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How to delegate work to employees

sharing work notes is one way to start on how to delegate work to employees

Delegation in management is key, yet many leaders underutilize their teams and try to do everything themselves. 

If you’ve ever found yourself wishing for more hours in a day to get your work done, you’re not alone. As managers move up in hierarchy and responsibility, their work becomes more complex and strategy-focused, leaving little time to focus on tasks that they used to handle. 

Trying to fulfill the responsibilities of their former jobs in addition to leading people can cause managers to feel overworked, exhausted, and can even lead to full-fledged burnout

This is where a great team and proactive delegation comes in. By assigning tasks to team members, you can free up hours and mental energy to prioritize the leadership work that you’re in your role to do. 

Table of contents

Start personal coaching for freeStatistics show that lack of delegation leads to stress and burnout...

  • Workplace stress is particularly common in situations when employees are asked to do things that exceed their knowledge, abilities, and coping skills, and when they do not have enough support from peers and supervisors to close that gap. [1]

  • One of the top five stressors in the workplace is a heavy workload. [1]

  • Only 60% of middle managers feel that they can manage their workload. [2]

  • The average manager spends three hours per day handling unforeseen interruptions and problems. [3]

  • Nearly 80% of employees quit due to “lack of appreciation,” which includes not being assigned tasks to help them grow. [4]

  • 53% of business owners believe that they can grow their business by more than 20% if they delegate 10% of their workload to someone else. [5]

  • Only 30% of managers believe they can delegate well. [6]

  • Only a third of managers are considered a good delegator by their team. [6]

So...why are leaders afraid to delegate? 

While the benefits of delegation aren’t a secret, many managers are still hesitant to hand tasks off to their direct reports. Some managers simply feel they are the best person to do the assignment and have a hard time letting their old duties go. 

However, most of the reasons why leaders don’t redistribute their workload boil down to fear, including:

  • Fear of becoming replaceable
  • Fear of their employee doing a better job
  • Fear of their employee not doing a good job
  • Fear of delegation taking more time than it would to complete the task

While all of these fears are understandable, they shouldn’t hold you back from delegating work to employees. With proper training and leadership, the time you invest in showing your employees how to complete tasks should be worth it in the end when you’re able to get those duties off your plate entirely. 

It may take a few mistakes and some additional feedback and direction, but have faith in your people to learn and do a job well done. Delegation isn’t a sign of weakness. Rather, once your employee is successful in doing that work, it’s a positive reflection of your skills as a manager. You’re able to train employees so they can learn and grow. 

If you’re not delegating, everybody loses 

Delegation is more than just a stress-reducer for the manager—it provides leadership and career development for employees too. 

By assigning tasks to team members, you can give your direct reports opportunities to learn and strengthen their skills in other areas. That better prepares them for a possible promotion or new role, not to mention a more fulfilling and challenging career.

Not only is delegation a great learning experience, it can also boost employee morale. Giving employees additional responsibilities and coaching them through them shows that you trust them and appreciate their work. When employees feel valued and invested in, their overall job performance increases because they’re happier in their positions and with their company. 

How do you delegate work to your team? 

While assigning tasks to your employees is a big part of delegation, your approach to delegating work to employees should take a bit more thought and preparation to be effective. 

If you think you and your team would benefit if you reassigned more work, consider the following:

What type of work can I delegate?

There is such a thing as too much delegation, and not all responsibilities can be handed over. As a leader, it is your responsibility to focus on the duties that your team can not or should not do.  Providing performance feedback is one example—that’s something that should always be on the leader’s plate. 

Take a look at your responsibilities and identify which ones require the least amount of specialized expertise or aren’t specifically managerial responsibilities and see if you can take a few of those off of your plate. 

Who would be the best employee to delegate this task to? 

It’s important to be thoughtful about which employee you choose to delegate work to. Not all employees may have the time or capacity to take on additional responsibilities and could become overwhelmed if another task is assigned to them. 

Additionally, consider who might be best suited for the work you’re trying to share, either because of past experience, strengths, or an expressed interest in learning more. If you’re still not sure who would be the best person for the assignment, it never hurts to ask your team directly to see if anybody jumps up to volunteer for this opportunity. 

Why is this work important? 

In order to effectively delegate, make sure your employee not only understands the new work that they’ve been asked to take on, but also how it supports the team or business goals. 

When training your team member on the assignment, be sure to start with the “why.” Why is this work important? Why does it get done a certain way? Why are they the best person to do the job? 

Providing that context helps your employee understand the scope of what they’re being asked. And, getting that buy-in at the start will encourage them to take the assignment seriously and set both you and your employee up for success.

4 steps to successful delegation

Now that you’ve done the prep work to successfully delegate work to your employees, you’re bound to have this question: What process is used to assign work to subordinates?

