Employee Overload: What Is It & How Can You Avoid It?

Without people, our projects would go nowhere. That's why it's so important to avoid employee overload, find the right balance, and deliver your projects sustainably.
Mae Angeline
June 23, 2022

Stephen Covey is often quoted as saying, "People are your most valuable asset." When it comes to project management, the right people really are worth their weight in gold. Without our employees, our projects simply couldn't function. From administrative work to highly technical tasks, how employees do their jobs can make or break a business.

While it is important for businesses to get the most out of their resources, when it comes to employees this approach can end up backfiring. If employers overload their staff with too many tasks, they may end up pushing the team to failure in due course.

In this article, we'll look at what employee overload is, what it does to your team, and how you can spot it and stop it before it's too late.

What is employee overload?

On any given workday, an employee will have various tasks to work on, each with their own deadline and priority level. However, there are times when employees are given more tasks than they can handle during their working hours. This is what we call employee overload. It occurs when employees have too much on their plate, and won't be able to complete it comfortably during their regular working hours.

Employee overload can happen to anyone in an organization, from an assistant to a manager, in a full-time position or part-time, working on-site or remotely. It can affect individuals, specific teams or departments, or even the entire business. If it's associated with a specific project, it may be fleeting or temporary. But, in many cases, it becomes an endemic part of the company culture.

What are the effects of work overload?

When employees are overloaded, the business will most likely suffer in the long run. Employers may be tempted to add more work to their employees to increase their output. While this might work in the short-term, it quickly has a negative impact on employee performance and health. Over time, it will lead to staffing and retention issues within the business.

Here are the harmful effects of work overload on the well-being of your employees.

"Burnout" and poor mental health

Mental health is one of the first aspects of our well-being to be impacted by work overload.

Stress

Let's face it; we get stressed at work for various reasons. In fact, around 80% of managers and employees feel stressed out at work, according to the American Institute of Stress. The report also stated that excessive workload is the leading stressor among employees.

Stress can lead to many other problems, both in terms of physical health and mental health. Issues such as headaches and digestive trouble to social effects such as tense working environments and a limited social life can all stem from employees' overload.

Anxiety and Depression

Overload affects a person's overall mood and emotional well-being. This, in turn, affects their relationships with people at work and in their personal life, as well as their performance. Overworked employees often have heightened anxiety due to worries about keeping up with their workload, especially when they are under pressure to finish tasks as quickly as possible.

Depression can also result from heavy workload, such as when employees think they are working at full capacity, but their workload keeps getting bigger. When this leads to depression, it can further damage their performance and relationships with colleagues and family.

Burnout

The World Health Organization describes burnout as a result of chronic work stress that depletes employees' energy levels and reduces their efficacy. Burnout occurs when employees feel they have no power or control over their work due to an excessively heavy workload.

As a result, they distance themselves from colleagues and grow to hate their job. These feelings make it hard for employees to go to work, resulting in resignations. In fact, 40% of resignations in 2021 were because of burnout, according to a survey by employee well-being company, Limeade.

Physical health problems

Aside from mental health, your employees' physical health is also at risk when there is work overload. Here are some physical effects of employee overload on the body.

Insomnia

When we work long hours due to heavy workloads, our brains struggle to switch from working to resting mode. This makes it hard for us to sleep, especially at night, when our bodies repair themselves. Insomnia caused by employee overload can lead to decreased productivity, which will do more harm than good for your business.

Increased risk of heart disease and complications

Overworked employees suffer continuous stress, and have higher chances of heart attacks than those who are not. Research has shown a direct link between overworking and heart complications. For example, employees working over 55 hours per week are 13% more likely to have a heart attack than those working the standard 35–40 hours. Overtime work of three to four hours each day will put you at a 60% higher rate of chronic heart disease.

