Why business leaders and managers should ask employees to do less

When managers and business leaders pile on work, training and new technologies, employees’ resources can get so stretched that their work suffers. Over time, they become overwhelmed, exhausted and unproductive. So why do we keep repeating the same mistake?


According to the Wall Street Journal, the tendency to constantly add to employees’ to-do lists is due to the way we’re wired. The human brain defaults to adding rather than subtracting when problem-solving. Hence many companies keep adding to those to-do lists even when employees are already buckling under the weight of their workloads. So what can we do?


The WSJ argues that the answer lies in taking the opposite approach. Companies should subtract unnecessary complexity to give workers time and space to focus on tasks and challenges that really matter, including the creative thinking required for innovation to be born. It claims that for companies that value staff performance, well-being and innovation, only the ‘less is more’ approach works. It lists five possible methods for applying this strategy, as follows:


  1. Apply a simple subtraction method to all your business challenges. In other words, place limits on certain scenarios or insist that your Marketing department reduces the number of core values communicated to staff.
  2. Play the subtraction game, whereby employees identify projects destined for failure and procedures and business relationships that add no value. Leadership must then act on the insights delivered.
  3. Eliminate non-essential meetings including regular meetings that are considered low-value. Put a time limit on meetings that cannot be avoided. Swathes of time better spent being productive will open up to you.
  4. Conduct (only if absolutely necessary) a top-down purge. If whole product lines and departments are no longer profitable, dramatically reduce them. Use this piece of advice sparingly or you may have a mass staff walkout on your hands!
  5. Introduce both company-wide changes which save time and money – such as making it harder to send ‘reply to all’ messages – and ones that remove sources of frustration at a local level, based on localised input. Examples of the latter include meeting-free days in some geographic locations, and paperless offices in others.


The article concludes that by eliminating unnecessarily burdensome tasks – think filling out expense reports and long meetings – employees will have more time to work on items that add value and drive innovation. In this context, less really is more.


Do you agree with the article? Please get in touch to let us know your tips on the matter. And if you’d like to source top talent to support your campaign of subtraction (or other), please give us a call on +44 (0)20 7092 3939 or email us at info@ablrecruitment.com. Based on over 30 years of experience in the field, we have profound expertise in serving up the perfect candidates at speed.