Six Signs Your Team Is Overworked and Seven Ways to Help Them

This article will give you an overview of the symptoms of burnout to look out for amongst your team, as well as a few strategies to help your employees avoid it.

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One of the most common mistakes organisational leaders make is thinking that more work equals better results. And, sure, in an ideal world, this could be correct. However, the law of diminishing returns shows that, in reality, more input does not necessarily equate to higher returns. This is especially true when it comes to team performance.

Numerous studies have shown that a heavy workload does not result in high productivity. In fact, the secret to impressive productivity levels could just be to do less.

In 2023, we finally have the required data to understand the balance between productivity and burnout. For example, Gallup discovered that, in 2023, employee disengagement rates are at their highest in 10 years at 18%. Moreover, a recent survey by Slack found that burnout is on the rise globally, with 42% of the workforce reporting it.

So, why does this data matter? Well, as a leader, your job involves helping employees tackle challenges with the highest possible efficiency. And to do so, you need to learn how to recognise the signs that your team is overworked and have the required knowledge to help them through these difficult times.

This article will give you an overview of the symptoms of burnout to look out for amongst your team, as well as a few strategies to help your employees avoid it.

Why Employee Satisfaction Is Good for Business

Disengaged employees may be getting some work done. However, the State of the Global Workplace: 2023 Report shows that workers who aren't invested in and happy at their jobs cost the global economy around $8.8 trillion yearly.

In other words, investing in employee engagement, satisfaction, and well-being is one of the best ways to encourage business success. Moreover, happy employees are present employees. Research shows a direct positive link between job satisfaction, work-life balance, and work performance, underlining how beneficial employee overwork and burnout prevention can be.

Finally, it's also worth noting that end consumers appreciate interacting with happy employees. According to Forbes, employee satisfaction breeds customer satisfaction, a hypothesis supported by the fact that 47% of consumers report they trust brands that take good care of their employees.

Signs That Your Team Is Overworked

All things considered, it's evident that having an exhausted and dissatisfied workforce is bad for business. But how do you recognise that your team is overworked?

The following are the six signs you should look out for if you want to gauge whether your employees are dealing with more than they can handle.

1. Drops in productivity and performance

Productivity and performance quality decreases are some of the first signs of an overwhelmed employee. Of course, not every instance of lessened productiveness is a warning sign. After all, it's perfectly natural for people's focus and output to ebb and flow depending on a variety of external and internal factors.

However, if you notice that there's something off — like one of your star employees suddenly struggling to complete their tasks or doing the bare minimum — try having an open and honest conversation with them. Evaluate their workload and explore ways to support them through the challenges they're facing.

2. Lack of engagement

Disengagement is similar to poor work performance, with the one key difference being that it also includes a lack of interest in work. Perhaps your team members aren't showing initiative. Or, they may be displaying a negative attitude towards work. Perhaps they aren't double-checking their work. And in extreme cases, they might even refuse to participate. If any of these are true, you're likely dealing with employee disengagement.

3. Absenteeism

Overworked team members tend to be mentally exhausted. And from a health perspective, prolonged exhaustion almost always results in physical illness.

If you notice that employee absenteeism is on the rise, with people calling in sick or taking time off for mental health reasons, it might not be a bad idea to check whether they're being asked to put in more work than they can (objectively) handle.

4. Poor team collaboration

One of the biggest challenges of leadership is creating and nurturing a team dynamic where people feel comfortable, appreciated, and have a solid rapport that results in an enjoyable collaboration and good results.

However, maintaining positive relationships is extremely difficult when people are stressed or exhausted. So, if you've noticed that your employees have been having disputes or haven't been working as a team lately (where everyone feels seen, supported, and valued), it might be time to reevaluate the workload.

5. Dissatisfied customers

Customer satisfaction can't be exclusively achieved via investing in employee well-being. After all, you also need to create exceptional customer experiences. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that unhappy employees can lead to unhappy customers.

