Learn to see the signs of work overload and how to combat it before it kills your productivity. What to do when an employee isn’t performing like he used to?
All sorts of causes can be the ones to blame: Distractions in an employee’s personal life, fatigue due to taking on additional employment, having a baby or even broader and more delicate mental or physical health issues could play a role.
But so the workload you’ve assigned for yourself.
Work overload is a common issue in countless workplaces. It’s not necessarily just about working long hours. Work overload can also mean having too many items in your task list, that you simply never finish.
Let me dive you into this picture… It’s Thursday night and everyone has called it a day and the office is empty, with no one around to be seen but you. You’re exhausted because you arrived at 8 am, but you keep telling yourself “30 minutes more”. Next thing you know, it’s been two hours since you said that and you’ve put in more than 9 hours of work. Ringing any bell?
If this sounds familiar to you, then chances are that you’ve experienced work overload; And, chances are you still experiencing it today. Even if you haven’t experienced it yet there is a high probability you will. So, let’s learn how to avoid it so that it doesn’t kill your productivity and cause you burnout.
What is Work Overload?
Employee overload is when employees at an organization have more work assigned than can be accomplished during their workday. It can happen to isolated individuals, specific teams or departments, or entire organizations, and it can be fleeting, temporary, or endemic at any of those levels.
When employers overload full-time or even part-time workers, businesses tend to suffer in the long run. An early burst in productivity soon gives a way to stress, declining performance, burnout, and even physical and mental health concerns. Before long, staffing and retention can begin to suffer.
What are the symptoms of work Overload?
Work overload can cause employees to resent their workplace. Rather than going to work and enjoying their day, they are going to work stressed and stay long hours to complete their work. This unhealthy lifestyle can cause burn-out and negatively affect their well-being and quality of work.
Here are some of the common symptoms of work overload:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Easily agitated
- Bringing work home
- First one in the office, last one out
- Poor quality of work
How to handle Work overload
There are a few things you can do to handle work overload:
- Communicate to your manager/co-workers that you are struggling
- Take time off to work on your mental health
- Practice time management and prioritization
- Don’t work overtime or bring your work home ( what doesn’t get done, doesn’t get done.)
- Don’t check your emails/messages after hours
- Meditate to limit your stress.
Red Flags of Work Overload
- People Missing their Deadlines
If you’re in a situation where deadlines are often missed, you may have a team that is overloaded with work. Usually, this indicates that you don’t have the capacity in the team to do the work, so you can’t meet every deadline.
Deadlines can be the key motivator for team members, but the opposite is true too. If you’re not hitting them, they can be extremely demotivated. After a while, your team may develop a sense of helplessness where they feel there is no point in trying because they feel they will never succeed.
Consider talking to your manager about moving deadlines to compensate for your work overload or reaching out to a co-worker for help. Remember, communication is key.
- A Team Overloaded with Work Will Make Mistakes
In work Overload situations, mistakes are often made. People miss things because they tend to take shortcuts, which is the common response when juggling different things. Nobody is focusing too hard on each task because they are busy worrying about the next one.
After a while, This can have your team more focused on ticking the task off the list, rather than making sure it’s done well. If you lead a team that constantly makes mistakes, it will eventually make you look bad, too.
- Team Members tend to become “frazzled” or stop caring
Sometimes the most dangerous part of work overload is when people start to become overwhelmed and “frazzled”. This is usually because there are many competing priorities and people aren´t quite sure what to focus on. It also occurs when people feel upset because they feel they are letting others down.
Team members may also give up and stop caring. They feel like they can´t succeed, so why should they even bother trying? Take note of people complaining, looking stressed, frustrated, or overwhelmed. These are all telltale signs of work overload.
- Decreased levels in productivity and task completion
Overloaded employees will quickly become overwhelmed juggling too many tasks, diminishing productivity and task completion. Productivity drops because of the time lost switching between tasks or constantly checking what’s the most actively on fire at the moment.
Task completion also suffers: employees switch to the on-fire task before finishing their current one, and who knows when ( or if) they’ll find time ( or remember ) to switch back to the unfinished task.
If an employee who previously turned in good work on time gradually starts slowing down and failing to complete tasks, overload can be the culprit.
- Decreased Work Quality
With a growing backlog of tasks to complete, an overloaded employee may feel significant time pressure. When people constantly feel under the gun, they tend to cut corners, skip final checks, and move just a little faster than they should.
The result is a lower quality of work, which can also be a red flag of work overload.
- Increased Tardiness
One less obvious red flag that a team member is overloaded or in the early stages of burnout is showing up late. Spending day after day feeling overwhelmed doesn’t do anyone´s mental health any favors, and tardiness and inability to focus are classic symptoms of depression, a disability that affects countless people all around the globe.
Also, when your people are consistently working late ( or coming back to their computers in the evening ), they’re physically more tired the next day. Compound this over weeks or months, and it’s easy to see how late arrivals can connect to overload.
