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Make Sure Your Team’s Workload Is Divided Fairly

An important part of your job as a manager is making sure everyone on your team has the right amount of work. It’s tempting to give the workhorse more projects than others (especially if she’ll get them done the fastest) or to ease up on someone who is struggling, but you also need to be fair. How do you make sure that work on your team is evenly distributed? What do you do about the person who’s great at saying no and the one who can’t say no?

Whether you’re dividing up the workload for next year or next week, here are some strategies to help.

Have a plan Divvying up assignments for your team members requires forethought and planning. It’s not something you can do during the cracks of your workday in between your tasks. You must devote time to it. “What are we trying to achieve? Who are my players? Who does what well? And, who needs development and in what areas?” Those questions will help you figure out the best way to allocate assignments.

Clarify roles A key element to your delegation strategy is making sure your team members are crystal clear on their roles. Make a list of all the work that needs to get done and then assign tasksaccording to each worker’s specific function, position, and strengths. Put the tasks that do not fit under any specific role on a list and then figure out—with your team’s help—how to handle it.

Set expectations Continually stating the objectives you’re trying to achieve as well as emphasizing the level of effort and engagement you expect helps focus the team. Let it be known that “people should be pulling their weight” and willing to help each other. One of the difficulties with making sure that a workload is fair and equitable is that employees don’t work all at the same pace; what may take Marian one hour, might take Jim all day. In other words, even when the workload is “even,” it might not look that way. “It’s important to make sure your employees understand you don’t equate hours with productivity”. The best way to do this, is to praise openly strong performance, irrespective of hours worked.

Communicate one-on-one Having individual conversations with team members about their share of the collective workload is critical to ensuring employees stay motivated and engaged. You have to be accessible. Consider these conversations as an opportunity to talk to your team members about their professional goals, gather insight on team dynamics, and resolve problems. Here are some suggestions for what to say.

  • To your can’t-say-no workhorse: You need to demonstrate the extent to which you recognize you rely on this person. Acknowledge this person “may have a lot on her/his plate.” Then say: “’For reasons A, B and C, I want to assign this to you. Let’s talk about what else you may have going on, and which projects can be moved to the backburner". Then follow through on your words.

  • To the person who’s struggling: Be frank in your feedback. “Say, ‘I’ve noticed you’re not getting through your work as quickly as your teammates are. It takes you three days to write this report where it takes your team members one day.’” Probe a little. “Ask, ‘What’s the issue here? Do you need more training or more support?’”

  • To your star: Be transparent about your priorities. If, for instance, you are offering a particularly attractive assignment to someone other than your star, say, ‘the reason I am not giving you this assignment is that I need to have multiple people on this team who know how to do X.’ You might ask your star to support or mentor the colleague you’ve assigned. “Involve the person in another role.”

  • To the person who’s not motivated to pull his weight: You need to be clear to this person about how his level of effort has consequences in terms of his chances of promotion, financial incentives, and choice assignments. Be direct about how she/he is failing to meet your expectations. Say, ‘we are team and we need to evenly share the workload” And then be clear and concrete about what you want the person to do and take on.

Be flexible Of course, even with the best-laid plans and regular communication with your team, projects crop up that can instantly shift priorities. You need to be flexiblewhile also thinking about “what fairness means” to you, says Davey. “There are moments when fairness must be weighted heavily” in terms of how you distribute the workload, but there are other times “when you need a certain outcome” to complete a particular project in a tight timeframe and you don’t have the luxury “to be fair.” Put simply, try as you might to make sure the workload is even, it might not always happen in the way you’d like. It’s also important to bear in mind that your team’s workload is not static. “You’re going to toggle between different strategies in different situations depending on the circumstances,” she says. Certain team members may need to burn the midnight oil on a project, while others have an easier time. The next quarter may be a different story. The goal is that “over the course of the year, it all balances out.”

Principles to Remember


  • Devote time in your schedule for thinking through your strategy for delegating.

  • Make a list of all the work that needs to get done and then assign tasks according to your team members’ specific function, position, and strengths.

  • Create a culture that values productivity over hours worked by openly praising strong performance.


  • Be overly rigid about your workload delegation strategy; when projects crop up and priorities shift, you need to be flexible.

  • Burn out your top performer. Before you lean on her more, identify the projects that can go on the backburner.

  • Beat around the bush with an employee who’s not pulling his weight. Be direct about your expectations.

To find the original HBR article, written by Rebecca Kight, click here,

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