Avoid Burnout: Stop Multitasking and Wearing Multiple Hats at Work

Wearing many hats in the workplace has become a norm. In a study done by ZenBusiness, more than 90% of respondents reported having at least some experience with performing tasks outside their designated role, and only 21% reported such an occurrence was rare. Some companies think that by making their employees juggle multiple roles they can save money, but they actually don’t.

Why Wearing Many Hats at Work Doesn’t Work

Doing a little bit of everything instead of one specific role doesn’t work. It’s chaos. In Asana’s 2021 Anatomy of Work Index, 13,000 knowledge workers reported “having too much work to do”  as the top barrier to productivity and that seven in ten employees experienced burnout in 2020 as a result. 

Multitasking takes a toll on productivity. Based on research by psychologists, the cost of time to switch from one task to another may be relatively small, but it can add up to a large amount of time when an individual switches repeatedly back and forth between tasks. On the surface, it may seem that multitasking is efficient, but it may ultimately take more time and makes you more prone to error.  Spreading your people thin only leads to expensive mistakes. 

Moreover, everybody wants to know what their job is and what they are held accountable for. When your employees don’t know what they are responsible for, it won’t take long before they decide to find work elsewhere. 

Unclear expectations of roles and responsibilities as well as work overload are two of the top causes of stress and burnout at work. In a study conducted by Kronos Incorporated and Future Workplace, 46% of human resources leaders say that employee burnout is responsible for up to 50% of annual workforce turnover.

One case where wearing many hats may sound reasonable is in a start-up environment. It’s common to see founders and small teams taking on multiple roles because they don’t have enough funding to hire more people each dedicated to a specific job function. When the business is still small, these shared roles may save money…but the benefit ends there.

As you grow and scale, juggling roles and responsibilities will no longer work. As my friend Courtney Branson said, “Growth can’t be self-sacrificial.” The company may benefit from its employees’ willingness to stretch themselves across multiple disciplines, but this strategy isn’t sustainable. As time passes, wearing many hats will deplete the wearer and hurt your business.

What You Should Do Instead: Clarify Roles and Responsibilities

If you want to get the best out of your A-player talent and the rest of your team, make their roles and responsibilities super clear. Everyone thrives when they know what to do and what is expected of them. They know how to act, what they need to accomplish and what role they play in reaching the organization’s goals. 

With clearly defined roles and responsibilities, everything gets done. You know who to ask and who to follow up with when accomplishing tasks. When everyone understands their responsibilities, nothing gets forgotten and everyone is aware of their accountability. The problem with having people wear multiple hats is that you can’t really make anyone accountable because there are too many moving pieces.  Accountability is important because it allows people to rely on each other, whether it means accomplishing tasks, asking for help or meeting deadlines.

No matter how talented your A-players are, you can’t really maximize their knowledge and skills if they are wearing multiple hats. When people have so many competing priorities on their plate, they can’t really focus on accomplishing every single one of them. It’s inefficient for the company and highly stressful for the employees. It’s only a matter of time until the person prioritizes larger projects and misses the smaller ones that build up over time. When your people know exactly where to put their energy at work, they will perform better and their productivity will soar.

In love and respect,

Hilary Corna

Hilary Corna

Bestselling Author, Keynote Speaker, Podcast Host, Founder of the Human Way ™...

Hilary’s favorite title is HUMAN.


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