Work overload: an issue that your business can learn to work around

If we were to list the evils that bedevil the world as we know it, stress would undoubtedly rank close to the top. This symptom of psychological suffering or tension, which arises during our day-to-day activities, whether for personal or for work-related reasons is a mark of the contemporary world in which we live out our days. The principal problem is that in the long run, stress can lead to burnout – defined as physical or mental exhaustion brought on by overwork. And then, everyone’s health is at risk: yours, that of your employees and, of course, that of your company. Yes: welcome (or not!) to work overload!

Why does work overload affect an organization’s performance?

Both stress and work overload can lead to decreased employee engagement, resulting in reduced productivity. Research points to an increasing need to critically examine organizational stressors, which are the factors that lead to excess stress and work overload in your company.

Eric Garton, a contributor to the Harvard Business Review, argues in his text on Employee Burnout that while work overload is a common phenomenon, companies should avoid placing the responsibility for the stress on the employees themselves. Instead, managers need to identify how an organization can be managed in a manner that takes care to prevent its employees from suffering from physical and mental exhaustion.

It may sound trivial, but exhaustion due to stress at work is a severe problem. So much so that estimates are that in the United States alone, annual expenditures to treat professionals suffering from such exhaustion run at $125 to $190 billion.

Tips for avoiding work overload at your firm

In addition to learning how to cultivate resilience at work, strategic management would be another way to keep stress at bay. Eric Garton also provides some tips on what kind of situations to avoid to mitigate the effects of overwork on your team:

Excessive collaboration

This problem is common in organizations that have many sectors with different managers and the need for frequent collective decision-making. These decisions require various meetings and conferences to align the stakeholders, fragmenting the already hectic schedules of employees. An example of this is the need to respond to ever crowded e-mail inboxes that can require up to eight hours per week (a full day’s work!) just to answer the constant stream of messages, when many, if not most, of the e-mails, shouldn’t even need to be answered and just consume time unnecessarily. Learn more about the move towards reducing the exchange of e-mails by reading about Virgin’s example.

Other errors of excessive collaboration are micromanagement and unnecessary interruptions, which significantly contribute to stress and work overload. According to a study by Microsoft cited by Garton, it can take people up to 15 minutes to resume a project after being interrupted by a message – that is, those quick responses to e-mails or messages on WhatsApp and Facebook are incredibly counterproductive.

Lack of discipline in calendar management

With the culture and demands of high-levels of collaboration, many companies have delegated the task of figuring out how to manage time and reduce workloads to their employees. But how can this be accomplished when overwork is a tendency that is often fostered by the companies themselves, and is even seen as a good trait in an employee. Few employees would have the courage to make decisions such as canceling meetings that they consider to be counterproductive.

Workload of the most qualified professionals

The workload of employees increases when hiring does not match the growth of the company. This kind of overwork is an even more serious problem when organizations overestimate how much can be accomplished with digital productivity tools but fail to take steps to verify what happens in practice. In these situations, professionals perceived as being faster and more efficient are even more victimized.

It is important to note that the same tools used to measure the time spent on unproductive activities – such as Runrun.it – can also gauge the excess demand placed on your employees’ day-to-day activities. This can allow you to redirect workflows to avoid work overload and burnout.

Ways to deal with a surfeit of information

Unlike a few decades ago, when information was scarce and difficult to access (as we noted in our article on the knowledge economy), these days we are completely immersed in it. Whether it’s vibrating in your pocket, blaring out of subway car TVs or just inundating you at every turn, it’s always immediate and available at your every whim.

The coach Sirini Pillay states in this article that was published in the Harvard Business Review that our brain is endowed with a “vacuum cleaner” that sucks up information, a “container” for short-term memory, a “blender” for integrating information, a “memory bank” for storing long-term information, a “garbage disposal” for getting rid of information and a “recycling machine extraordinaire”. If we make good use of all these instruments, it will be possible to create fantastic recipes for combatting stress and work overload.

Let’s look at some habits that may help:

1. Filter the information entering your “container.”

You don’t have to read or listen to everything that comes in front of you. Learn to ignore the siren call of social networks.

2. Keep your focus by narrowing the “nozzle” of your “vacuum cleaner.”

Try to focus on information that can help you with your specific task, working on one activity at a time.

3. Turn on your brain’s blender to decrease the amount of space occupied by the information you’re receiving

Take breaks for small hikes, if possible outdoors, to let your creative juices flow and connect the disparate ideas that you were exposed to during your work.

4. Learn to preserve the memories stored in your “memory bank.”

Instead of working nonstop, take small strategic breaks during your day. This simple attitude can bestow you with many benefits by quickly emptying the “container” that stores short-term memory, releasing energy for your brain to better preserve new information that you will need to keep for longer periods.

5. Use your “garbage disposal.”

Drawing a blank can be a frequent, and well-known, phenomenon, especially when it was about a meeting that you just couldn’t forget (damn!). But the inverse can also be a problem – something gets stuck in your head, ricocheting back and forth in your mind, increasing your tension throughout your day. To avoid this, as soon as something like this begins to occupy your mind, put on a song that you like or look at a picture that you enjoy. This technique can keep distracting thoughts from taking over your thought processes. Or simply try mindfulness training.

6.Use your “recycling machine.”

Although it occupies only 2% of your body, the brain is responsible for 20% of the energy that you consume! In order to take advantage of and maintain your greatest asset, your mind, take care to renew your focus and energy through exercise, stretching or yoga, and you’ll see how much it can help rejuvenate your brain.

We have one last tip: the use of management tools like Runrun.it can help you to coordinate your team’s workflow in a more efficient manner. This will help you avoid work overload and contribute to the development of a more productive and healthy environment. Sign up for a free trial right now: https://runrun.it

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