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Urgent! Five Quick Ways To Burn Out Employees

Do you know that Bill Gates used to wander the Microsoft parking lot to see who wasn't at work? A fascinating Washington Post article gives us a bit of insight into Mr. Gates' early approach to entrepreneurial management.

Here's what Mr. Gates had to say about encouraging workplace productivity:

In his early years at Microsoft, Gates — once known for pulling all-nighters and crashing on his office floor — was apparently not a big fan of downtime, for himself or anyone else, he told interviewer Kristy Young.

"I worked weekends, I didn't really believe in vacations," Gates said. "I had to be a little careful not to try and apply my standards to how hard [others] worked. I knew everybody's licence plate so I could look out at the parking lot and see, you know, when people come in."

Wow, talk about incentive to ride a bike to work! I feel burned out simply reading this sneak peek into Microsoft's nascent corporate pressure cooker, while a few startup entrepreneurs are surely thinking: "Hmm, maybe I need to spend more time walking around the parking lot."

On that note, how can managers make sure employees will feel the burn? Here are five quick tips for burning employees out as soon as possible:

1. Keep moving the goal posts. Project A is due tomorrow and employees are working hard to finish it by deadline when...what's this? Project B has come out of the wood work, and why is it suddenly more important than Project A? After awhile, employees have no idea what's going on anymore. Keep them guessing, management!

2. Create a new crisis every day. All workplace problems are equal in the everything-is-a-crisis work environment, which makes it very hard for employees to figure out which projects, and problems, should be their top priority. This workplace runs on drama, and misdirection. Can we start grading workplace crises on a curve, please?

3. There can never be too much useless paperwork. Working requires a long paper trail, because documentation shows that everyone is working. Red tape slows everything down, but keep filling out those forms. Employees will begin to wonder why the word "streamlining" seems only to apply to layoffs.

4. Have a meeting about having a meeting. Overworked employees on deadline will be thinking, "I can't believe we're having a meeting to plan another meeting," but it's the only way to keep meetings on track. For bonus points, refuse to adjust employee deadlines and workload to account for the meeting to plan another meeting. Let's discuss.

5. Wake employees up with new work. There's always a lot to cover in the 4:30 a.m. email, isn't there? A project is being pushed up on the schedule (see Tip #1), there's a fire burning (Tip #2), a new form will need to be filled as soon as possible (Tip #3), and clear the decks for a 10 a.m. meeting to plan an upcoming meeting (Tip #4). Hey, the early bird gets the worm, right?

In all seriousness, employees will be happier, and more productive, if company leaders don't do these things. Management's job is to make employees' jobs easier, so they can get more work done. Now let's have a meeting to plan the meeting where we'll talk about having fewer meetings.

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