Heavy Workload – And What to Do About It

Wondering how to handle the heavy workload of employees effectively, but don't know where to start? We've got some tips for you.
Shannon Toe

Does your team feel stressed? Do they dread each working day? Do the words 'burnout' and 'breaking point' always resonate in your workplace? Then your team or some of your team members may be experiencing excessive workload problems.

Heavy workload has always been linked to a negative impact on employees' mental and physical health. The study by the World Health Organization concluded that working 55 hours per week is killing 398,000 people from stroke and 347,000 from heart disease each year. People who work long hours are at a 35% higher risk of stroke and 17% higher risk of heart disease than those working 35-40 hours per week. The digital service sector employees, especially those coming from design, software, and architecture firms, are often overutilized because of the fast-paced environment they are dealing with on a daily basis. The need to serve to multiple clients at once results in work piles, often with simultaneous deadlines.

Avoiding heavy workloads is one of the primary responsibilities of managers. With the growth of digital businesses and online markets, you need to make sure you are providing the best guide to your team amidst the high demands and work pressure. Ready to effectively manage and bring optimized results at the same time? Read on to find out how!

managing heavy workload

What is a heavy workload?

The concept of a heavy workload is not a new term anymore: it is not only familiar to many employees, but at risk of becoming a norm in almost every organization.

A heavy workload happens when an employee's workload exceeds what should be expected of them, in terms of the amount of hours or intensity of work. Usually, excessive workload results from an employee having to go beyond the routine range or level of duties for their position, and can be a result of different organizational factors like cutting budget costs, unfair treatment at work, lack of role transparency, and lack of support from managers.  

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The signs of a heavy workload

Signs of a heavy workload vary between individuals, but there are some commonalities shared by most people.

Some signs will be more obvious than others and can have an impact on personal and professional life. For example, if you find yourself unable to meet deadlines or complete tasks with the quality you would like, then it may be time to consider if your workload is too much for your current schedule.

Other signs of a heavy workload include:

Sleep behaviors

  • Sleep behaviors may be disturbed, reduced or increased.
  • Individuals may feel tired at work and/or when they are not at work.
  • Sleep is a significant indicator of stress and distress in the individual.

Concentration and memory

  • Difficulty concentrating, or forgetting things. If you find yourself having difficulty focusing on the task at hand and have a hard time remembering what you were just doing, this could be a sign that your brain is overloaded.
  • Cognitive overload. This refers to when too much information is being processed at once, causing stress in the brain and making it difficult to think clearly. It's common with people who work in fields like data analysis or customer service—or anyone who takes on multiple projects at once (like working part-time while going to school).
  • Information overload. It's similar to cognitive overload except that instead of dealing with too many tasks at once, it involves receiving too much information from others in one sitting—for example if someone tells you about an event they went to last night during lunch break today rather than saving it for later so as not to overwhelm yourself with details right after waking up from sleep (which would be another reason why memory loss may occur).

Physical health

There are a number of signs that your work load may be too heavy, but one of the most noticeable ones is how you feel. If you're frequently experiencing fatigue, headaches or back pain as a result of stress and anxiety, it's likely that your workload is more than manageable. Stress-related health problems like these can also lead to an increased risk for heart disease and other serious illnesses.

If your diet has suffered as a result of overwork or stress, this can also contribute to physical health issues. A lack of exercise can exacerbate existing conditions like diabetes or hypertension; moreover, it can put you at risk for obesity which causes many serious diseases including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers.

Appearance

People who are under a lot of stress at work often show physical signs of stress, such as:

  • A change in appearance (e.g., weight gain or loss)
  • Increased sleep problems. If you're suddenly having trouble sleeping, there's a good chance it's not just because the holidays are over and it's winter, but also because you're stressed out about your workload.
  • Changes in appetite (eating more or less). It may be that your boss is piling on extra assignments at the last minute and leaving little time for breaks or lunches — if so, you might find yourself working through lunch every day without even realizing it!

Personal relationships

When you're running from one meeting to the next, and barely have time to eat lunch, it's easy to forget that there are other people in your life. You may be working so hard that you don't have time for family and friends, or for taking care of yourself. You also may forget about your hobbies or interests, as well as socializing with people outside of work.

