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6 signs of overworked employees: Prevent burnout


It’s natural to want your employees to be as productive as possible, and every company will have occasional times that are busier than others. But don’t make the common mistake of burning out your top talent. Since the pandemic, there has been a move towards employee mental health and wellbeing. Initiatives have been put in place that focus more on the employee to reduce job stress. 

To avoid employee burnout, you’ll want to balance your high expectations with solid strategies to prevent employees from becoming overwhelmed.

Overworked employees can affect every area of your business. Here’s how:

  • Productivity can plummet when employees aren’t able to get everything done.
  • Quality deteriorates when employees can’t take the time to do their jobs right.
  • Growth stalls when employees can’t break away to take new training or implement a process that could help the business.
  • Customer service may decline when employees are focused only on getting by and can’t concentrate on building and sustaining customer relationships.
  • Reputation suffers when a company is known for running its employees into the ground.
  • Morale takes a nosedive when employees lose passion. They may burn out and/or leave the company.

A survey conducted by Indeed showed 52% of respondents feel burned out, with a majority saying feelings of burn out have worsened post pandemic. It’s important to recognize the signs of burnout and overworked employees early on to prevent burnout and, hopefully, help improve employee engagement.

Pay attention to these six warning signs of overworked employees:

1. Poor work performance

Keep an eye out for employees who are not meeting deadlines, turning in projects late or incomplete, or doing the bare minimum to get by.

 2. Absenteeism

Note when team members are frequently late or missing work.

3. Heightened employee emotions

Have you observed employees having a shorter fuse when stressed; are often distracted, unhappy or disengaged?

4. Poor customer feedback  

Do customers communicate that they’ve noticed a change in service? Have you heard comments such as “Gosh, I try to schedule things with Shannon, but she’s scheduling four months out. She must be very busy.”

5. Working long hours  

Watch for employees putting in time after hours, on weekends and holidays, and not taking vacations.

6. Revealing statements

Beware of comments such as, “I practically live here,” or “I wish I could take a vacation, but I would have to work 40 hours extra just to take one,” or “I can’t remember the last book I read for fun.” Employees may say these things half-jokingly, but they’re really a distress signal.

Getting to the bottom of employee burnout

Employee burnout is the culmination of physical and emotional exhaustion, which can be further impacted by a lack of support and resources.

How do you know if your office suffers from employee burnout?

Employees may do these things:

  • Disengage or withdraw
  • Appear demoralized, worried or stressed
  • Perpetuate a negative workplace culture
  • Take frequent absences
  • Become sick often
  • Leave your company for another opportunity

How can you prevent these types of situations from happening?

Be proactive to prevent overworked employees

The ideal scenario would be to prevent overworking your employees in the first place. While this isn’t always possible, business leaders often know in advance when they may need an employee to work more – for example, when the company lands a new client or an indispensable employee leaves.

Be honest and transparent when it’s necessary for employees to put in extra time, then put together a plan to help them cope. If someone is leaving your organization, maybe you could shuffle the workload around or bring in temporary or part-time help.

Be sure to tell employees step by step what you plan to do to help them until a replacement is hired, and your timeline for making changes.

Set proper expectations

The quickest way to make an employee burned out and unhappy is to hold them to standards that they can’t achieve. Ultimately, happiness and job satisfaction are strongly correlated with productivity. You extract the highest-quality, most consistent work from people who are in a good place in terms of their physical wellbeing and mental health, and who feel that their needs are being met.

Below are tips for ensuring that your expectations are realistic and achievable:

  • Establish key performance indicators (KPIs) for each type of role or each department at your company. These should be:
    • Specific
    • Measurable
    • Tied to business goals and strategy
  • Identify baseline performance and productivity standards.
  • Monitor and measure KPIs continually:
    • If 100% of your staff is able to meet their KPIs, they may not be challenged enough, and your expectations may be too low. Consider increasing KPIs.
    • If fewer than 50% of your people are achieving their KPIs, this could be an indicator that your expectations are unrealistic or there’s another underlying issue.

Re-examine your workplace culture

First examine your work environment and processes to determine if there’s a workplace burnout problem. Have there been any recent changes that could be the culprit? Is your employees’ workspace conducive to getting tasks done? For example, is your office design crushing productivity?

Consider all workplace-related root causes for a dip in productivity, including your own management style.

Then ask your people if something at work or in their personal life is impacting their performance, and plan for how to overcome these issues. You could conduct:

  • One-on-one interviews
  • Small focus groups
  • Larger team meetings

To better incorporate feedback from introverted or less talkative employees, consider a combination of meetings or focus groups with one-on-one interviews. If no other clear issues are uncovered, consider lowering your KPIs. Understand that productivity is dynamic – it will ebb and flow at times.

Provide proper training

You should give your employees everything they need to succeed and meet desired productivity levels, and that includes proper training for their roles.

Know that you can’t out-train a poor work process, though. If your processes are flawed, no amount of training will help. This is why you need to be sure that you’ve established solid, proven processes, procedures and measures – and then train according to those.

Be realistic about what the employee experience will be when someone starts a new role, whether they’re brand-new hires or transfers from another department. You can’t expect that on their first day someone will perform at the same levels as someone who’s been in the same position for five years.

Give people a ramp-up period – commonly 90 to 120 days – for learning and instruction. This allows them to build up confidence and get into a cadence with their new role without experiencing burnout. They also need time to adapt to a new team culture by getting to know the personalities and working styles of their new co-workers.

Use these best practices to avoid overwhelming your employees

Managing the workload of your workforce, and making sure it doesn’t stress out your employees, is an ongoing process. Here are some practices you may want to try:

  • Check in with employees regularly, in one-on-one meetings, to see how they’re doing with their workloads, and to provide help and guidance.
  • Conduct company surveys, exit interviews and even stay interviews to see if your company’s culture normalizes overworking. How do they feel about how much they work? What support do they need?
  • Enable employees to work at home or work flexible hours. Not commuting to the office can make a huge difference when people are feeling overwhelmed.
  • Cut out meetings that are ineffective and without clear goals.
  • Emphasize efficiency as a critical part of your company’s culture, train your staff on what efficiency means in your organization and help them eliminate inefficiencies.
  • Empower your employees to say no — whether it’s to an extra project or a client visit that could be handled just as easily with a phone call.
  • Provide lunch or snacks to employees who work overtime. (For employees entitled to overtime pay, be sure to capture, and pay for, all time worked, including lunches if worked. Follow all Fair Labor Standards Act regulations.)
  • Send out regular salary surveys to see how your organization stacks up. If you’re underpaying your employees, it’s going to lead to burnout faster, and they’re more likely to leave if overworked.
  • Make sure your staff uses their PTO/sick days and takes time off after busy seasons (such as tax season for accounting firms).
  • Encourage work-life balance. Incorporate more flexible scheduling if your business allows for it. You could also give people periodic wellness days – or even a few hours off here and there – so they can recharge or attend to personal matters.
  • Get away from the office periodically to give people a change of scenery and the opportunity to disconnect from office goings-on. For example, take your team out to lunch or have some meetings off-site.

The bottom line is this, with these strategies in hand, you’ll be well-equipped to help your employees manage their workload. As a result, they’ll be happier, healthier contributors to your organization, and you’ll hopefully avoid job burnout.

To learn how a PEO can help your organization build solid strategies to operate more efficiently and help prevent employee burnout, download our free e-book: HR outsourcing: A step-to-step guide to professional employer organizations (PEOs)