Merge's Blog

When you’re overwhelmed at work, it’s worth considering another approach

“I can’t talk to you for very long, Merge, we’re buried!” said a client when I returned his call earlier this week.  “What’s going on?” I asked.  He went on to describe the turmoil and chaos in his department at the insurance company where he works.  “We’re overwhelmed at work.  Claim volume is up 200%, our phone lines are flooded, and our call agents feel like they’re drowning.  Plus I can’t get enough adjusters out into the field fast enough, and clients are getting frustrated so they’re calling in more than usual, increasing call wait times even more.  I feel like we’re in a dark tunnel with no end in sight.  Help me!”

Now obviously, this manager’s current state of affairs is driven partially by external circumstances (in this situation, recent weather-related catastrophic events are the root cause of the increased call volumes).  But I was reminded of a phrase often used by a mentor of mine many years ago, so I asked this manager to look at the situation with another filter.  My mentor frequently used to say “Just because it is dark doesn’t mean we’re buried.  Often, it means that no one has bothered to turn on any lights”.

It’s the leader’s job to turn on the lights

Fortunately, the phrase caught my client’s attention.  Enough for him to recognize that it was his job as a leader to turn on the lights.  He started dialoguing with me about how to not only turn a few lights on, but also on how to find the light switches.  As we brainstormed together, he started making a list of “the lights”.

  • I’m going to sit down with the three floor supervisors to see what non-essential work we can defer and who else we can bring on to the team temporarily.
  • I’ll reach out to the adjusters’ manager to brainstorm how we should deal with the work overload as well as how to respond to customer queries.
  • I need to make it a point to get out on the call centre floor more frequently to check in on my agents, so that they know that I am aware of the increased workload and appreciate their extra effort.
  • I’m going to arrange for sandwiches and pizza to be brought in for those who are choosing to work over the lunch hour.
  • I’m going to send thank you flowers and cards to the families of my staff to acknowledge the sacrifices they are making while their loved one is working these crazy overtime hours.
  • This is an opportunity for me to collect data to make the case for the upgraded software we’ve been considering for the last year.
  • This is an opportunity for me to gather information to support my proposal to increase our call agent headcount by two.

These were just a few of “the lights” he decided to turn on.  Sure, none of them individually would take him from darkness to bright sunshine, but collectively they would brighten the surroundings and give him (and his team) hope for the eventual light at the end of the tunnel.

When it’s dark, what lights can you turn on?

If you and your team are overwhelmed at work, then this is an approach worth considering.  Make it your job, as the leader, to find the light switches and turn the lights on.  At best, you’ll be successful.  At worst, you have nothing to lose.

I would love to hear your thoughts.  Please share.

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