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Performance Management

5 biggest workplace obstacles — and why employees can’t do their best work



The road to greatness is littered with workplace obstacles. Do your employees know how to work around the most common ones?

There’s a good chance they don’t — and it’s usually because they don’t recognize what’s getting in their way.

That leaves employees less effecient than they — or you — would like them to be. What’s worse, it’s costing your company as much as 30% of revenue a year, according to research from IDC.

Hidden workplace obstacles

“… Employees have to navigate a jungle of obstacles,” says employee training expert Jeff Toister in his blog. “Many of them seem natural parts of work, but they’re actually obstacles.”

Natural parts of work — how can that be? Consider these real-work examples of hidden workplace obstacles:

  • Jim has to get Lisa to sign off on his work — even though he hasn’t made a mistake in three years
  • Manny updates his project in three different apps, or
  • Jamie gives up when a task is outside of the normal comfort zone.

The situations vary, but they exist in almost all organizations. Here are the most common workplace obstacles and tips to overcome them.

1. The dilemma

Many employees face dilemmas: quality v. quantity; timely v. perfection; by-the-book v. creative.

The boss or normal operations might tell them to do one thing, but their performance is rated on something else. Or they know the documented goal, but the boss gives them a hard time when they fail at an unwritten rule.

It’s a classic — and unfortunate — misalignment of expectations. It leaves employees wondering where to focus their attention and sometimes fearful of consequences. So they trip over themselves doing their jobs.

Fix it: Put systems and protocols in place so managers regularly review with employees what’s most important in their roles, the department and the company based on current needs. Then they can help employees prioritize duties.

2. Multitasking

Employees often have so many responsibilities they don’t focus on one at a time. That’s dangerous because research has proven multitasking isn’t just ineffective; it’s counterproductive.

Fix it: Start to discourage multitasking by making employees aware of it. Some people don’t realize that checking email while finalizing an Excel document is multitasking, and it slows them down and leads to errors. Ask them to shut down at least one task – email, an extra monitor, chat – while focusing on another. Just shutting down one distraction improves effectiveness, Toister says.

3. Holding back

Some employees have difficulties in challenging situations because they’ve always stayed in their comfort zone – and don’t know how to take control outside of it. When the going gets tough they hand off or bury challenges. They might think, “I can’t do anything about this, so I give up.”

Fix it: Help employees focus on what they can control – what Toister calls the “Circle of Control.” For instance, talk in training about what employees can’t control – bugs in the software, a system breakdown, etc. Then emphasize what they can control – their response to a setback, how to manage their time during and after the technical fix. That can help them recognize they times they can’t control the circumstances — but they can still control the outcome.

4. Familiar patterns

Employees sometimes make assumptions about their work based on something similar that’s happened in the past. They assume what’ll happen next and make a poor decision because they didn’t consider the whole issue.

Fix it: Regularly rotate job tasks or assignments. Or increase cross-training. It eliminates monotony and the been-there-seen-that mentality, which contributes to making wrong decisions based on familiar patterns.

5. Stressful environment

Distractions, ongoing demands, lack of cooperation and limited training to handle all of it combine and create a stressed environment that can overwhelm employees and derail great work.

Fix it: Emphasize respectful behavior that includes guidelines on how not to distract each other – for instance, requesting help via chat before calling or not sending repeated follow-up messages when the issue isn’t critical. Set etiquette expectations that remind employees how they should treat each other even in stressful times.

Read the full article here