Sustainability is a word often used in relation to the environment. To be sustainable a resource must be managed so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged. Most of us get this. You cannot deplete the soil of all nutrients, hunt or fish and animal to extinction, or chop down every tree in a forest and expect to be able to continue on into the future. Resources are not infinite, and a good resource manager knows that they must think about the long term use of a resource not just the short term.
What I don’t think people think about is that fact that people are, forgive me for saying this, resources. At work we have Human Resources and People Resources, but workplaces don’t really think of people in the same way as they do other inputs to production. Workers are often used on burnout levels at all times, especially on projects. Companies want their projects done in the least amount of time possible, because projects are expensive. Unfortunately the pace at which these projects proceed is not sustainable and for those of us that move from project to project we are constantly on the threshold for burnout.
I think projects should be designed with the idea that people are a renewable resource that you can either burn up quickly leaving nothing left, or you can allow time for that resource to renew itself and have more available in the long term. This is especially important as the project mode of working becomes more ubiquitous in the workplace. Breaks, reasonable work hours, and vacation time should all be worked into the project plan and even required on a project. A project should be given enough resources and be planned well enough that common practices such as the expected all night pushes before go-live, are no longer expected.
In an article I found on PM HUT, one of the 14 Key Principles grabbed my attention:
“Project managers must fight for time to do things right. In our work with project managers we often hear this complaint: “We always seem to have time to do the project over; I just wish we had taken the time to do it right in the first place!” Projects must have available enough time to “do it right the first time.” And project managers must fight for this time by demonstrating to sponsors and top managers why it’s necessary and how time spent will result in quality deliverables.”
This quote speaks to the same principle I am discussing here. Doing things right takes time and team members that are not so burned out that they are making mistakes, having conflicts and disengaging in a way they would not normally. It is important to instill the idea that while working hard and giving your all is expected, it is also expected that people will do what they need to in order to manage stress and remain healthy and productive. This idea needs to be part of the team culture or it will not work. This is important because otherwise everyone will skip that 15 minute walk, lunch break etc. in order to not seem to be giving less to the project than that one person who refuses to leave their desk.
Some of the biggest and best companies out there understand this principle and this is reflected in their workplace culture that seeks to actively provide for their employees well being beyond their paychecks. While I don’t expect that all workplaces will install pool tables and give paid sabbaticals, project human resource sustainability is within the reach of all workplaces.
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