How to delegate properly (without feeling guilty)

Delegation is not a skill we're born with – it's a learned characteristic

How to delegate properly (without feeling guilty)

Delegation – easy in principle, a nightmare in practice. The bane of every perfectionist’s working day, having the confidence to delegate properly, and without feeling guilty, is a skill that needs perfecting – especially in remote work.

Read more: One in five Canadians don't trust their managers – and it's killing EX

According to London Business School professor John Hunt, only 30% of managers believe they can delegate well – and only one third of them is actually considered a “good delegator” by their employees. Delegation is not a skill we’re born with – it’s a learned characteristic that needs to be taught. And while a study from i4cp found that while half of employers are very concerned about their managers’ abilities to delegate, only 28% offer any training on the topic.

So where’s this disconnect coming from?

Overwork, burnout and a lack of delegation

There’s a leadership crisis on our hands. HR leaders are working more than ever before – workloads are increasing every day. Combine this culture of overwork with remote models, found to increase isolation and stress, and it’s no wonder leadership teams are struggling. In the face of such worrying data, we need to get serious about delegating. But how to begin? Well, it all starts with redefining your role.

If you’re looking at this from an chief human resource officer’s perspective, if you yourself think you’re being overworked, then take a moment to look at your responsibilities. If your role has begun to merge with occupational health and safety or legal and compliance, and you’re finding yourself floundering, it’s time to step back and speak up. Going to your CEO and explaining that you have too much on your plate right now isn’t anything to be ashamed of – remember you’d want your junior HR employees to come to you. 

From here, you need to make a plan of what you can take on yourself and what to pass over. Are there any tasks that would be a waste of your time – anything that can be outsourced so you can prioritize more important matters?

Say for instance that you’re in the midst of a huge restructuring strategy – something that impacts the very future of your organization – and you’re asked to look over some payroll accounts or see to some general admin. That can be given to someone in your team. Use that as a coaching moment – show your people what you expect, teach them a new skill, and save yourself some time in the process. And, when passing all this information over, Dr Melanie Peacock, associate professor of HR at Mount Royal, says you need to be very articulate.

“It’s important to understand why you’re delegating,” says Dr Peacock. “Are you doing this to help employees upskill? Is this part of succession planning? Are you doing this as a strategic learning opportunity? Once the reason is crystal clear, it should be shared with employees so that they fully understand why you’re asking them to take on the work.”

Dropping the guilt and embracing collaboration

HR is the glue that keeps the rest of the organization together. The HR function is the only one that has to work with every other sector in the business – everything from finance to firing to festive parties, it’s all part and parcel of human resources. As such, it’s the first function that people go to for help – and if you’re not adept at delegation then you will inevitably become swamped.

A warning, however. Do not use delegation as a means to shirk on your responsibilities – this is toxic leadership at its worst. Delegation is a two way street and will only work if you have the trust and respect of those you're delegating to.

Read more: Is a lack of trust crippling your company?

“One should delegate tasks but not ultimate responsibility,” says Dr Peacock. “Again, communicating this to employees lets them know that they can approach you with questions and ask for help as they are taking on new assignments. Following these steps helps create realization that you are ultimately delegating work for the benefit of employees and not to lessen your own workload, thereby alleviating any guilt associated with these actions.”

The dangers of quiet fleecing in delegation

Since the advent of quiet quitting and quiet firing, another worrying trait has reared its ugly head – quiet fleecing. The act of stagnating wages in the face of inflation and cost of living fears, it’s intrinsically linked to “bad delegation” – specifically when you continually delegate to the same set of people.

“I believe that we get into bad habits of asking certain talented employees to do things outside of their remit,” says organizational psychologist Dr Amanda Potter. “Employers may think “Oh, this person’s great at this particular task, I’ll just ask them to do it again and again”, which is causing burnout. Sometimes employers don't recognize how long things take – we have a bias for underestimating tasks until we actually perform them ourselves.”

Over-delegating and pushing work on employees that you know will always come through won’t help anyone in the long-run. Instead, it fosters even more burnout and absenteeism. When done correctly, there shouldn’t be any guilt in delegation. Remember, be compassionate in what you’re asking your people to do for you, and work together as a team to share the load. 

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