Overworked Employees? Here's How to Turn the Tide

Employees can't be at their best if they're overworked. Learn six prevention strategies to stop overworking employees and balance their workloads.
Nicole Tiefensee

Overworked employees have been popping up like mushrooms after a rain in recent years. No wonder that being "overworked" has become a common lament, especially in the tech industry. But it's also a problem with deep roots and complex solutions.

The thing is, employees can't be at their best if they're overworked. In a recent research, a staffing firm called Accountemps found that 96% of senior managers are convinced that their team members feel some degree of burnout, while in a similar survey, 91% of employees said they feel somewhat burned out. 

That statistic is troubling on a number of levels, from company culture to productivity and employee retention. It's also indicative of an issue that needs to be addressed internally.

If you feel like your employees work overtime or are “somewhat burned out” and are curious how to motivate overworked employees, this guide is going to help.

What does it mean to be 'overworked'? 

“Overworked, as usual. It happens to those who are particularly good at their jobs. She handed Eve a cup of tea in one of the pretty china cups.” — J.D. Robb

Overwork is more than just working more hours than you're paid for. It also means working more hours than you're physically or emotionally capable of.

Generally speaking, being overworked means working long hours and not having enough time to rest and relax. This can include working many hours, working too many extra hours, or just having too much work to do in the time that you have.

An overworked employee often works through lunch breaks, and may have to spend far more than their contracted work hours every day. They may feel pressured to do this, either by their boss or because they are worried about losing their job if they don't do the work. In other cases, employees get so passionate about excelling in their career or proving their worth to the company that they forget about the negative effects of overworking.

People who are overworked often complain of feeling tired all the time, even when they sleep through the night. They also develop other health problems, such as back pain and headaches. 

But this is just a quick rundown of the signs of overworking — let’s take a closer look at them. 

The first warning signs and symptoms of overworked employees 

“Balance is not better time management, but better boundary management. Balance means making choices and enjoying those choices.” — Betsy Jacobson

Overworked employees are always tired and exhausted at work, they just lose the sense of those boundaries everyone needs to have. 

They take longer to complete tasks, keep making mistakes on simple tasks, and have trouble focusing on one task at a time. They seem anxious and irritable all the time, their attendance isn't as good as it used to be, and productivity drops like a rock. Unfortunately, this is also reflecting on the clients.

As a rule, there are many telltale signs and symptoms of overworking that can help you determine whether your employees are going too far.

The first sign of overwork is when employees become less engaged at work. Overworked employees may not lose interest in their jobs entirely, but the quality and quantity of their work will considerably drop along with their performance.

The second sign of overwork is when your employees become more stressed or anxious. You may notice that your employees are getting irritable and/or moody, which would likely cause them to lash out at other members of the team and/or clients.

The third sign of overwork is when your employees become tired, especially during the middle of the day. You may notice that they’re becoming more lethargic and/or unmotivated. You may also notice them becoming more forgetful, which could lead to errors or delays in their assignments.

The difference between overworking and employee burnout 

“Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths.” — Etty Hillesum

The first thing to remember is that there's a very noticeable difference between overworking your employees and employee burnout. Overworking is a short-term problem with a relatively easy solution: communicate with your employees about their workloads and make some operational changes to ensure your team has a healthy work-life balance. Burnout is a long-term problem and usually needs to be addressed on an individual basis.

But the difference doesn’t stop there. Here’s why. 

Overworking occurs when the individual pushes themselves towards an unhealthy level of work performance and then may end up producing lower quality work or higher error rates than usual. This could be due to fatigue, stress, or lack of motivation. Overworking can also cause poor relationships with co-workers or employers. It can lead to health problems, including mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

Employee burnout occurs when the individual has lost their sense of purpose and direction in their job. An employee who feels burned out may feel overworked, unappreciated, or underpaid. Burned out employees may also engage in negative behaviors, including taking long breaks during the day (such as bathroom breaks), spending time on social media rather than doing work-related tasks, or refusing to perform certain tasks because they feel that those tasks don't contribute to their job satisfaction or advancement within the organization.

Be it as it may, overworking, when left unattended, can lead to burnout. And the latter, a recent report from Indeed proves, has been on the rise in recent years, especially with COVID-19 striking its blow — 52% of survey respondents said they feel burned out. 

Overworked employees statistics 

“​​Your energy is currency. Spend it well.” — Adrienne Bosh

Now, you might wonder, how bad is it and how bad can it get? Overworking yourself sounds quite mundane so maybe it isn’t worth the hassle? 

The truth is, the real dangers and effects of overworking tend to get underestimated. And it starts with the scale this problem has gained in the past few years. 

