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28.10.2021 Company culture

6 signs of overworking employees (and how you can combat this)

6 signs of overworking employees (and how you can combat this)

Putting in a little overtime happens from time to time. But, it can quickly add up. Employees might feel like overworking is something to be proud of, but it can quickly lead to employee overload and even burnout. Do you know how to recognise the signs of mental exhaustion in your team? 

There are a lot of reasons why employees might be overworking, and you may initially feel like this is a good sign for your business. However, it can cause some serious long-term issues. Below, we outline how to spot overworking in your staff, what it can mean and how to tackle it.

What are the signs of overworking employees?

Prolonged working hours

The most obvious sign of overworked employees is an increase in their working hours. A few late evenings isn’t worrying in itself. But, if a team member is consistently the first one at the office and is staying past their scheduled clock-out time, then there is a clear overworking problem. This could be seen in individual employees or entire teams.

Increased stress or tension in the workplace

One of the main telltale signs of overworking employees is a change in their stress tolerance. Due to their prolonged working hours, a potential knock-on impact on sleep patterns and time for self-care can occur. Due to this, irritability and tension levels are sure to rise. This can show itself in employees lashing out, snapping at colleagues, or being highly self-critical of their own mistakes. 

Tasks taking longer than usual

Another sign of overworked employees is that tasks that they could previously complete quickly and efficiently will begin taking longer. This will happen as stress impacts an individual’s ability to focus and is a huge damper on productivity. 

More mistakes are made

Mistakes are bound to happen here and there, we’re all human, after all! But, if you’re noticing frequent mistakes in an employee’s work, especially if this is a change to their usual quality, this is a sign of employee overload.  An overworked employee will have less time to check over their output and is more likely to rush what they’re working on.

Withdrawing from social activities

If an employee was the life of your Friday beers and stops attending, shuts down lunches or withdraws from social interaction, this is a clear sign. Skipping a few social events to finish off a big task isn’t worrying, but if it becomes frequent and is paired with other signs, then they may be overworking.

Decreased employee retention rate

One of the more extreme signs that employees are being overworked is an increase of employees handing in their notice. If your team doesn’t see an improvement in their work-life balance, then they will likely have no choice but to leave. This is awful for your employer branding, but it will also leave you with too much work and not enough staff, risking overworking the rest of the team. In short, overworking can quickly lead to high employee turnover.

What can cause overworking in employees?

Certain job roles, personality types or workplace patterns can cause employees to fall into overworking habits more easily. This includes:

  • An understaffed team – If your employees pick up work for an understaffed team, then there is a huge chance of overworking. 
  • A lack of prioritisation – A team needs clear prioritisation in their workflow to help avoid huge projects piling up at the same time. If multiple big deadlines are piling up at once, it’s easy for employees to take on too much work.
  • Bad workplace culture – If your workplace culture is demanding and closed off to communication, your team could be afraid to ask for help or show signs of slowing down.
  • Personality types –  While some employees will complain about workload (rightfully!) if it gets too much, some team members may have a personality type that would rather struggle or strive to get it all done. These employees are more likely to become stressed and burned out.
Empty desks in an office meeting room
NeON BRAND, Unsplash

What can you do when employees show signs of being overworked?

If you’ve seen any of these signs of overworking in your workplace, it’s essential that you act quickly. Left unaddressed, overworked employees can soon find themselves burned out. It is also likely that if one staff member is overworked, there are problems in other team areas. 

Conduct an employee wellness review

The first and most effective way to get to the bottom of an overworking problem is to speak to your team.

As most employees would be unlikely to speak up about an overwhelming workload on their own accord, it is up to you to gauge how they’re feeling and coping. An independent or neutral party might best lead this conversation. This could be a HR member or an employed wellness/mindfulness officer. You can use the notes taken in these meetings to form a strategy to help avoid overworking in the future.

Of course, conducting in-depth interviews with each and every member of staff might be something you don’t currently have the time or resources for. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t get your team’s opinions and insights. Here at JOIN we send out regular Lattice pulse surveys featuring questions regarding work-life balance, workload, and other subjects that may help to predict and prevent overworking. These questions are answered via a scale of how much a team member agrees or disagrees with a chosen statement, meaning managers can easily monitor any changes as they occur.

We also ensure that every employee has a one to one with their manager at least every two weeks, which also means any overworking problems are caught early, rather than too late.

Hire a project manager

Bringing a project manager on board can really help with a team that often has multiple deadlines to work towards. When big projects are underway, it can be hard for employees in the thick of it to track their time or prioritise their workflow, quickly leading them to put in extra hours and stress themselves out.

A project manager will help the team prioritise the workflow and keep on top of deadlines. They also streamline communication between stakeholders, making it easier for individuals to focus on the task at hand.

Fill out the team

If your business is quickly growing, you may not realise all the extra work coming in. Expecting a team to manage the same workload as they did before your business expanded can put them at serious risk of burning out. The same can be said if an employee has recently left the business, and the role is still unfilled. 

The best way to support your team in this scenario is to set up and promote your job vacancy to ensure the position gets filled as soon as possible.

This will mean that your team is less at risk of falling into a dangerous ‘understaffed and overworked’ scenario, which can hugely negatively impact your company image.

Plus, with help from our handy job description examples, creating the ads for your new roles doesn’t have to be a huge task.

Expand the team

Post your job to 10+ free job boards with JOIN

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Cut down on any time-draining tasks

If we’re being honest, every team has some tasks that are simply taking up too much time and not providing enough reward to justify it! 

Cutting down on these tasks is a great way to take pressure off of an overworked employee. Start by checking through the team calendar. If any meetings are blocking up huge amounts of time, check whether these meetings are necessary, or whether you can reduce the meeting length to free up some time for your team to focus.

You can also directly engage with your employees and ask if there are any tasks they believe are taking up too much of their time, and find ways to combat this.

Encouraging better company culture

A team who are able to communicate and feel comfortable confiding in each other are less likely to suffer in silence. Along with this, they will feel more motivated to help each other out and ask for help when needed.

This is why building a company culture, and team building are so important in the workplace. Setting aside a small budget and some time for team building activities, lunches, or workshops will go a long way in this area.

Pay extra attention to vulnerable employees

As mentioned before, some team members will be at increased risk of burnout. Whether this is someone whose team is understaffed, who is in a high-pressure role or whose home life has recently changed, it’s a good idea to keep a watchful eye on them.

For example, if you have a team member expecting a child, you need to look into the signs of overworking while pregnant and be sure to track this. If necessary, bringing in a temporary employee to work alongside an individual at risk of overworking could be an option.

Changes won’t happen overnight

When putting these steps into place, it is essential to remember that ending an overworking culture can take a while. This counts regardless of if it’s one affected employee or a whole team. So, check back in with employees and encourage communication within your business to avoid old habits cropping back up.

If you need further guidance on this subject, feel free to check out the rest of our mental health-based workplace guidance.

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