Increased risk of Type 2 diabetes

In addition to heart disease, overworked employees have a higher chance of getting Type 2 Diabetes. One study revealed a correlation between employees working 55 or more hours per week and incidence of Type 2 Diabetes. Meanwhile, another study found that sanitary workers in India experienced severe health problems, including diabetes, directly related to their irregular work hours.

What are the consequences of overworking your team?

They say health is wealth, but with employee overload, health is too-often ignored. As employers, you must prioritize your employees' well-being, or your business will experience setbacks. Here are some consequences of overwork within your team.

Low quality work

The stress and exhaustion associated with employee overload can lead to poor work-hour productivity. Overtired, overloaded employees cannot perform to their usual standards. They may cut corners and skip final checks to finish the task as quickly as possible, so that they can move on to the next task in the line. Inevitably, speed takes precedence over quality in this situation, and so an overworked employee will often contribute lower quality or inconsistent outputs.

Frequent workplace conflicts

One of the most visible signs of stress is irritability. If you notice an employee snapping back at their co-workers, or a dramatic decline in camaraderie among the team, work overload could be the cause. These attitude changes cause conflicts between team members, affecting the working environment and your team's overall performance.

High turnover

Employers may not realize this, but overwork is one of the reasons companies have high employee turnover. Overworking your employees contributes to your company's overall work environment. And having a work culture where overloading is the norm means you will lose your good employees faster.

Damaged company reputation

Before potential employees even begin to apply for a position, they will most likely find out about the company. They will research several aspects of your business, including what they can expect in terms of pay, benefits, and workload. Most applicants think twice if they find out the business has a high employee turnover due to overworked employees. This reputation can be damaging for your business in the future: when you are losing employees faster than you are attracting new talents, you will be left short-staffed.

How to tell if your employees are overloaded

Now that you know the effects of overload on your employees' health and its consequences on your team, it's time for you to learn how to spot the signs of employee overload in your team.

Decreased energy

Too much work drains everyone, but still causes a lack of sleep. You may notice a decrease in energy levels, even from employees who are usually full of energy.

Getting easily distracted

Focus is negatively affected by consistent overwork. As energy levels drop and stress rises, you will also notice your employees lose their attention to detail. They get easily distracted and are not focusing on the task at hand.

Frequent absenteeism and tardiness

When employees get burned out from their work, they stop enjoying it. They might come in late or not come in at all. Tardiness and absenteeism can be caused by consistently working late due to the heavy workload, and losing their work-life balance. They can also be symptoms of depression, which may also be related to employee overload.

How to avoid overloading employees

There are many ways to avoid employee overload, so that your team members can get a better work-life balance, and in turn stay focused at work. Here are some ideas:

Try implementing single-tasking

Show that you are considering each person's well-being in designating work assignments. For example, try to implement single-tasking within your team. This way, your employees focus on one task at a time, allowing them to produce higher quality work without feeling overwhelmed by an endless to-do list looming over them.

Set boundaries

Set clear boundaries among your team members, so they know that overworking isn't the norm in your team. For example, tell them to avoid checking their work emails outside work hours to prevent stress. Lead by example: try not to contact your team members on their days off or weekends unless it's an emergency.

Talk about mental health and self-care

Some people can find it difficult to talk about their well-being, or how work is affecting their mental health. But, once again, this is an area where you can really lead by example. Make mental health and self-care an open topic of conversation. This can instill a sense of community and support within the workplace.

Improve resource management

Improve your resource management systems so that employees are not overloaded beyond their capacity. Choose a system that flags up when someone is overbooked, so that you can proactively manage their workload before they feel the negative effects of overload.

Although it may be challenging, capacity planning is much easier to implement with tools like Runn. This platform helps you plan out a project from start to finish, and gives you a bird's eye view of your resources so you can manage resource allocation without overloading your team members. These features allow you to create a staffing plan that promotes a healthy balance between your employees' work assignments and personal lives.

Book a demo with Runn to see how resource management software can help you avoid employee overload and protect your team's productivity.

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