And what about employees who just don´t show up at all? Especially given the incredibly tight labor market, it’s easier than ever for creative professionals to move on. Load your people up too heavily, and they might ditch you for greener pastures.
- Decreased energy and motivation toward work
If you notice once happy and motivated employees starting to look lethargic and disengaged, you’ll certainly want to investigate. Numerous causes could contribute, including workplace culture, mental health, and overload or overwork.
- Increased distractedness
The more overworked an employee feels the worse things get in terms of energy levels. Before long, focusing on anything becomes difficult, which can manifest as a constant stream of distractions, inattention during meetings, and so on.
- A decline in physical and/or mental health
Nearly everything described could be a symptom of a mental health issue, there are no coincidences. CAMH, a global leader in mental health research, makes the connection between overwhelming and prolonged elevated stress levels and increased risk of mental health and medical problems.
To put it bluntly, overwork and overload can make your employers sick and less mentally fit.
How to Avoid Work Overload in your Team
The signs as stated before, are easy to spot. But what can we do about them? It’s easy to do nothing and wait for the weekend, but guess what? It will still be a problem on Monday.
Instead, let’s look at some ways to handle work overload.
- Find the source of the problem
One of the biggest challenges of work overload is that it’s hard to measure.
Just how much work can your employee handle? It’s hard to tell because everyone has different limits and capabilities.
Many leaders struggle to call out work overload because they feel they’ll be criticized for being “soft” or jumping shadows. That’s why you need to understand the problem properly.
In the areas of most concern, start to map out all the work that people are involved in along with the timelines. You’ll soon see if you have a problem because some people will have many priorities next to their name which is due within a short period.
Only once you have understood and articulated the problem properly will you be able to help anyone.
- Start Saying NO
One of the critical leadership skills that many people overlook is how to push back and say “No”. The real problem is that many people think that saying “No” isn’t an option. Remember that pushing back is almost always an option, and you should remind your team of this too.
You don’t want to surround yourself with people who always say yes. They will overpromise and underdeliver, and eventually, they’ll burn out. You want people who push back when you’re being unreasonable, and you need to do this with your boss.
Your manager won’t be able to help you if they don’t know how you’re feeling and coping. It might be time for a conversation about how much work is on the plate.
Being assertive is one of the most important communication skills in the workplace. It means finding the right balance between passivity and aggression. It means having a strong sense of yourself and your value, and acknowledging that you deserve to get what you want.
There’s nothing wrong with saying “no” when new tasks pile up on your to-do list. You only have to communicate with empathy and patience.
- Give your team permission to stop doing things
When you’re in a work overload situation, you need to protect the well-being of the people around you. One way to do this is to permit them to stop some work if they’re too busy.
This is all about setting priorities. Remember that if everything is important, then nothing is important!
Identify some of the less important tasks that your team performs. Give your team permission to let them slip or cancel them for a month. That gives your team room to breathe and they won’t feel so bad, because you said it was OK.
- Create a Culture of Open Communication
The last way to avoid work overload in your team is to understand what everyone is working on to keep communication lines open. Make yourself available when people need to talk. Try to give your team every opportunity to raise issues, if needed.
Be sure to track work using some sort of system, even if it’s just a simple spreadsheet or even a notepad and paper. You need to have visibility of the work, so you can start to see the problems before they spiral out of control.
Even when is busy, you need to take time to keep in touch with your team. It may just help you to avoid an unfortunate burnout situation.
- Get rid of unnecessary meetings
Despite what most people believe, you don’t need a meeting for everything. If there’s no meeting agenda, the meeting is bound to be long, off-topic, and inefficient. Thus, when there is no meeting agenda, there is no need for a meeting.
Also, what happened to emails and phone calls? In this new remote world, it’s an almost unwritten rule to use Zoom or Google Sheets each time you communicate with somebody. But this should not be the case because the overuse of video conferencing applications can waste time and cause Zoom fatigue. Therefore, when applicable, consider shooting your co-worker an email or giving them a phone call rather than resorting to Zoom.
- Perform a Time Edit
Performing a time audit will show you where most of your time is going. This is useful because it will help you delegate your time and prioritize more important things to ensure that all your work is completed.
Furthermore, time blocking is a method that allows you to focus all of your allotted time on one specific task; for example, delegating X amount of hours to your top priority. This helps you stay organized and on top of your tasks rather than an open-ended to-do list where people are often left wondering which task to start on
- Ask for Help
Some people fear asking for help because it makes them vulnerable. Or, some others feel that asking for help makes them feel clueless. But there is no shame in asking for help, rather it is something to admire.
If you have too much work on your plate, one of the best things to do is ask for help. Ask your co-worker if they have extra time to take on a few of your tasks. If they are too busy too, suggest working together to combat both of your tasks – this way, you are both benefiting!
