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By: Kim Moshlak on January 25th, 2024

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Employees Overwhelmed? How to Fight Stress and Balance Workloads

Employee Relations

In an ideal world, every employee would have a perfectly balanced workload. Everyone would spend their days being productive and busy—but not too busy.

However, finding that balance remains a challenge. A recent Pew Research study found that half of U.S. workers find their jobs overwhelming some of the time—while a further 19% all overwhelmed all or most of the time, which leads to higher rates of stress.

Work-related stress can backfire on employers, leading to poor employee experience and higher rates of absenteeism, while also creating serious health issues for your team. That’s why it’s so important to get proactive about workload management and help employees avoid overloading.

Signs that your team is overloaded

Individuals might feel overwhelmed at certain times, such as when their team is going through a busy spell or when they’re dealing with personal issues. But how do you know if overload is becoming an organizational issue?

Some signs to watch for include:

  • Negative feedback in employee pulse surveys
  • Employees reporting stress during manager one-to-ones
  • Increased weekly working hours
  • Employees regularly responding to emails and IMs from home
  • Drop in work quality or increase in employee errors
  • Higher absenteeism rates
  • Increased staff turnover

Any or all of these issues might indicate that employees are struggling to cope with their current workloads.

As well as the negative effects on individuals, this can have serious organizational consequences. An overwhelmed team doesn't have any excess capacity, which means that won't be able to cope with a surge in demand. That's why it's so important to watch for imbalanced workloads and take swift action. 

How to help an overwhelmed team

To help your team, you'll need to understand the root causes of their problems and take actions. Some steps we recommend include: 

  1. Talk to your team: Use regular check-ins and pulse surveys to assess their current stress levels. It’s also helpful to speak with managers and see if their teams are managing their current workloads.
  2. Maintain optimum staffing levels: If you’re short-handed, the rest of the team will need to pick up the slack. Try to fill vacancies as soon as possible, or look at bringing in short-term help to provide temporary cover.
  3. Evaluate processes: Your team is working hard, but are they working smart? It can help to conduct a high-level business process review and look for ways to save time and reduce workloads.
  4. Evaluate workplaces: The work environment itself could be a source of stress. Take a look at the office and look for potential distractions that might impact employees’ ability to focus. For remote employees, help them optimize their work-from-home space to create a distraction-free environment.
  5. Offer honest feedback and support: Feeling overwhelmed can sometimes come from the individual employee’s approach to work. Give people honest feedback about behaviors that might impact on their productivity, such as lack of execution, failure to follow deadlines, or need for additional training.

Communication is also essential. Let the team know that you're working on alleviating their workloads and keep them updated on your progress. 

Building a culture that doesn’t cause overwhelm

Organizational culture can play a huge part in employee stress. So how do you create a healthier working environment? Here are a few steps to consider: 

1. Foster an atmosphere of trust and respect

Employees can sometimes feel under pressure to get everything done, no matter what. It's important that everyone feels comfortable speaking to their leaders about stress and overwork. Leaders should also set clear, reasonable expectations for every team member. 

2. Offer time-management coaching

Employees can sometimes create their own workload issues. This can be a training issue, which requires HR to help the employee develop their skills. It can also be a general time management problem. Coaching can help people get better at prioritizing, delegating, and breaking large tasks into more manageable chunks. 

3. Discourage self-imposed overloads

Individuals can also sometimes put themselves under too much pressure. This might be because they're chasing an incentive, such as a bonus, or because they feel they need to impress their leader.  Make sure that everyone knows that overwork isn't the norm, and that people should try to stick to a sustainable, manageable workload. 

4. Encourage offline time

Mobile technology and remote working have had a negative effect on the work-life balance. Employees often check their phones or laptops at home, and some of them may respond to business requests even during their downtime. Educate people about the dangers of stress and encourage them to log out when they're off duty. 

5. Lead by example

Culture is shaped by the leadership. If leaders are constantly overworked, then employees will feel pressured to match that effort. That's why it's important for leaders to take time off, manage their work-life balance, and get involved in wellness initiatives.

Need help with your employee experience?

Balancing workloads is as tricky as walking a tightrope. You want to see maximum productivity from your team members, but you don't want to push them into stress and burnout. A positive employee experience requires a sustainable workload—busy, but not too busy

A great HR team can help you strike that balance. If you'd like to talk to the experts about how to create a winning employee experience, book a call with a Helios HR consultant today. 

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