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The Downside of Doing More with Less


We’ve talked in the past about the value of doing more with less, particularly in a post-covid world where employers were (and still are) trying to figure out how to maintain or increase productivity with fewer people, money, and physical resources. But we recognize that doing more with less isn’t always the answer—in fact, there’s even a downside of doing more with less. Today we’ll address those cons and offer a few solutions to help businesses stay on top in what is sure to be challenging economic year in 2023.

What’s the Background?

To understand exactly what’s going on in the heart of American companies’ productivity we also have to understand what going on in the heads of America’s workers. Productivity spiked in 2020 during the pandemic, which was arguably caused by the more flexible hybrid work environment that employees professed made them more efficient.

But in the end of 2021 and into 2022, productivity tanked. While it did rebound in quarters three and four of 2022, we certainly haven’t revisited the high of the pandemic. Theories abound as to why productivity is lacking amongst working America. Some experts purport that the pace of work employees operated at in 2020 was unsustainable, others say that the leverage gained by the workforce through the Great Resignation, and still others believe that the connection between “’hard work and reward has been broken’” which has lowered employees career ambitions.

The Downside

While there are certainly creative, relational, and managerial advantages in harnessing fewer resources to accomplish more, the simple reality is that sometimes using less resources breeds lesser results. So let’s delineate some of those challenges:

  1. Employees are told all the time “do more with less!” When their company isn’t supporting them with ongoing education, a big picture of the organization’s goals, and relationship-building opportunities with managers and coworkers, employees are likely to feel demoralized at best, or burnt out at worst. Workers have mentioned “burnout” 42% more on career website Glassdoor than in 2019. This is especially true of high performers, who often receive the lion’s share of the work precisely because they’re high performers.
  2. When you reduce the morale and motivation of employees, you often also land on lower work quality and output. For many employees, work has become transactional; they aren’t inspired by the mission of the company, nor do they feel purposeful in their work. Employees won’t put their best foot forward if they don’t feel inspired and motivated to go above and beyond for the company.
  3. This “do more with less” mentality is an easy catch-all for managers to fall back on. While it often comes from a well-meaning place, it becomes an alternative to actually managing effectively and providing employees with proper resources. That’s not to say that there aren’t situations in which organizations and employees must do more with less, but it’s important to acknowledge the fallacy in implementing this on a broad and long-term level.

It’s not 1950 anymore. Employees aren’t interested in the gold watch, fancy party, and cushy pension that comes with retirement from a company they’ve dedicated their entire career to. In fact, Janice Bellace, professor of legal studies and business ethics at Wharton College, thinks the concept of workplace loyalty is outdated. Employment for many has become transactional, with employees finding little meaning or purpose in their work but completing the basic requirements to get a paycheck.

The Solution

Research from Mckinsey & Company found that the top three reasons employees left a job related to “not having caring leaders (35 percent), having sustainable work expectations (35 percent), and a lack of career development and advancement potential (35 percent).” Employers must create a human-centered experience to retain employees. That same study found that employees who had an overall positive experience were eight times more likely to stay and four times more committed than their counterparts with negative experiences.

What’s the one tool every company has in its’ belt (hint: it costs no money)? It’s encouragement and recognition from leadership.

All in all, there is a pretty clear downside to doing more with less, but the simple reality is that sometimes you have to. Job attrition is high, so employers may need to ask employees to up their output with limited resources. But what’s the one tool every company has in its’ belt (hint: it costs no money)? It’s encouragement and recognition from leadership. Nonfinancial recognition is the key factor in a positive employee experience. Employers who can figure out how to personalize demonstrations of recognition and encouragement will provide a more positive and caring experience for employees, ultimately retaining them and improving the environment and output of the company.

For more on this topic check out our blog and podcast on vendor relations to discover how recognition extends to all parts of organizational health.



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