Work overload is a common problem in many workplaces. It’s not necessarily just about working long hours. Work overload can also mean having too many items in your task list, that you simply never finish.
I’ve worked in roles where I worked very long hours for long periods to finish everything. I’ve also managed teams where there was so much going on that it wasn’t possible to finish it all. In that case, we just had to choose what wasn’t going to be done.
So how do you know whether work overload is a problem for you and your team? If you look for the right signs, it’s usually not hard to tell.
Common Signs of Work Overload
1. People Constantly Miss Deadlines.
If you’re in a situation where deadlines are often missed, you may have a team that is overloaded with work. Usually this indicates that you don’t have the capacity in the team to do the work, so you can’t meet every deadline.
Deadlines can be a key motivator for team members, but the opposite is true too. If you’re not hitting them, they can be extremely demotivating! After a while, your team may develop a sense of helplessness where they feel there is no point in trying, because they feel they will never succeed.
2. A Team Overloaded With Work Will Make Mistakes.
In work overload situations, mistakes are made. People miss things, because they take shortcuts. Nobody is focusing too hard on each task because they are busy worrying about the next one.
After a while, this can have your team more focused on ticking the task off the list, rather than making sure it’s done well.
If you lead a team that constantly makes mistakes, it will eventually make you look bad, too.
3. Team Members Start to Become “Frazzled” or Stop Caring.
Sometimes the most dangerous part of work overload is when people start to become overwhelmed and “frazzled”.
This is usually because there are many competing priorities and people aren’t quite sure what to focus on. It also occurs because people feel upset because they are letting others down.
Team members may also give up and stop caring. They feel like they can’t succeed, so why should they bother even trying?
Take note of people complaining, looking stressed, being frustrated or overwhelmed. These are telltale signs of work overload.
How to Avoid Work Overload In Your Team
The signs are relatively easy to spot. But what can we do about them? It’s easy to do nothing and wait for the weekend, but guess what? It will still be a problem on Monday.
Instead, let’s look at some ways to handle work overload.
1. Avoid Work Overload By Finding the Source of the Problem.
One of the biggest challenges with work overload is that it’s hard to measure.
Just how much work can Brett the maintenance worker handle? It’s hard to tell, because everyone has different limits and capabilities.
Many leaders struggle to call out work overload, because they feel they’ll be criticised for being “soft” or jumping at shadows. That’s why you need to understand the problem properly.
In the areas of most concern, start to map out all the work that people are involved in along with the timelines. You’ll soon see if you have a problem because some people will have many priorities next to their name which are due within a short period of time.
Only once you have understood and articulated the problem properly will you be able to actually help anyone.
2. Start Saying “No”.
One of the critical leadership skills that many people overlook is how to push back and say “No”. The real problem is that many people think that saying “No” isn’t an option. Remember that pushing back is almost always an option, and you should remind your team of this too.
You don’t want to surround yourself with people who always say Yes. They will overpromise and underdeliver, and eventually burn out. You want people who push back when you’re being unreasonable, and you need to do this to your boss too.
I once had a coaching client who was overwhelmed with too much work. I asked him if he had spoken to his manager about his workload. He hadn’t even considered it.
Your manager won’t be able to help you if they don’t know how you’re feeling and coping. It might be time for a conversation about how much work is on your plate.
3. Give Your Team Permission to Stop Doing Things.
When you’re in a work overload situation, you need to protect the wellbeing of the people around you. One way to do this is to give them permission to stop some work if they’re too busy.
This is all about priorities. Remember that if everything is important, then nothing is important!
Identify some of the less important tasks that your team performs. Give your team permission to let them slip or cancel them for a month. This gives your team room to breathe and they won’t feel so bad, because you said it was OK.
4. Create a Culture of Open Communication.
The last way to avoid work overload in your team is to understand what everyone is working on and to keep communication lines open. Make yourself available when people need to talk. Try to give your team every opportunity to raise issues, if they need to.
Be sure to track work using some sort of system, even if it’s just a simple spreadsheet or even a notepad and paper. You need to have visibility of the work, so you can start to see problems before they spiral out of control.
Even when everyone is busy, you need to make time to keep in touch with your team. It may just help you avoid an unfortunate burnout situation. Click the link below to learn how to create open communication in your team.
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Work overload is never fun, and you want to avoid it in your team. Even though it seems like a good idea to push your team hard to get everything done, there are costs to doing so.
There is no point completing amazing amounts of work, if everyone is burnt out and unhappy at the finish line.
How have you handled work overload in your team? Tell me your stories in the comments below!