Resilience Is Best Played as a Team Sport
How Deep's Your Bench?
Last week, while getting an MRI at my local health clinic from a skilled technician who has worked there for 16 years, I commented that they seemed understaffed. Yes, he said, the ultrasound tech and the entire front desk staff had recently left. I asked what was going on.
“A lot of them have left because of Covid, of course. Some people are overwhelmed, some are sick, some won’t get vaccinated so they can’t keep their jobs. The problem is that the remaining work is all being shifted to existing staff. I’m considering leaving myself,” he admitted.
He noted that he’d worked long shifts, 4 days a week, for 10 years in order to make his 2-hour plus roundtrip commute bearable. But staff shortages recently inspired management to schedule him 6 days a week.
“It’s just not worth the time I’ll spend on the road and away from my family,” he said. “Not to mention the cost of gas. But the suits who represent the company that owns the hospital system won’t budge from their demand.”
This is a perfect example of how the shortage of qualified workers is begetting a further shortage of qualified workers.
As at this technician’s imaging center, organizations everywhere are responding to people leaving work by redistributing existing work to existing staff. This burns them out and, not surprisingly, pushes them in turn to consider leaving, putting further pressure on those who remain, ratcheting up their feeling of being squeezed.
Of course, healthcare has been notoriously impacted by the pandemic. But this trend is playing out all over.
A VP friend with a UK-based global bank recently told me that her original team of 16 is now down to 9, with a serious uptick in everyone’s workload uncompensated for by any increase in pay.
“They've cut so deeply now, we’re practically handicapped,” she said. “And the thing is, the bank is making so much frickin’ money! They don’t have to do this.”
The obvious question is, why would the leadership at my friend’s bank continue to relentlessly demand more and more from their people in an era when skilled workers are in high demand and people are more ready to walk out the door than they have been in decades?
One answer is that the habit of pushing people harder and harder has become established, and predates the pandemic and subsequent labor pressure. The idea for much of this century has been that a company can endlessly cut costs while somehow boosting productivity. Since executive bonuses are tied to cost efficiencies and therefore dependent on “cutting fat,” the incentive to stick with the program remains, despite changing conditions.
Yet for a company to try to operate as leanly as possible under all circumstances makes about as much sense as a professional football or basketball team trying to do without second and third stringers.
Bench strength is an insurance policy, the first line of defence in building resilience, as my colleague the uber-strategist Rita McGrath continually argues. By ignoring the importance of having a strong bench of people who can take up the slack when things get dicey, companies undermine their capacity to be resilient. Any unforeseen shock to the system can send them reeling, and will.
How can this still be a strategy in 2022?