As a business owner or manager, you may have experienced the frustration of an employee who wasn’t pulling their own weight. On the flip side, maybe you’ve had employees with the “hustle and grind” mentality — those who consistently come in early, stay late, and cheerily volunteer to take on more than their fair share of work. While you no doubt appreciated their attitude and effort, the truth is that employee overload is a very real thing. Left unchecked, overworked employees can find themselves completely burned out or, even worse, experiencing negative consequences to their physical and mental health. 

In this article, we’re examining employee overload including the signs of overworking, how to prevent ending up with overworked employees, and what to do when you are overworking yourself. 

What is employee overload?

Employee overload occurs when workers simply have too much on their proverbial plates. If your staff or team members have more work to do than they can comfortably complete during normal business hours, it’s safe to say they’re overloaded. 

Employee overload can be especially tricky to manage in our modern-day work culture. On one side, managers are continually being asked to do more with less, which equates to heavier workloads for themselves and their employees. On the other hand, workers are often hesitant to speak up about overload for a couple of reasons:

  1. They don’t want to be seen as lazy or pegged as the “weak link” who’s not pulling their weight.
  2. The pervasive “24/7 hustle” mentality has convinced them that if they’re not working or accessible to management during evenings, weekends, and holidays, then they’re simply not working hard enough.

Despite our collective fixation on always being in work mode, there are very real dangers of overworking that managers and employees need to be aware of. 

The Dangers of Overworking How To Avoid Employee Overload 2

What are the dangers of overworking?

The most immediate consequence of overworking is a spike in stress levels, which in turn can put overworked employees at a heightened risk of a number of negative physical and mental health issues. These include: 

  • Insomnia
    It seems counterintuitive that overworked employees would have trouble getting to sleep. After all, the longer you work, the more tired you should be, right? While that’s logically sound, the truth is that chronic overworkers often struggle to get to sleep even when they are exhausted. This is because they can’t mentally shut off work and will continue to think about everything they did — and everything they didn’t get to — during the work day. 

    This can quickly lead to a vicious cycle of sleep deprivation that results in decreased concentration, increased oversights, and delayed reaction times. 
  • Heart disease
    Research has shown a direct link between overworking and coronary health problems. In fact, a study published in the European Heart Journal found that employees who worked three to four extra hours per day were at a 60% higher risk of heart problems compared to their peers who did not work overtime.
  • Type 2 diabetes
    Another study looked at the connection between chronic overworking and type 2 diabetes. The research did show correlation between working 55 or more hours per week and incidents of type 2 diabetes, although only in workers from low socioeconomic status groups. 

How to tell if your employees are overloaded

While some employees will be able to manage a bigger workload more easily than others, there will come a point when the signs of overworking will start to manifest. Here are some of the most prevalent symptoms of employee overload to watch out for:

  • Decreased energy
    The longer employees try to maintain an imbalanced work schedule, the more tired they are going to become. Eventually, the constant stress and lack of sleep will lead to a decrease in energy that will be very noticeable in workers who are typically high-energy. 
  • More easily distracted
    As energy levels plummet and sleep deprivation increases, it becomes much harder for workers to stay focused on the task at hand. 
  • Uncharacteristic changes in mood
    There’s no question that chronic stress and insomnia can cause even the most polite, pleasant people to turn sour. Watch for uncharacteristic bad moods in your team members — it’s a classic sign of overworking. You can track mood changes with your employees' help with a Niko-Niko calendar online — a mood tracker to help you spot where interventions are needed.

What to do when you are overworked

When the rank and file of an organization are chronically overworked, it may be indicative of a culture of overload. Remember that it’s just as important for you as a manager or owner to maintain a balanced schedule as it is for your employees. Here’s what to do when you are overworking yourself:

  • Avoid multitasking
    Studies have shown the detrimental effects that multitasking has on productivity, creativity, and stress levels. The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that focusing exclusively on one task for a set period of time can boost results and help overworked individuals get more done.
  • Set boundaries
    At the end of the day, the line between your work life and your personal life will continue to be blurry until you decide to set hard boundaries and stick to them. Tell yourself, “Today I will ‘clock out’ at 5 p.m., and I will not look at or think about work until 9 a.m. tomorrow morning.” Also consider your organization's working at home policy, and investigate whether it would be a good option to utilize for self-care.
  • Have self-compassion
    Finally, you need to have some self-compassion and realize that work will be there waiting for you tomorrow. Plus, over the long-term, you will actually perform better when your work and personal lives are properly balanced

How to manage employee workloads with Wrike

If you’re seeing signs of overworking, either in your team members or yourself (or both), Wrike's resource planning tools can help you better manage those workloads and avoid the detrimental impacts of employee overload. With Workload charts, you can easily manage your employees’ capacities, prioritize tasks, and plan work allocation based on availability. Plus, with Wrike Resource, you can more effectively manage schedules and reassign tasks when conflicts arise or work imbalances occur. 

Ready to see all the ways in which Wrike can help you manage workloads and avoid employee overload? Sign up for a free trial and get started today.