Failure - Chess Board

When was the last time that you told an employee to “make it happen?”  Did you stress the importance of putting forth the necessary effort?  Did you reinforce the urgency of the request?  If you’re like most managers, you probably did all these things.

But were these requests to “make it happen” actually met?

This is the challenge of managing in a world in which change is constant, time frames are brief, and outcomes are crucial.  While it’s important to emphasize the importance and urgency of any managerial directive, there is something that many managers neglect to share with their employees…and it can be the difference between success and failure.

What managers often forget to share with employees are the resources that employees need in order to “make it happen.”

Why Managers DON’T Provide the Necessary Resources 

Anyone who has ever taken a business course understands the employer-employee agreement:  it is the organization’s responsibility to provide the tools and resources that its workforce needs in order to complete the necessary tasks that lead to achievement of organizational goals.

So companies provide computers to workers who need them to do their jobs.  Company cars are provided to sales representatives who are required to travel to client locations.  Air fare and hotel accommodations to work-related events are ultimately paid for by the company.

Prudent financial management requires companies to closely monitor their bottom line in order to increase profitability for their stakeholders.

With this mindset, organizations tend to focus (sometimes exclusively) on the financial burden associated with any expense or investment that employees say that they need.  Thus, managers are more likely to cite budgetary and economic restrictions as the primary reason for failing to provide those resources.

When employees cry, “We need this to do our jobs,”
company leaders too often respond, “We can’t afford it.”  

Budgetary issues ARE real…but, if these resources are crucial for employees to achieve the desired results, then it doesn’t make sense for managers to demand the same outcomes even if they aren’t providing their employees with what they need to achieve them.

When managers curtail discussions of requested employee resources by citing budgetary restraints, it tends to stop additional conversation.  But the dialogue about resources shouldn’t end there.

When managers don’t modify the deliverables that they are expecting from their employees after refusing to provide the necessary resources, a plethora of negative results emerge:  poor employee morale, increased stress, a propensity for burnout, and also a greater likelihood that organizational goals won’t be achieved.

It’s a lose-lose situation.

But what do employees usually need more of in order to do their jobs?

In a survey by Towers Watson published by Financial Management magazine, inadequate staffing levels were cited as the primary workplace stressor by 53% of the 22,000 employees participating in the global study.  Admittedly, payroll expenses (comprised of salary/wages and benefits) are often the largest line item in a company’s budget.  In addition to the total compensation paid to employees, there are also intangible expenses associated with the recruitment and onboarding process of new workers.

In an age where “just in time” seems to also dictate the number of employees in the workforce, organizations that are under-staffed rarely achieve the anticipated cost savings in their income statements.

When there are not enough people to do the work, employees are more likely to not only burn out but also leave the organization — taking their knowledge, competencies, connections, and insights with them.  The employees who stay experience high degrees of work overload — rendering them cognitively and physically unable to meet the performance expectations in their jobs.  Under-staffed departments lack the necessary manpower to meet deliverables within the allotted time frame — spread too thin, they must choose what to focus on while neglecting other equally important projects.

In today’s world of freelancing and contract work, managers have more staffing options from which to choose.  If the organization cannot afford any additional staff, then managers should modify the project’s scope in order to ensure its successful completion.  This also helps to avoid the likelihood that key burned out workers do not leave the organization for less stressful employment situations.

Balancing the cost of additional staff with the importance of the project’s importance and successful completion can be challenging.  However, the employees who are responsible for the project’s individual tasks are often the best resource for ideas on how to meet the deadlines without increasing payroll expenses.

Managers just need to ask their workers for their input during the planning, implementation, and evaluation phases of the project.  Additional resources can be identified and strategies to provide those resources can be developed.

The Resources That Employees Need

While there may be legitimate financial reasons to deny requests for additional staff, this is not the only resource that employees need to do their jobs well and ensure that the company is more likely to achieve its goals.

Not all of the resources desired by employees require a significant economic investment.  In fact, some of the most desired resources that employees need to do their jobs better require little or no financial investment at all.

As I previously mentioned, changing the parameters of the employees’ workload due to inadequate resources to support their performance is one way to reduce employees’ stress levels.  Recent research has identified several other resources that employees consistently need to be more engaged with their work and more likely to deliver optimal results.  None of these require a direct financial outlay! 

In an age where every company is also a service company, there is renewed emphasis on employee engagement and productivity.

Successful businesses seek to engage and motivate their workers by tenaciously focusing on meeting their employees’ needs. This requires more creativity than just providing a large paycheck or over-the-top benefits.  This is also not the frequently used “incentive-based” compensation plan that pays a low base salary with the opportunity for high commissions or bonuses based on performance.  As Herzberg noted many years ago, pay is not an effective employee motivator.

Motivation is intrinsic to the individual.  Therefore, employees will only commit their skills and energy to the achievement of difficult goals if their employees treat them with respect — and providing the resources that they need can be a vital tool to showing that respect.

Based on my research, there seems to be a consensus that companies that provide the following resources have workforces that are more engaged and inspired.  The result to the organization is better overall performance and a reduction in workforce burnout.