If you notice that your conversion rates are dropping or you're not getting as many return clients as before, it's time to check in with your team.

Your goal here is to see whether the decreased business performance could be related to your employees being unable to handle their workloads.

6. Poor work-life balance

Last but not least, when gauging whether your team is overworked, it's essential that you understand that being always present and hyperproductive can be just as bad of a sign as poor work performance.

In other words, if you notice that your employees aren't taking enough breaks (short ones as well as longer ones), that they're checking in at odd hours of the night, or they're too invested in a project, it might not be a bad idea to encourage them to take a step back.

How to Help Your Team Prevent Burnout

Whether you've looked at your employees and recognised some of the signs described above, or you want to help your team prevent burnout (which is something you should absolutely be doing), here are the best strategies to help your workers achieve a healthy work-life balance that prioritises well-being and job satisfaction.

1. Work on company culture

One of the most impactful things you can change within your organisation is your approach to company culture.

Ultimately, a healthy work environment that encourages positive thinking, growth, and self-care is a surefire way to boost job satisfaction and engagement. In fact, if you look at the research on employees' burnout symptoms, you'll see that toxic workplace behaviour is one of the primary causes of unwanted workplace outcomes.

On the flip side, a company culture that nourishes growth, sustainable work practices, and inclusivity will inevitably contribute to greater satisfaction and engagement.

Moreover, in addition to actively working toward fostering a positive company culture, recognise that exceptional leadership is best achieved via mentorship.

By actively applying yourself to being a mentor to your team members (or encouraging them to find one outside your organisation), you're automatically setting your employees up for success while ensuring that they don't become overwhelmed by trying to take on more work than they can handle.

2. Set and communicate workplace expectations

Another effective way to prevent employee burnout is to learn how to set and communicate expectations regarding the amount of work you expect your employees to do. And, no, this does not mean composing a list of things they must accomplish every day or week.

Instead, when trying to help your team achieve a healthy work-life balance, you must highlight the importance of taking sufficient breaks.

Scientific research shows that microbreaks help employees manage fatigue levels and engage with their work, resulting in better performance. With this in mind, it's not a bad idea to introduce your team to effective recovery methods like meditation, yoga, or NSDR.

But in addition to encouraging microbreaks, it's also important to remember that people need time away from work. Consider adopting a mandatory PTO policy to boost happiness, creativity, and productivity.

3. Encourage self-care

Mens sana in corpore sano — which translates to "a healthy mind in a healthy body" — is not just a phrase. It's a science-backed fact.

So, to help your employees prevent burnout while doing an exceptional job, you must highlight the importance of (all types of) self-care.

The easier way of going about this is to focus on physical health. Seeing that exercise, nutrition, and sleep all contribute to overall physical well-being (and stress management, which is crucial for burnout prevention), you could explore ways to motivate your employees to invest in their fitness.

Offer a corporate fitness program, organise monthly health challenges, incentivise employees to cycle to work instead of driving, or take up a fun sport like paddleboarding, that you can all do together to get some movement in during the workweek.

However, if these approaches sound too complicated (or resource intensive), feel free to explore alternative ways of empowering your team to take care of themselves.

Something as simple as providing your employees with evidence-based information on nutrition and exercise can be an easy and cost-effective method of encouraging self-care. Or, if you want to take an even more active role in empowering your team to pursue their health goals, why not create a Slack channel where everyone checks in about their well-being progress once a day or once a week to add a dose of accountability to the task of self-care?

Of course, don't forget about the emotional aspect of well-being. Do your best to empower your team to invest in mental health — one of the cornerstones of happy and productive employees and one of the most impactful things you can accomplish as a mentor.

4. Encourage flexibility, autonomy, and passion projects

Research on job satisfaction revealed that the happiest employees are those who are allowed three things:

1. The flexibility to work when and where they want. This is a simple way to create a positive work-life balance and prevent burnout.

