As technology has increased our ability to be productive workers and as economic and global issues have impacted the labor market, it’s become increasingly common for employees to be overworked. Excessive workloads and long hours can wreak havoc on an individual employee, their teams and the organization as a whole. In this post, we’ll share eight solutions to help overworked employees and the challenges they face.
What does it mean for an employee to be overworked?
An employee is overworked if they have more work than they can physically, mentally or emotionally handle. This can vary from employee to employee and from season to season. Many employees may not know that they’re overworked, or they may feel a sense of accomplishment that they’re contributing to the business. They may also enjoy the extra money that can come from working overtime. But working long hours or at a stressful pace can lead to burnout, health problems and negative impacts for other team members and the company.
The impact of overworked employees for businesses
When employees work too much, it can have serious consequences for the business they work for. Individuals who consistently work excessive hours are more likely to develop chronic health conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure and depression. They may experience increased stress levels, fatigue and sleep issues. While your employees’ well-being should be a top concern for your organization, their health issues can impact your business through sick days and absenteeism. Other team members may have to work more to cover their missing coworkers’ already heavy workloads, leading to a snowball effect.
When employees feel overworked, they may also be less productive or produce lower quality work. Studies have shown that prolonged periods of intense work can impair cognitive functioning, which means lower concentration levels, reduced creativity and diminished problem-solving abilities. Employees who are overworked may make more mistakes, have difficulty making decisions and struggle to come up with innovative ideas. This can impact your organization’s bottom line in many ways, especially in terms of revenue generation and customer satisfaction.
Overloading your employees with heavy workloads also has a negative impact on the work environment and work culture. Overworked employees may be irritable or unwilling to contribute, which can have a negative impact on morale. They may also be more likely to quit and look for work elsewhere, leading to higher turnover and lower retention rates. This may give your company a bad reputation among job applicants, which can harm your ability to recruit new employees, too.
Symptoms of overworked employees
By being aware of the signs of overworking, both managers and colleagues can intervene and provide the necessary support. Some signs of overworked employees include:
- Chronic exhaustion
- Increased absenteeism
- Presenteeism (or not taking vacation time or sick time)
- Decreased motivation
- Decline in work quality
- High turnover rates
- High rates of overtime
8 solutions for managers to help overworked employees
Managers play an important role in identifying overwork among their teams. They can also prevent overworking with several tactics. Here are eight solutions for overworked employees that managers can implement:
1. Implement flexible work hours
Implementing flexible work hours can empower your employees to manage their time effectively so they can prioritize and complete work without a rigid schedule. A study by the Harvard Business Review found that employers who offer flexible working arrangements reap the benefits of higher employee job satisfaction and engagement. In fact, 80% of workers have said they would turn down a job that did not offer flexible working arrangements. When employees feel they have control over their time, they are more likely to engage in habits that can help their productivity, such as taking breaks or working when they’re most able to concentrate.
2. Encourage regular breaks
The brain and body both need regular breaks to recuperate and perform at their best. In their book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, Drs. Emily and Amelia Nagoski explain that human beings need to rest 42% of the time. This doesn’t mean everyone needs to be asleep for 10 hours a day – “rest” can include exercising, leisure activities or just taking a break. By encouraging your employees to take a rest from their work during the day, you can help them be more productive and creative.
It’s common for workplaces to enforce two 15-minute breaks plus a lunch break for employees throughout the day. Your company may find more creative ways to encourage breaks, such as by scheduling opening a company break room where employees can enjoy lunch, offering free lunches and snacks or instituting company-wide “quiet hours” across employee calendars. You may also provide physical activities such as yoga in the office, encourage walking meetings or breaks or give your employees access to a meditation app like Calm for employees who are working from home.
3. Set boundaries and stick to them
As remote work has been introduced into the U.S. workplace, some employees have found it difficult to “shut off” at the end of the day. With your work laptop and phone within arm’s reach at any hour, it can be hard to avoid answering one more email or Slack message. Employers can help employees feel less compelled to overwork themselves by setting boundaries on work time and enforcing them. This may mean telling managers they can’t send emails or texts to employees after 5 p.m. or ensuring employees don’t have access to work channels when they’re supposed to be on vacation. Employees can be encouraged to set “out of office” hours on their calendars that will automatically reply to messages and allow them to unplug when they’re off.
4. Promote work-life balance
Organizations need to prioritize the mental and physical health of their employees by fostering an environment that values work-life balance. Employees who have a healthy balance between their personal and professional lives tend to be more engaged and motivated. This culture of balance can start with your company policies, such as encouraging the use of paid time off or vacation time. Company-wide holidays are also a great way to make sure everyone takes time off without feeling as though they’re missing something at work. Management should also recognize and reward employees who demonstrate a healthy work-life balance and avoid overworking.
5. Provide access to help
There are many resources that organizations can provide to their employees to help deal with work stress and help prevent burnout. Many employers provide an employee assistance program (EAP) which may offer counseling services or help with personal health issues. Company-sponsored subscriptions to gyms or wellness apps can also give employees a line to support and healthy habits that can combat burnout.
6. Lead by example
One aspect of creating a positive work environment is ensuring that managers are held to the same standards as employees. Many employees will strive to work as much as their supervisors to avoid being reprimanded or to improve their chances of advancement. Members of leadership should be aware that their work habits will influence the entire work culture, and do their best to model the healthy behaviors they want to see. Make sure managers aren’t working too many hours, messaging employees when they should be resting or avoiding taking their paid time off.
7. Open channels of communication
Overworked employees may feel as if they can’t talk to their managers or leadership without being labeled as a whiner or slacker. It’s important for leadership to be proactive about communicating with employees about their workloads and giving them a space to speak up when they need to. Offer employees regular check-ins and one-on-ones with their managers as well as opportunities to talk to HR or scheduling personnel to make sure that they can take control of their workloads and feel confident in being able to ask for a rest when they need it.
8. Balance workloads by understanding data
While you may be able to spot overworked employees because of increased overtime charges or just seeing their hours add up, having real data into how much your employees work can give you insight in how to prevent overworking them. Employee productivity monitoring tools like ActivTrak can show you when employees are most productive, which employees may be overutilized (or underutilized) and troubling trends like decreased productivity or quality. By understanding who’s currently overworked or at risk, managers can take action to support them before the issue escalates.
Help overworked employees with ActivTrak
Spotting overworked employees is the first step to remedying the problem. Use ActivTrak to analyze and spot trends in workloads so you can better plan employee schedules and workloads. Quickly spot the signs of burnout in employees so you can take steps to stop it. And find ways to support healthy habits in your employees with data on time usage and productivity.
Get a free demo of ActivTrak to see how it can support your organization in helping overworked employees.