and accept the human reaction to disorder and chaos. 
  • Hire people who can manage change if the job requires flexibility and adaptability.
  • Try to anticipate distractions or changes in your department before they occur and create anxiety.
  • Train people to recognize and handle workload issues through role-playing or simulations. Monitor employees’ reactions and performance throughout and provide them with an opportunity to give feedback.
  • Change systems and processes if necessary and possible.

The better we are at acknowledging the unpredictability of workloads and preparing our team members to manage, even thrive with them, the more positive our results will be.