It's not just about spending time with others; it's also about giving back to your community through volunteering or involvement in local events or organizations. When we care more about work than our communities, something is wrong—and we should ask ourselves why this is happening.

Mental health

If you're feeling overwhelmed by your workload, it's not just because of the amount of work you have on your plate. It could be because you're mentally stressed as well.

Mental health issues can result from a heavy workload: anxiety, depression and mood swings are all common effects of stress. You may even find yourself having trouble sleeping or concentrating on tasks at hand (at least until the end-of-day exhaustion kicks in).

The impact of heavy workload on team members

Why is workload management important? The topic has been a controversy since the 1980's. One of the horror stories that sparked the debate was when a 45-year old Japanese design engineer reportedly died of brain hemorrhage from working 2,600 hours a year. In 2011, a 25-year-old Chinese woman died of acute meningitis after being employed for just 6 months in an auditing firm. Another Japanese worker died in 2017 after logging in 159 hours of overtime in a month for a media company. These are only some of the cases of the toxic job culture "work to death" and its proven negative impact.

The effects of heavy workload do not end with the employees' physical deterioration. Team members are also prone to suffer social and mental collapse as well. Employees who have too much workload suffer from poor work-life balance, higher stress levels, and results to substandard employee performance.

Organizational workload management challenges

These low-quality outputs from the overwhelming workload and longer hours from more tasks are in turn affecting business production, and loss of clients along the way. The American Institute of Stress (AIS) reports workplace stress causes around 1 million workers to miss work daily, with US businesses losing up to $300 billion yearly as a result. Here are a few challenges organizations are facing:

  • Misdirected or lack of workload management skills, where project managers are not trained to face issues that can affect the entire team's performance
  • Too many deadlines caused by poor time management
  • A compounding effect, where one deadline results in the team focusing on that one task, leaving behind all the other tasks. These go on to form tomorrow's heavy workload.

Tips on how to manage heavy workload effectively

COVID 19 impacts high workload as an APA 2021 studies show that a significant number of employees find heavy workload (50%) and long working hours (54%) both key stressors in their places of work. With the pandemic situation adding to the severity of stressed employees, workload management can be a factor to lessen the stress from projects and tasks by handling work effectively. The result? Improved employee performance.

So now that we know the effects of a heavy workload on your staff and business, the next step is to look at how to handle a heavy workload. Runn provides a great tool to help prevent disorganized timetables and messy schedules. It makes managing your team's time a breeze and, as a result, optimizes your organization's capacity.

Here are some of the most effective ways you can approach your workload and deal with too much work before it takes a toll on your team's health:

Keep track of your workload

The best way to keep track of your workload is to track confirmed workload vs capacity. You can use Runn's charts to do so. This feature gives you a bird's eye view of the entire team's present and future workload across your organization's capacity. It lets you analyze and do forecasts by checking busy and lean work weeks, whether there's a bulk of tasks coming your way or not, and enables you to manage and designate tasks more effectively. The capacity and workload chart also allows you to monitor the corresponding cost of the confirmed workload and the maximum capacity entails.

confirmed workload vs capacity

The Capacity & Workload chart gives you visibility over your team's capabilities and upcoming workload.

Implement time blocking

Time blocking may be a productivity technique to improve personal time management, but it could also be one of the strategies to divide workload in a team. By matching appropriate people to projects, you also prevent your team members constantly being pulled in different directions. It also empowers your team with full transparency—they can clearly see their current and their upcoming projects, which can motivate them, increasing their productivity.

With Runn, you can create smaller segments for your team to eliminate heavy workload, and also coordinate people's well-earned holidays and time off. Schedule clashes can put undue stress on employees who are left to pick up the slack, while time blocking lets you see the big picture on all of your team members' availability. An image from Runn:

Stay informed on availability

Speaking of everyone's availability, a routine check-in with your team members is not an option. It's a must. By staying informed on team member's individual availability, you will be able to easily plot time and create schedules to avoid too much workload. It also gives you an overview of what your team's time will look like tomorrow, in the following weeks, and even the following months.