  • Resource #1:  Clearly defined goals that have an underlying purpose.  Employees overall want their work to make a difference — not only to the company, but also to them.  Therefore, identify the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) when assigning difficult goals.  It is also very effective if workers are included during the goal’s identification stage; through such participative management, employees have more “skin in the game” because their feedback was incorporated into the final decision.  Listen to their suggestions.
  • Resource #2:  Autonomy to determine the best action plan to achieve those goals.  Such autonomy will not occur unless managers trust heir employees:  their professional skills, decision-making and problem-solving abilities, and integrity to get the job done.  It is not enough for employees to simply work, but they also need to manage their own workload in a way that is aligned with their strengths and work style.  Effective workers practice self-directed leadership.  So, if workers say they need additional resources, listen to them.
  • Resource #3:  Flexibility within mutually determined parameters.  This is more than simple flexible work schedules (although this practice is a great way to recruit and retain top talent).  Very few requests (providing that they are ethical and legal) can be answered with an unequivocal “no.”   An atmosphere that encourages and supports outside-the-box thinking allows workers to generate new ideas on how to improve or enhance the goal’s action plan.  While not every idea will be great, respond to employees’ ideas with sensitivity and honesty.  Because they are the ones doing the tasks needed to achieve the goal, they also have a more intuitive understanding of what works…and what doesn’t.  Don’t be rigid — listen.
  • Resource #4:  On-going feedback — but not micromanagement.  Employee autonomy does not mean a lack of accountability nor a laissez-faire management approach.  Workers want and need to know that they are on the right track — and this feedback should be coming from their direct manager on a timely basis.  But many managers struggle with feedback:  they tend to fall on a continuum from “sugar coating” (overlooking the negative) to mean-spirited criticism (overlooking the positive).  Ideally, feedback acknowledges what is going well, identifies areas that are off-track, and engages in a respectful dialogue about ways to get back on-track.  To avoid micromanagement, engage in a dialogue by actively listening.
  • Resource #5:  A culture of trust and transparency.  Although some resources may not be feasible additions to the budget, employees will be more accepting of this if financial and managerial reports are consistently shared with them.  Transparency requires honesty and eschews half-truths or lies.  When trust and transparency inform the values and behaviors of the workforce, they will be more accepting of budget-related refusals to provide the resources they request.  BUT this is because a transparent and trusting culture demands that managers and employees work together to find a solution that addresses the inadequacy.  Transparency requires honest listening.

The Role of Inadequate Resources in Performance Reviews 

When conducting annual performance reviews, too many managers focus on the employees’ outcomes without considering the circumstances surrounding the actions leading to those outcomes.  As a result, the lack of adequate resources is often ignored in many performance reviews.

Even if the employee’s pleas for additional help were unheeded, he or she alone bears the brunt and negative consequences of substandard work culminating in a poor performance review.  Only the employee is penalized for not “making it happen” even though the company did not “help to make it happen.”

Employees should not be blamed
if the company did not meet its responsibility to provide the necessary resources.  

So, why do managers tend to overlook the role of inadequate resources on an employee’s performance?  I posed this conundrum to several colleagues and received some interesting insights:

  • Some managers said that they take this lack of resources into consideration to a point during the performance review – but are influenced by the negative impacts of their subordinates’ poor performance on their own performance reviews.
  • Other employees in non-management positions said that they do the best they can with the limited resources but simply stop caring – if the company cared, then the resources would have been provided, so the resulting poor performance is “not their fault.”
  • Still other workers (both managerial and non-managerial) simply quit – by either resigning from the company or staying on the job but doing the bare minimum to “get by.”

Performance reviews are a critical process to ensure that the company’s workers are completing the necessary tasks to achieve the short- and long-term goals of the organization.

There is often a poor alignment
between what the company says is important and their corresponding commitment of resources (both financial and human) to achieve those goals.  

Is poor employee performance resulting from inadequate resources not evidence of poor employee motivation, but rather an indication of poor corporate planning?

Is it really ethical that employees are penalized when their work “doesn’t measure up” – yet the corporate managers escape with no liability for not providing the necessary resources to achieve these results?

Performance reviews do not exist in a vacuum of employee actions.  Managers must assess the true costs of relevant tangible and intangible factors on an employee’s performance — and ALL resources have a tangible or intangible cost.

Here are some final tips to help you determine how to provide the resources that your employees need in order to do their jobs well:

  1. Don’t OVER-estimate the projected financial payoff of “doing more with less.”  Fewer employees equal lower costs to the organization — and lower costs increase corporate profit.  According to a fascinating Newsweek article, the projected cost savings and resulting surges in stock prices were often significantly over-estimated by organizations that used downsizing to cut expenses.  Survivor syndrome (i.e., the feelings of stress, anger, and betrayal in employees who were not downsized) most likely contributed to these results.  In other words, the deterioration in employee morale and commitment can negate any initial payroll-related cost savings.
  2. Don’t UNDER-estimate the projected intangible (human-related) costs.  While financial savings are often over-estimated, the projected “soft” costs are conversely under-estimated — or even ignored!  High performance requires embracing and nurturing that which makes us human:  emotions, values, perceptions, beliefs, and commitment.  If the necessary resources to enable employees to do their best work are not provided, then expect them to be frustrated, angry, apathetic, and burned out.  In other words, remember that corporate goals are only realized through the efforts of employees.
  3. Always consider the context surrounding an employee’s performance.  Be sure to look beyond the outcomes and consider whether there were factors outside the employee’s control that affected his or her results.  To many workers, an employer that refuses to provide the necessary resources to do the job (1) does not truly understand what is required to achieve its goals and (2) does not care about its workers.  In other words, withholding necessary resources not only destroys an employee’s performance, but also his or her confidence and commitment to the organization.
  4. Corporate actions reveal corporate priorities.  Inadequate resources was the fifth most frequently cited workplace stressor that led to burnout in my research.  Burnout is a close cousin of poor performance because its victims are rendered cognitively, emotionally, and physically incapable of performing their jobs to the expected standards of excellence.  In other words, during the development of performance standards, be sure to identify and provide the necessary financial, manpower, and time resources that employees need to meet their goals.

If managers are unwilling to provide the necessary resources, then they should rethink the feasibility of the goals that have been set for their employees.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to

3 thoughts on “Inadequate Resources, Poor Performance, and Employee Burnout: Are Managers to Blame?

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