Most people will tell you they’re overworked. And maybe they are. Or maybe they just think we are. As a business owner, how do you know if your employees are overworked and beyond that, if you’re causing it?
There are plenty of studies that say that most of us are overworked. The Families and Work Institute says that one in three Americans are chronically overworked. We’re working at a faster pace than ever and multi-tasking all day long. What’s more, the lines between work and leisure have been blurred. So even when we’re not physically at work, we’re still texting, calling and emailing. The irony says contributor, author and branding expert Karen Leland, is that the same skills required to survive are also the triggers for that feeling of being overwhelmed by work.
While feeling overworked happens to everyone at times, especially those working in small businesses, when being overworked becomes chronic, that’s when serious problems begin. You may not see it right away, but over time, you’ll begin to see a drop in productivity, increased absenteeism and medical problems, including depression. Having overworked employees can seem like an effective strategy in the short run or for a finite time to get through an exceptionally busy time. But that’s a pretty short-sighted view that will backfire in the long run.
Why all the overwork? Research says there are many different reasons. A few of the main ones include:
- Lack of focus. Too many tasks, too many interruptions.
- Job pressure. Pressure comes from feeling that there’s not enough time to get the job done, along with the feeling that there’s just an impossibly big workload that never lets up.
- Low-value work. Many employees feel they spend a lot of time doing worthless or meaningless tasks.
- 24/7 connectivity, or not being able to unplug outside of work
So if your office moves at breakneck speed and your employees are under unrelenting stress, the worst thing you can do is to ignore signs that problems could be brewing or to dismiss employees as chronically dissatisfied or whiners! Instead, pay attention; it’s for your benefit as much as theirs.
You need to know that everyone reacts to extreme stress a little differently. But when workload becomes burnout, you’ll begin to see different signs, from mood changes to changes in productivity. Employees may exhibit anger, fatigue, calling in sick frequently, restlessness, withdrawal—you get the picture.
But here’s the good news, according to Leland: There are things you can do to mitigate the stress and the unrelenting workloads that are causing it:
- Offer flexible hours and customizable schedules
- Experiment with telecommuting
- Do a workflow audit to see where processes can be improved and excesses eliminated
- Ban texting and emailing during meetings.
- Offer training in time management, planning, etc.
- Encourage refraining from work during off hours
- Take a vacation and encourage others to do the same!