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How businesses can avoid employee overload

How businesses can avoid employee overload
(Image credit: Pixabay)

In the last year, business leaders have found themselves facing a never-ending stream of challenges. Survival, continuity and resilience strategies have all dominated the boardroom agenda. At the heart of each of these strategies will have undoubtedly been ensuring that employees are able to continue to do the best work that they can, whilst adapting to a remote environment.

Although remote working isn’t a new concept, since the outbreak of the pandemic, work has infiltrated the home at a never-before-seen scale. While some individuals have embraced the flexibility that comes with this, for many, the line between personal and professional has undoubtedly been blurred. As living rooms have become office spaces, many employees are finding it difficult to switch off and restrict working hours to between 9 and 5.

This can lead to employees taking on more and ultimately becoming overloaded - something which could be detrimental to everyone. Working more than eight hours per day, skipping breaks, and clocking in over weekends and holidays can all impact an employee’s mental health. It can also impact the wider business, with an overworked and stressed workforce leading to drops in productivity and performance levels.

According to the latest research, 44% of UK workers reported an increased workload over the last year, and many have increased their working week by almost 25%. Work-life balance has become increasingly difficult to achieve as the average home worker is logging off at 8pm, taking shorter lunch breaks and working through sickness. With remote work set to continue for some time, and some companies even putting plans in place to make it a permanent part of their future, it’s critical that organizations are setting out detailed support strategies to help staff adjust to this new landscape. The key to this will be promoting the importance of finding a new normal when it comes to work-life balance and encouraging employees to stay healthy.

The dangers of employee overload

Feeling overloaded at work can have a big impact on the health of an individual. Extreme pressure to deliver against unreasonable time frames can lead to both physical and mental health issues. In fact, studies reveal that 55% of UK employees experience anxiety, while almost half (43%) experience loss of sleep, as a result of work-related stress.

But employee overload isn’t just detrimental to the individual. It can quickly become a collective issue too, with burnout having a drastic impact on overall business productivity and finances. In fact, a study conducted last year revealed that poor mental health could cost UK employers up to £45 billion each year.

As overloaded employees experience reduced energy levels, it’s likely that their motivation will also decrease. They will struggle to stay focused on certain tasks and might even experience uncharacteristic changes in their mood. For some businesses, the stress caused by excessive workloads could increase absenteeism, as overworked employees are forced to take sick days. As working from home continues, it has never been more important for businesses to ensure that their employees are keeping balanced work schedules in order to avoid employee overload, ensure efficiency and maintain overall productivity. But, in our ‘always-on’ landscape this has never been more difficult to achieve.

Collaboration and communication are key

Despite employee overload feeling like a difficult challenge to overcome - especially during these unusual times – there are ways to manage the situation and help workers to remain healthy. For example, adopting the right tools - such as collaborative working management platforms – has been proven to have a direct impact on staff satisfaction, performance and productivity.

Collaborative work management platforms are designed to help employees manage work and time spent on work on a daily basis. They help businesses to maintain productivity whilst limiting overtime. These solutions can help to ensure a certain level of transparency throughout an organization, enabling teams to share information and make sure everyone is on the same page regardless of where they are located. This helps individuals to remain accountable for the tasks that they are responsible for and also makes it easier to stick to deadlines.  These technologies can also help to prevent feelings of isolation by connecting teams, allowing them to regularly catch up online and feel a sense of shared accomplishment as projects are marked complete.

However, whilst communication has never been more essential; it’s just as important for people to feel as though they are able to switch off outside of working hours. Overworked employees are not motivated employees. Therefore, businesses need to make sure that technology is empowering their workforce – rather than acting as another distraction or burden, leading to increased stress levels. Technology should encourage flexibility and allow employees to disconnect - not promote a 24/7 workday.

Organizational education and training is also highly recommended so employees know what resources are available to help them maintain a healthy balance, feel encouraged to take breaks, are supported to use their annual leave allowance, and know to power down at the end of the day, just as they would when working from the office. It will be critical for leadership in the organization to not only communicate that message but also to demonstrate this behavior, signaling that it is a cultural norm and encouraged practice.

Maintaining balanced workloads

While there is no way to predict the future, it is safe to say that remote working is here to stay. Organizations must therefore work to protect their employees from the mental and physical challenges caused by unsustainable workloads and ensure that they are well equipped to maintain healthy work schedules.

By leveraging technologies that can facilitate communication and collaboration amongst staff members, regardless of their location, employers can avoid the risks associated with disconnected teams, reduce employee overload and maintain productivity across the business.

  • David McGeough, Director of International Marketing at Wrike.