Most managers don’t set out to overwork their employees. By encouraging their top talent to take on more responsibilities, they may believe they’re pushing their team to fulfill their potential.

However, people can reach a tipping point where being pushed no longer furthers their growth but instead holds them back. 

We’re now witnessing an epidemic of overworked employees. Gallup has found that two-thirds of American workers feel burned out regularly in their jobs.

Being overworked affects the whole organization, as well as the employees themselves, in these key ways:

  • Decreasing quality of work.
  • Preventing strategic thinking.
  • Driving top talent away.
  • Creating significant health problems and stress.
  • Hindering employees’ growth by preventing them from actively pursuing new learning opportunities or higher-level projects. 

In most cases, being overworked results from the organizational culture. In other words, it’s not an individual problem—it’s an organizational one.  

Here are a few key signs of overworked employees that every HR manager should watch out for:

  • People routinely work overtime.
  • Employees often seem emotional and on-edge. 
  • The quality of work is decreasing.
  • People are frequently getting sick.
  • Turnover is increasing.

“There is a difference between a marathon and a sprint,” Entrepreneur points out. Occasional weeks with overtime may be necessary, but if working extra hours becomes the norm, that’s a problem.

How can you prevent your employees from becoming overworked? 


1. Negotiate responsibilities. 

First, keep employees apprised of projects in the pipeline so they can consider how they could contribute to them. Second, instead of just assigning new responsibilities to employees, ask if they can handle the additional workload. If the new demands seem too extensive, design strategies for sharing the workload, like dispersing tasks between several people or hiring a contract worker.
Agree on deadlines together, too, rather than simply assigning them. Encourage employees to speak up if they need to renegotiate a deadline.


2. Teach time-management and stress-reduction skills.

 Feeling stressed or managing time poorly decreases productivity substantially. Offer workshops on honing these vital skills, and coach team leaders on how to instill them in their people. For example, at the beginning of meetings, leaders might initiate a quick check-in about employees’ experience with using a new time-management technique.


3. Avoid collaboration overload.

Today’s workplace focuses heavily on collaboration. This can drive results when people genuinely bring complementary skills to a project, but collaboration for collaboration’s sake saps productivity. It can also make a task or project unnecessarily complex, leading to collaboration overload. Encourage people to cut down on needless meetings and to ask themselves if they could work more efficiently as individuals or a team on particular projects.


4. Help people identify their priorities.

Lack of clarity on responsibilities and goals can cause employees to overwork themselves to meet all priorities.

According to the 80/20 rule, people should spend 80% of their time on the 20% of their tasks that hold the greatest importance. Help employees identify their top three priorities so they’ll know what to focus on. This will help prevent employees from becoming overwhelmed, while boosting morale by making goals feel more achievable.


5. Cultivate a culture of care.

Self-care is a key trait of effective employees, but all too often, it goes overlooked. Make self-care a key component of performance assessments to instill a culture of caring for one’s needs.

Encourage employees to occasionally take a day off if they feel mentally exhausted. They might feel that they’re not supposed to take a day off if they’re not physically ill, and reassuring them that it’s okay to do so once in a while can make a big difference. 

By the same token, stop celebrating the tendency to overwork. Rather than celebrating employees for staying late and coming in early, tell them you’re concerned about their work habits and ask how you can help them balance their priorities.


6. Provide special accommodations.

Microsoft knows the importance of offering special conveniences that boost productivity. The organization offers a company-owned bus called the Connector that takes many employees in the Puget Sound area to work. En route, they can use the onboard wi-fi and outlets to work during the commute.

While you may not be able to offer a private bus line to your employees, giving them other
conveniences can help reduce stress and boost efficiency. Cater to your employees’ needs —quite literally—by offering meals when they’re asked to work overtime. Allow them to work from home to complete their responsibilities during a busy week. Consider adding an in-house daycare service if you have many employees with young children.


7. Use goal-tracking tools.

Goal-tracking software helps people to steadily move toward their goals by following a clear timeline. Such programs can help employees develop a time-management plan and focus on their goals in a structured way. Give your team access to such tools to encourage them to stay on track and minimize distractions. As a manager, these tools will also help you keep track of how much responsibility each of your direct reports has taken on, to ensure that your people are not being overworked. When you need to assign a new task, you’ll have solid information about what each employee is currently working on.


These proven strategies for avoiding burnout will help your talented employees maximize their productivity. Your staff will also find more time for developing their potential by taking advantage of learning opportunities, reflecting on their long-range plans, and thinking strategically. As a result, you’ll have a workforce of people who are ready to hit the ground running every day, bringing their best ideas and effort!

Sources:
Entrepreneur, “5 Signs That You’re Overworking Your Employees”https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/304970
Forbes, “Effective Ways Employers Can Prevent Overworking Their Workforce”https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2018/08/09/effective-ways-employers-can-prevent-overworking-their-workforce/#311a5c26300f
Gallup, “Employee Burnout”https://www.gallup.com/workplace/237059/employee-burnout-part-main-causes.aspx
Harvard Business Review, “Employee Burnout Is a Problem with the Company, Not the Employee”https://hbr.org/2017/04/employee-burnout-is-a-problem-with-the-company-not-the-person
Mobility Lab, “Buses Fuel the Core of Microsoft’s Aggressive Employee-Commute Program”https://mobilitylab.org/2017/12/11/buses-fuel-core-microsofts-aggressive-employee-commute-program/
Neil Patel, “How to Prevent Employee Burnout”https://neilpatel.com/blog/prevent-employee-burnout/
The Society for Human Resource Management, “How to Prevent Employee Burnout”https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/0817/pages/how-to-prevent-employee-burnout.aspx
Washington Post, “Working More Than 55 Hours a Week Is Bad for You–in Many Ways”https://www.washingtonpost.com