Dealing with Urgency Fatigue

Sep 17, 2020 4 Min Read

In order to stay competitive in a fast-paced, complex marketplace, many businesses push their people to do more with less. Less budget, less resources and unfortunately less time.

The pressure to turn things around quickly and to respond to requests and issues is not the exception to the rule in many cases, it is the rule.

And unfortunately, when people are under pressure to deliver everything urgently, the quality drops, the stress levels rise, and burnout is a real risk. People who operate in a state of acute and chronic urgency develop urgency fatigue.

When we drive our teams forward with a sense of urgency, we need to be very sensitive to when it gets to be too much. Working in a state of urgency is OK for short periods of time, but when the reactivity starts to become chronic, real problems can develop for individuals and teams.

One company I worked with used the term ‘squeezing the asset’ to describe pushing their people as much as possible to deliver without breaking them.

This is an unfortunate mindset, and is bound to have a negative impact in the long run. People burnout and leave organisations like this.

They might not name chronic urgency as the reason, but it is likely one of the things that feeds into their decision to move to a role that is less pressured.

I believe that leaders and managers need to be on the lookout for urgency fatigue, and should learn how to bring people back down to a less reactive, more productive space.

Divers have gauges to tell them how much air they have left in the tank, and when they need to head back to the surface. We need something similar to indicate when our team have been dealing with acute and chronic urgency for too long.

The first key to spotting urgency fatigue is awareness

Know when you are pushing people hard and be on the lookout for signs that it is time to slow down for a while. Here are some signs that things are getting too much, and people have been in the reactive zone for too long:

  • Everything is urgent and the language used in meetings becomes urgent
  • Work and information need to be chased up constantly
  • People who are normally proactive in their approach become reactive
  • Balls get dropped and mistakes get made too often
  • The team are working longer hours to catch up on their ‘real’ work
  • You lose good people unexpectedly and for reasons that don’t seem to stack up
  • The volume of email increases at night and on the weekend
  • Teams are too busy to collaborate on important projects

Look for the tell-tale signs of urgency fatigue in meetings, in conversations and at team offsites

Your ability to spot the signs of urgency fatigue and intervene can make the difference between retaining a long-term productive team member and someone having a breakdown or resigning due to the constant pressure.

Once you spot signs of urgency fatigue, you need to deal with it. You need to understand what is happening and manage the situation accordingly.

Is the reactivity being experienced valid? Is the urgency real or fake? Is the urgency reasonable or has it been created by someone else leaving things until the last minute?

Sometimes you need to step in and call out ineffective habits and behaviours that lead to urgency being piled upon your team.

Is it necessary to keep pushing work forward at a breakneck pace? Are you at the point in a project where everything is on track, and momentum has been achieved? If so, maybe the pressure can be taken off a bit without any negative impact on the project.

Are there other competing priorities that are causing stress that can be managed differently to relieve pressure? Are there other resources that can be called in to help?

Does the person or team involved just need a short break to relieve the pressure and catch their breath before ramping up again?

Moderating urgency is never easy when so many stakeholders have competing demands. But your team will appreciate it when you can help them to deal with the constant pressure they face.

Sometimes we need to slow down to speed up, so you might find that by helping them slow things down, you achieve better results as a team.

Read:We Need to Stop Treating Success Like a Sprint to the Line

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Tags: Executing Leadership

Dermot Crowley is one of Australia’s leading productivity thought leaders, director of Adapt Productivity, and author of Urgent!, Smart Work and Smart Teams.

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