Asking your manager for help is also a great way to avoid work overload. If you feel like your manager has assigned you too much work and deadlines just don’t look reasonable, politely explain to them that you’re feeling overwhelmed. You can also ask them if they could assign some tasks to another colleague, help you with your tasks, or change some deadlines to give you some breathing room.
- Pick your objectives ruthlessly
Ruthless prioritization is the elimination of what doesn’t drive you towards your objectives. There is always too much to do, not enough time & time cannot be created. So, your limited time must be intentionally invested. Being clear on your goals clarifies where to invest time.
- Delegate when needed
Sometimes it can feel like you are responsible for everything, especially when you are a manager. So, it’s important to remember to delegate tasks to team members to ensure that you aren’t the only one talking about the responsibilities. This can be done by assigning action items for team members to carry out and communicating when help is needed.
Helpful steps to take when feeling overloaded
So far, we’ve been talking mostly to managers and leaders about how to help their people. But what if you are feeling overloaded? Don’t wait for your manager to take action – try taking these steps to address what you can do for yourself.
- Set boundaries to prioritize work-life balance
Every job is different, but nearly every job can and should have boundaries. If email is following you home or creeping into the personal lives of you and your coworkers, ask yourself why. What would be the consequences of waiting until morning to respond? Do you need your work email on your phone?
Remember, you signed up for a full-time position, not a prison sentence. Work-life balance is important for your mental health and relationships, but sometimes protecting that balance takes work.
Once you establish these boundaries, stick to them and find a way to tactfully inform your manager, if necessary.
- Avoid distractions and multitasking
It’s counterintuitive, but multitasking doesn’t work, period, full stop. So if you’re tempted to switch from task to task, resist that temptation.
Whatever you can to stay focused is one thing at a time that will help you reduce the panic and anxiety sides of overload. Set blocks of time to work on tasks, and minimize distractions during the time.
At the time of organizing the tasks to be executed by the team, the visualization of the workload becomes difficult, and more pending tasks have to be assigned. People tend to improve their productivity when their tasks are organized in such a way that they do not feel the pressure of having a large to-do list, but rather identify and focus on their work on the tasks to be solved with the highest priority, next due date. To visualize and allow better management of the workload over time, the Gantt chart displays the entire workload over time, allowing you to quickly understand how long each task will take, who will be executing it, and how many pending tasks that person will be executing. This graph provides a more general view of the project and therefore provides predictability to the work of the entire team.
How does it work on COR?
In COR you can find two types of Gantt, one for the project and another one for the entire team. The latter has the possibility of granting a complete view of all the work carried out in the company. This Gantt is accessed through the left menu of the platform. By default, you will be able to see the users you have access to and their assigned tasks. each colored line represents a task and its length is determined by its start and end date. Each column represents a particular day and the view can be extended to weekly fortnightly or monthly.
In addition, you can get a particular view of a group of users’ tasks according to their status, their delivery date, and so on. But these are not the most important functionalities of the team Gantt, but rather its possibility of interaction through these tools:
- Interactive tasks
Each task can be moved to be rearranged on a more convenient date for its execution. Moreover, by positioning the course at the beginning or end of it, you can modify its duration in days, changing the start and the delivery date. As an additional resource, COR allows you to transfer a task from one user to another facilitating the reassignment of pending tasks.
- User Capacity
Each user reflects in his profile image the work capacity for the next 15 days. To add things up, by clicking on each user, the Gantt view will change to display the person’s daily capacity, thus allowing us to understand how much of their work time is assigned tasks and if it is necessary to remove work or if they have time available to collaborate with another teammate or take another task.
Best Possible ways to use it
It is highly suggested to use the filter “View fortnightly” to have predictability about the work to be done in the following 15 days. It is also recommended to practice and hold meetings with the team on…let’s say Mondays, where tasks will be distributed and assigned, being that a perfect opportunity to estimate times.
Use the team filter to optimize the Gantt and distribute tasks to specific areas. Clicking on the user, the daily graph will be displayed, being able to notice in advance if this person is available or not, and more importantly if there are any resources available to carry out that task.
See the tasks assigned and their current status makes it easy to track and supervise the teamwork and how the resources are being managed which makes the Gantt module a helpful tool to analyze the progress of the pending tasks
Work overload can happen even to the best of us. Oftentimes, your manager doesn’t realize they have assigned you too much work, so the best thing to do is communicate how are you feeling. If they are a good manager and foster a psychologically safe environment, they will prioritize your well-being above everything else, over your work and they would want you to speak up your voice if you are struggling. At the end of the day, work overload can cause serious repercussions so following the above to limit or avoid it, is crucial.
To carry this out in a healthy way, the Gantt Module is the way to go. It’s a great tool to organize your workload and your workflows, optimize teamwork and see how resources are being used to carry out tasks. Don’t miss it, you’ll realize you’ve become more efficient in no time.