Hot topics like The Great Resignation, quiet quitting, and mass layoffs (especially in tech) have made headlines across the world these past few years. With so many professionals disengaging and resigning, it may seem like no one wants to work anymore – but these trends are actually pointing out a much bigger problem in today’s work culture.
So how are employees really doing? Across industries, 2022 ended with a horrifying 60.2% burnout rate – highlighting just how overworked and stressed the current workforce is feeling. And we’re not talking long weeks, or too many meetings kind of tired either: out of these exhausted pros, 5.3% reported 100% burnout to the point they are ready to quit.
The reality is, overworking employees ends up derailing motivation, reducing productivity, and destroying any semblance of a work-life balance. Should we really be surprised to see employees quiet quitting to set boundaries against the hustle-culture pressure, or feeling cornered into stepping down from their jobs altogether?
In a world where chronic exhaustion is the new norm – what steps can leaders take to better support their overworked employees’ health and break this destructive cycle? In this article, we’ll share what exactly causes employee overwhelm, how to spot red flags early, and outline 5 tips to avoid overloading your employees.
When are employees overworked?
An overworked workplace isn’t a new issue, but when exactly does this take place? Overworked employees happen when the team is pushed to do more work than they have the capacity and energy to handle.
A busy week every once in a while isn’t unusual – or even unavoidable. But prolonged overload at work can wear at teams, leading to mental exhaustion, or even job burnout if unchecked. And unfortunately, this problem affects the majority of employees.
More often than not, this pressure comes down on employees from the managers and leaders in the organization. Whether that’s over-assigning additional duties across the team to make up for a lost employee, expecting longer hours or work on days off, or demanding an unrealistic standard of perfection from your team – there are many causes that contribute to overworked employees to be conscious of as a manager.
Top 6 causes of overworked employees
- Unmanageable workloads: Assigning more tasks than employees can handle.
- Unrealistic deadlines: Not giving employees enough time to complete tasks before they’re due.
- Understaffed: Lacking the team needed to accomplish your goals.
- Poor time management: Not effectively aligning your team’s availability with priorities.
- Lack of boundaries at work: Interrupting employees during their personal time, or pressuring work outside of business hours.
- Additional stressors: Dealing with mental health conditions, personal challenges, and attention-deficit disorders on top of a demanding workload.
While the causes of overworking vary across employees, most people are very familiar with the feeling at work. In fact, a staggering 78.7% of professional feel stressed by an unmanageable workload and a lack of time to get everything done. And, overload doesn’t just affect individual employees. Overwhelmed teams affects focus, productivity, and work culture – leaving everyone feeling unmotivated and disconnected, which ultimately is a loss for the company in addition to individual employees.
3 red flags to look for in employees
Have you noticed your team becoming disengaged at work? Or maybe you’ve found yourself starting to tire, battling a never-ending to-do list, and feeling exhausted after work each day.
Overworked employees can lead to burnout – a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Burnout has serious consequences for both the employee and the company, including decreased job satisfaction, increased absenteeism, and turnover.
That’s why it’s important to be proactive (rather than reactive) in addressing red flags you notice in your team, and also in yourself. Getting ahead of overwhelm can help you avoid severe outcomes, and create a healthier work culture that can actually sustain productivity every week. Let’s take a look at the most common warning signs that your team is feeling overworked.
1. Changes in mood or disposition 🚩
Changes in employees’ mood should never be overlooked! You know your team, so when someone is acting out of the ordinary by showing increased signs of stress, anxiety, or conflicts with peers – it’s a good idea to check-in.
When employees are constantly working longer hours, juggling too many responsibilities, or feeling unsupported in their job – they may experience physical and emotional exhaustion. This could be shown through signs of cynicism or a decreased sense of accomplishment. If left unaddressed, your company will likely see decreased morale, a negative work environment, and even higher turnover rates.
2. Decreased quality of work 🚩
Even if someone on the team isn’t showing obvious changes to their stress levels, their overwhelm might start to appear in the quality of their work.
When employees are overworked with too much on their plate, they end up rushing through tasks, increasing mistakes, or overlooking important details they previously wouldn’t have missed. While surface-level issues or errors, missed deadlines, and compromised workflows are a concern on their own to managers – changes to employees' work quality can also signal they’re feeling overwhelmed trying to manage an unrealistic workload.
3. Reduced productivity 🚩
Similarly to monitoring work quality, another warning sign of overworked employees is an overall decrease in productivity.
When employees feel overworked, they may struggle to effectively prioritize tasks, manage their time, or stay focused on their daily work due to mental block. And beyond reduced output, a drop in productivity can reveal an employee is struggling to handle everything on their plate.