2. Autonomy ensures your employees feel heard and acknowledged and have the ability to exercise systems that enable professional and personal growth and fulfilment.

3. Finally, don't forget the importance of passion projects in keeping your team members from feeling overwhelmed. When given the option to spend a portion of their workweek on tasks they feel eager about, people will not only exercise their cognitive skills in new and unexpected ways. But they'll also nurture their creativity, maintain a high level of motivation, and spend their time on pursuits they're proud of (and which could even financially benefit your organisation).

5. Present opportunities for growth

Though rest, recovery, and maintaining a sustainable pace of work are all important in preventing your team from feeling overworked, it's crucial to understand that feeling buried in work sometimes happens due to monotony.

Ultimately, doing the same thing day in and day out becomes boring and unfulfilling. And when that happens, motivation naturally dips, as does the feeling of satisfaction in doing great work.

For this reason, it's essential that, as a mentor and leader, you understand the importance of giving your team sufficient opportunities for personal and professional growth. In fact, McKinsey highlights that one of the best ways to attract and retain talent is to provide employees with career development opportunities — both by promoting people into new roles and graduating them into additional levels within their existing ones.

Naturally, when aiming to help your employees avoid burnout, you shouldn't overburden them with so many tasks or challenges that they can't keep up. However, finding motivational ways to facilitate progress is an excellent method of preventing job exhaustion and boosting overall satisfaction.

6. Eliminate time-wasters

If you are already seeing signs that your team is overworked, you must be prepared to spring into action to help them back off and recharge. Promoting rest, self-care, and working on a positive company culture will go a long way. However, no matter how many changes you make, they won't amount to the results you seek unless you take the time to pare down your employees' to-do lists.

According to statistical data, as many as 89% of employees waste time at work. And while a good portion of this is spent on snack breaks, socialising, and social media, it's also worth noting that some of the most prominent time-wasters within organisations include meetings, email, and noisy coworkers.

With this in mind, it could be said that one of the primary causes of employee stress and the feeling of working against the clock is simply the fact that their environments aren't optimised to allow focus. Fortunately, this problem can be relatively easy to solve.

Behavioural changes like utilising noise-cancelling headphones and blocking social media at work are an excellent start. So is the practice of only checking email once or twice a day (and silencing all unnecessary notifications). Furthermore, as a team leader, you can even make more drastic changes.

For instance, Elon Musk famously encouraged Tesla employees to reduce the number of people attending meetings and to minimise their time and frequency. Even more, he instructed workers to walk out of meetings when they weren't adding value, seeing that it's "not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time."

7. Create a change of scenery

Lastly, as you explore ways to help your team from becoming overworked, accept that a simple change of scenery can be the key to boosting efficiency, getting some distance from their stressors, or achieving a state of flow.

As a leader, you can embrace working in natural settings, an excellent way for people to tap into their creativity. It's also a good idea to explore ways to make the office a more versatile workplace. Ideally, your employees should have a space where they can focus on their tasks and a space that fosters social connection and collaboration.

Finally, don't underestimate the benefits of a well-organised team-building retreat. Thanks to search engines like Google Flights, you can easily book affordable air travel to inspiring destinations. There, your team and you can work on building stronger relationships and tackling collaborative challenges — work that is not only fun but is guaranteed to benefit your organisation in the long run.

Final Thoughts

There you have it, the top six signs your team is overworked and the seven ways you can help them prevent burnout.

As you can see, most of the solutions discussed above rely on embodying the role of a leader and mentor. That is, if you wish to help your employees be productive and feel good, you have to lead by example, encourage self-care, and open your mind to (sometimes) unconventional methods of boosting motivation, job satisfaction, and creativity.

Sure, the path may not always be straightforward. However, you can rest assured that even a small amount of effort in this area translates into valuable gains.

This article was guest written by Natasha Lane.

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