There are four steps or phases involved with delegation. You might hear them referred to as a variety of different names, but the crux of the four phases is the same. 

1. Demonstrate

After you’ve found the team member to take on this project and explained the importance of the work, it’s time to show your employee how to actually do it. 

Set up some time for you both one-on-one—in-person is best unless either of you work remotely, in which case, video calls are a good substitute. Go through the steps of completing the task and share with your employee how often the task needs to be done, whether it’s daily, monthly or quarterly. 

Encourage the team member to ask candid questions and be sure to document any important information so they can easily refer back to it. 

2. Do the task together

Once you’ve shown your employee how to complete the work, go through doing the task together at another time. You can even prompt your employee to tell you what the next step is as you go through the assignment. 

While this might feel repetitive, it’s worth the time. You’ll be able to see how much your team member remembers from your previous demonstration and answer any questions that come up as they handle portions of the process themselves. 

3. Switch roles

Now it’s time to put your employee in the driver’s seat. Let them go through the assignment while you watch, and encourage them to share their process out loud so you can observe how they understand the work. 

You can also use this opportunity to correct any mistakes or continue answering questions. Depending on the difficulty of the task, your team member may want to repeat this step a few times before moving on to complete ownership of the work.

4. Complete hand off 

After you and your employee have gone through training and answered all questions, it’s time for the team member to take total responsibility for the work. 

To have a successful handoff, confirm the employee has the resources needed to complete the task and that they feel comfortable taking full ownership for it. 

Empower them to make decisions so they won’t feel the need to constantly check in for reassurance, and avoid the urge to hover or ask to see every step of their work. While asking questions is always a good thing, constant affirmations slow down the process and miss the point of true delegation.  

I’ve delegated the work...now what?

Congrats! You’ve overcome the hardest part of delegation: assigning the task, providing adequate training, and officially handing it off to your team member. 

However, this doesn’t mean you never have to look or think about this work again. Now that a member of your team owns this project or task, you still hold responsibility for their results as their manager. 

1. Continue to coach

Once you and your employee feel good about their ability to continue the work on their own, set up regular touchpoints to check in and see how they’re doing. 

Ask if there’s any other training or development you can provide to help your team member feel more prepared while working on this assignment. You can also provide feedback—both positive and constructive—as the team member continues to do the work. 

Regularly checking in will help your employee feel supported and carves out time for you both to touch base about the project and its progress. 

2. Ask for feedback

Additionally, seize the opportunity to gather feedback on your own performance as a manager. 

Delegation in management is no easy thing, so follow up with your team member to see how they felt the delegation process went. Ask if they felt fully prepared to take it on and if you set clear expectations for the work. 

As you continue to assign new tasks to your team, use what you’ve learned from this experience to improve your management and delegation skills. 

3. Focus on leading your people

You’ve begun to take projects and tasks off of your plate, and now it’s time to focus more on your core responsibility: leading your direct reports. This doesn’t mean micromanaging every aspect of the work that your team is doing. In fact, micromanagement can have a huge negative impact on your team and it only adds more on your shoulders as a leader. 

Take the opportunity to work on your management skills and develop more empathy, emotional intelligence, listening skills, and decision-making skills. Ask your employees what resources they need to be more successful in their roles, and see what you can do to secure those resources. 

By focusing your attention more on leading your people instead of the “in the weeds” assignments that used to take up your time, your team will feel more supported. 

Still hesitant about delegating?

If you’re still struggling to find work to delegate to your team or don’t feel comfortable assigning tasks to team members, ask yourself why. If it comes down to the need to feel in control, practice letting go and embracing the unknown. You can also consider discussing your situation with a trusted mentor to see what advice they have to work on releasing control. 

However, if the reason you’re nervous to delegate work is because of the competence, or lack of competence, of your team, it may be time to evaluate your employees and have an honest discussion about performance. Delegation in management is key to great leadership, so it’s important to take the time and reflect on how you could become more comfortable delegating and take the necessary steps to get there.  

Delegation is a science and an art

If you’re overwhelmed with trying to lead a team and get all of your pending tasks done, delegation can be your key to a healthier work-life balance while simultaneously supporting your employees in their own career development. 

Even if you start to delegate small tasks and work your way up to larger projects and assignments, it will begin to make a difference in your day-to-day workload. 

As you continue to work on your delegation skills, be sure to incorporate asking for feedback into your delegation process so you can find ways to improve. Effective delegation takes practice, and the best leaders have worked on their delegation skills—and continue to do so. 

Don’t let fear keep you from developing a more productive work environment for yourself and your team. Evaluate what is on your plate and see what you can hand off to your team today. 

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