How it’s going

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2016, overworking killed 745 000 people by giving them heart diseases. And compared to 2000, this is a 29% increase in such cases. 

In fact, every year, more people die because of overworking than they do because of malaria. And while vaccination can eradicate malaria — there is no vaccine against work. 

Where it’s going

People working over 54 hours a week risk dying from it. The Harvard Medical School found that overworked salaried employees who spent 55 or more hours a week on work increased their risk of heart stroke by 13%. 

In 2015, the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health conducted a study to investigate the link between overworking and alcohol consumption and found that one of the health effects of overworking is that people are more prone to becoming alcoholics. 

Overworking is also an alarming subject on the opposite side of the world. 

For instance, Japan, despite its impressive work ethic, is also known for karoshi ("death by overwork") and karojisatsu ("overwork suicide"), which have already become an integral part of the local society. 

Contrary to popular belief, employees being overworked is never good for the business — overworking and depression don’t lead to increased productivity or job satisfaction. They lead to business losses, mental health issues, and burnout. In some sense, it is a path of no return, which is why managers need to do anything and everything to prevent their employees from going there. 

Overworked employees — 6 prevention strategies

“If you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit.” — Banksy

Needless to say, the responsibility for not overworking and taking care of oneself is not just something individuals need to think about — you need to talk about it on the corporate level too. 

As a manager, you hold the power to stop your employees from leading a desk life and giving them that work-life balance everyone needs in order to perform well. Luckily, there are lots of solutions for overworked employees.

Here are some of the things you can do to prevent employee burnout and establish a healthy work environment. 

1. Build a culture of self-care

Employees need to be encouraged to take care of themselves, both physically and mentally. 

This can include anything from offering free gym or meditation app memberships or healthy snacks and drinks, to encouraging employees to take their allotted vacation time each year. You also need to discourage employees from working when they are sick — sick leave exists for a reason. Without it, people usually take longer to recover when trying to kill two birds with one stone by working when they need to rest. 

You should also encourage employees to take breaks throughout the day — not just for lunch and coffee — but also for a quick walk, or even just a moment to decompress.

2. Plan capacity

Capacity planning is about making a realistic estimate whether you have enough resources to launch a project without overloading your employees. When you don’t have enough resources, proper capacity management techniques will require you to hire enough people to handle all the work that needs to be done so no one gets overwhelmed.

After all, you don’t want to spread your resources thin and basically push them into that overworking trap. When employees are overworked, they will be unable to deliver the workloads you give them, completely destabilizing and disqualifying your capacity planning efforts. 

3. Manage workloads

Do efficient workload management to ensure that employees' responsibilities don't overlap and that everyone has a clear understanding of who's responsible for what. By gaining this bird’s eye view over your team’s availability and skills you can be sure everyone has just enough workload to do their best and make your projects excel. 

Good project software management like Runn can also let you know in case someone gets overbooked and has too much on their plate. You’ll get real-time insights and updates to always manage heavy workloads effectively

4. Track time

Use a time tracker app or timesheet software (or both) to make sure employees are putting an appropriate amount of time into projects without going overboard (or slacking off). If you have remote workers, these tools are particularly important since you can't physically be with your colleagues and see how they spend their business hours. 

Time tracking is not there to micro manage people but rather to help you make sure everyone works on what truly matters and makes a difference about the business as a whole. It will also help you make better project decisions since you will know the value of each task and the effort it takes to complete it. 

5. Lead by example

 If you want your employees to make their well-being a priority, you need to do the same. This means taking your vacation days, respecting your own boundaries and encouraging others to do the same.

When people see their manager or boss working fewer hours on Fridays and leaving on time, they will feel more comfortable with doing the same thing and taking a break before their bodies force them to do it. Happy and well-rested people mean lower employee turnover rates, don’t forget that.

6. Give perks and benefits

Offering benefits like flexible hours, working from home, and unlimited vacation time helps give employees more control over their workday and makes them feel valued for what they contribute instead of how much time they put in at their desks.

A range of benefits is important for attracting talent in the first place, but it's also a way to show your commitment to employee well-being. It helps you understand how to help overworked employees and build a culture of trust from the get-go.  

There are many tantalizing promises to be had in today's work culture. There are fast-track promotions, higher salaries, and even prizes for the hardworking among us. All of these promises may be tempting, but they can and do come at a price. Overworking employees is not only ineffective in the short run, it can have lasting negative effects on your workforce.

Understanding how to manage your resources and give all of them a positive experience with the company in the long run is the key to building a successful business, a brand with a strong company culture. Talk to Runn today to see how you can do it with the help of technology!

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