Additionally – when employees are on the verge of burnout from being chronically overworked – they might struggle to feel aligned with the company’s mission. This disconnect can lead to low morale, affect individual productivity, collaboration with peers, and ultimately push employees to leave their role. They need to have the time and flexibility to do their work in a way that feels valued. This is where additional support may be needed from managers to get them back on track and performing at their best, in a way that is both sustainable and rewarding.
5 steps to avoid overworking employees
Let’s take a look at 5 ways you can prevent overworking your team to become a stronger, more supportive manager.
1. Set realistic expectations
There’s only so much that can get done in a week! And running your team into the ground trying to always do more is a surefire way to leave everyone feeling overworked.
Setting realistic expectations for all employees establishes clear guidelines, ensures achievable workloads, and helps protect both their productivity and mental well-being. Take time in your one-on-ones and team meetings to communicate goals and get feedback from your team on their capacity. This will keep everyone aligned on direction, deliverables, and timeline – and your employees can better prioritize their work knowing team goals are actually reachable.
2. Effectively prioritize tasks
When employees feel like everything on their list is super important, things can quickly start to feel overwhelming. Without effective project management, employees are going to struggle with context switching and decision paralysis trying to decide what to work on so they can get everything done. Not everything can be important all at once, which is why you need to help your team prioritize their tasks every week. This also means making sure they actually have enough availability in the week for focus time to get it done too.
Try working with your team in determining which tasks are most important, and which can be delayed, delegated, or dropped using methods like the Eisenhower Matrix. This can help employees focus their time and energy on the most critical tasks first, without working themselves into the ground trying to complete everything at once. To free up more time for employees to actually get their work done, review which meetings on your team's calendar could be an email or weekly status report instead – or set up a No-Meeting Day so everyone is guaranteed uninterrupted time for work each week.
3. Hire the team you need
When a company has more work than it can fairly balance across the team, employee overload becomes a ticking time bomb. The average pro is already clocking 45.8 hours a week, 2.6% higher than 44.6 average in November 2021. And when teams are overworked and understaffed, expecting everyone to pull more weight is simply not a sustainable solution.
One of the most effective (albeit obvious) strategies to reduce overworking your team is to hire more employees to distribute the workload. Especially as smaller teams see growth – or your company adapts to the high-turnover rates as 61% of employees are considering resigning in 2023 – bringing on more manpower is a must for ensuring long-term success for your team.
If you cannot afford to hire more people, then you need to take a look at your priorities and focus on the work that can be reasonably accomplished with the team you have. Over-assigning work beyond employees capacity will only set you back.
4. Check in with your team regularly
Unfortunately, overwhelmed employees might not take the initiative to reach out for help if they’re already feeling unsupported and behind in their roles. And psychological doubts like imposter syndrome can make it hard for employees to say ‘no’ to additional work, even when they don’t have the capacity to take it on.
That’s why it’s important as a manager to regularly connect with your direct reports, and ask the right check-in questions to make sure they’re doing well and not overworked. Setting up regular one-on-one meetings (and making sure they’re not frequently canceled – 29.6% are!), will give you the time to sync up, address any blockers, and give employees the resources they need to succeed.
5. Offer tools for better time management
Giving your team the right tools they need to manage their time can empower them to create and stick to a productive weekly work plan. As we all know, time is the most limited and valuable resource we have – and a smart calendar app like Reclaim.ai is a great way to help everyone on the team better align their tasks with the actual availability. With Reclaim, employees are each able to defend an additional 5.7 hours/week for productive task work, and reduce their meeting load by 2.3 unnecessary meetings every week.
The AI behind Reclaim automatically creates you a perfect daily plan by flexibly scheduling your tasks, recurring routines, meetings, and breaks around your existing calendar events. To stay connected every week, you can set up Smart 1:1 Meetings that automatically schedule one-on-one meetings across your team at the best time for both employees. Plus, teams can integrate their project management apps (including Asana, ClickUp, Jira, Todoist, Linear, even Google Tasks) to block time for deep work tasks on the calendar, and allow you to assign work to their schedules to estimate and plan around their availability.
Teams who align their work with the availability can better plan for capacity and actually have time defended to get their important work done so they’re not overwhelmed.
Turn your overworked team into happy & healthy employees 🙌
Overworking employees is a serious issue that can negatively impact both your employees and your company. By understanding what causes employee overload and knowing which red flags to look for – you can help keep your employees happy, motivated, and productive.
Promoting a healthy and empowering work culture is what fuels performance in the long run! By setting achievable goals, prioritizing the work, and leveraging time planning apps, you can prevent your employees from becoming overworked and ensure they can show up as their best every week.
Get your time back.
Automatically find the best time for your tasks, routines, breaks, & 1:1 meetings with Reclaim.ai.Connect Google Calendar — it's free
No credit card required. Try our free forever plan.