Checking in on your team's individual availability also creates awareness of their current workload. Are your IT specialists working late at the office? Does your marketing manager reply to your emails at 3 am because of the excessive workload? You may need to look into their availability versus their capacity, and you can easily do this with Runn. With the Availability Chart, you can monitor your team members' capacity, so you can reassign overbooked tasks to people with more availability. You can also be your team's role model and learn when to say no if new projects will result in overbooking.

Introduce daily standups

Daily standups give you and your team a quick rundown of plans for the next 24 hours. It helps to surface whose workload is too high, who's working on what, and whether there are any blockers. For remote teams, it could be a cloud-based tool that everyone can easily view and update at any time. Daily standups also keep everyone on the same page and prevent work duplication or work gaps.

Prioritize work

When you go to your desk at the start of the day, you are faced with a to-do list and assignments. By knowing how to approach a list of tasks, you will be able to eliminate workload problems and be more productive with your team's time. Project managers often use the 4Ds of time management to prioritize work: Do, Delegate, Delay, and Drop.

  • Do: these tasks are not time-consuming and can be done in a short amount of time like answering emails or printing reports
  • Delegate: these are tasks that can be passed to team members or other teams which will not affect the quality and time of delivering the output
  • Delay: these tasks that can be postponed to a later time or date like a new product idea or new marketing technique
  • Drop (sometimes referred to as Delete): these are unimportant tasks that can be pulled out from your to-do list and taken out of your schedule, like spam emails or work for a project that's now defunct

Create a to-do list

Not everything can be done by a single person, and not everyone has the ability to take on additional tasks with the same level of efficiency. Creating a list will help in prioritizing important tasks and help you stay focused.

A daily to-do list is a good way to start working out your priorities. You can then increase your list to plan your week, month, and annual business activities. Try to lessen attention on low-priority tasks first and return to them when you have extra time.

Break down heavy workload activities

Working on multiple tasks or projects simultaneously may make you feel like you are handling your tasks effectively, but research shows the opposite is true. Try to avoid multitasking in this way, because it will only result in half-quality output and stressed employees. Instead, manage time-consuming tasks by cutting them into chunks of smaller tasks so team members can focus on one task at a time. Dividing tasks (or "work segmentation") gives more clarity to specific tasks and organizes your to-dos.

Involve your team

According to the American Psychological Association (APA) study for 2021, 48% of employees develop more stress if they are not involved in decisions in the workplace. Learn to get everyone involved and feeling informed by foreseeing, planning ahead, and sitting down regularly with your whole team. Focus on all the tasks that might eat up your time to balance out your schedule and time frame. When people are seen and heard, they feel more empowered and motivated, so they produce higher quality work at a faster rate.

Divide work equally and evenly

Manage a heavy workload by using each team member's strengths and capacity to tailor-fit tasks. Time management is also important to instill in your team, so you can help them developing these skills.

Utilize appropriate technology like Runn: a management software that help you organize, manage workload, and optimize your team. Dividing work equally and evenly is simple when using Runn: it ensures that you maximize overall capacity and monitor progress, so you hit your project goals on time.

Set achievable deadlines

Effective communication between clients and each team member allows you to set transparent goals with realistic deadlines. It helps save time—the most precious non-renewable resource you have as a manager.

Take short breaks

Creative re-routing of stress into other tasks, like inviting your team to a yoga sesh, a walk outside, or a visit to the local coffee shop to give you a quick boost in both confidence and productivity. Regular breaks have been shown to improve productivity and help your team work more effectively.

Feedback on workload management skills

Project self-reflection of the team and individual performances is also essential, particularly after difficult tasks. What were their responsibilities? Were they productive? How could they approach these tasks next time? Support and recognition from their superiors will help them stay motivated and avoid burnout.

Final Thoughts

As team managers, it is essential to deal with workload management. Allowing a heavy workload to take over will have unfortunate consequences on you and the whole team. Important resources can be affected: human resources, time, and business costs.

These tips on how to manage a heavy workload effectively are just some of the suggestions that could work in your organization. It all boils down to you having the bandwidth for setting realistic goals, completing tasks, and prioritizing business deadlines—while achieving a healthy work-life balance.

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