Spotlight on managing priorities

December is a busy month for most workers, trying to juggle end-of-year tasks with a hectic social life. Simply trying to get hold of clients or suppliers is a challenge.

This is borne out by a recent Business Adviser Barometer survey, indicating that only 15% of respondents never have to give clients or colleagues advice on time management or prioritisation.

In today’s working environment, dominated by technology and the demands of a global marketplace, there is a definite need for better prioritisation. Living in a 24/7 society means employees need to be in a position to react to changing, and often conflicting, demands.

Major barrier

Yet one of the major barriers to developing this skill is workers’ nervousness to admit they are struggling to juggle conflicting priorities. After all, why highlight a weakness when strengths and capability are used as an indicator of someone’s future leadership potential and long-term career success?

The onus is on HR to demonstrate the strategic value of good time management and sensible prioritisation of work. Encouraging individuals to build such a critical self-management skill will, on one hand, help them achieve targets and ensure they are noticed for the right reasons.

On the other hand, mastering these skills will also mean they are more likely to meet the demands of stakeholders and customers, improving the chances of business success.

Long hours

Data produced for British Gas by MORI has shown that, in small- to medium-sized businesses, one in four managers routinely work more than 60 hours a week, compared to the EU norm of just 35 hours.

It’s a phenomenon that is repeated across larger organisations too and, without doubt, one of the reasons is a determination to succeed. Indeed, research by the Chartered Management Institute found that the UK’s managers and leaders are highly motivated, but they worry that the conflicting challenges they face will affect their ability to perform.

Adequate breaks

So why do we continue to work long hours? It almost seems obligatory that, in many organisations across the UK, you will be at your desk late into the night or early in the mornings.

Without adequate breaks, it is not really possible to operate effectively and productively for long periods. HR has a vital role to play here, demonstrating that, far from trying to create ‘an easy life’, they understand that input does not always equal output. In other words, HR needs to provide evidence that taking a break is good for long-term productivity, and present the business case for not working longer hours.

Poor prioritisation represents a failure to manage or, as some would argue, inability to cope with the challenges faced on a daily basis. The end result, of course, is that individuals won’t be able to spot the critical things. They could be left with questions such as ‘what opportunities have I missed?’ or worse, ‘how did the organisation not see that coming?’

The biggest challenge for HR, then, lies in understanding what matters most and keeping a firm focus on stakeholder and customer needs, as well as, of course, helping individuals meet their own commitments.

After all, have you ever wondered just how many hours would be saved if individuals channelled their energy into delivering results, rather than talking about how they haven’t got the time to deliver?

Jo Causon is director, marketing and corporate affairs at the Chartered Management Institute

Top tips

  • Demonstrate the value of prioritising tasks.
  • Discourage a culture of late working or ‘presenteeism’.
  • Input does not always equal output – take proper breaks.

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