A balanced workload has two important components: first, no task in a process takes longer than any others, and second, no worker feels that he or she is being forced to work harder than any other. The first aspect leads to a more efficient process; the second aspect keeps morale up and turnover down.
However, the aspects need to be dealt with in different ways. Adjusting tasks until each takes the same amount of time will make the process objectively balanced, but making all the work feel equal on the ground will take research into workers’ subjective opinions.
Dealing with Unbalanced Workload Configurations
It is easy to find out if workloads are objectively unbalanced. Spend a couple of days watching the line and timing how long each workstation is idle. The most idle stations likely are placed right before unbalanced tasks.
Not all tasks are inherently equal, but there is always a way to make them so. If one task holds up the line, try adding more workers or splitting up the workload into separate tasks so workers never have to wait.
Alternatively, you can train workers to perform multiple tasks that are close together. For example, if a worker often needs to wait for a checker to come and verify quality, they may as well be trained as a checker themselves.
Sometimes, though, you can simply work around an unbalanced workflow. Instead of a straight assembly line, create branches that allow products to be taken off the line to additional workstations, thus allowing several of the slower tasks to be completed at once.
Dealing with the Perception of Unbalanced Workloads
This is trickier. First, you need to review everything you know about the workflow so that you have as accurate a picture as possible. Second, you need to both ask about, and challenge, worker’s perceptions of workloads. Challenging with the facts as you see them will help you separate skewed “grass is greener” perceptions from actual workload imbalances.
Ask whether any members would be willing to switch or rotate tasks. Using an inventory of your workers’ skills, try to find a more equitable way to distribute work without hiring any more people.
Checking Before Implementing
After you find the imbalances, work out exactly how to redistribute the workload. Present this plan to all management members, ask for input, and gauge the reaction. If the plan seems like it will sail through without any qualms, put it into practice. If it leads to mass grumbling and confusion, re-work it. Even if you have a perfectly balanced workflow, if it seems unbalanced on the floor, it will lead to problems down the road.