5 Signs Your Employees Are Overworked – And What To Do About It

Employers know what overtime is. 

Now and then, if employees work more than full-time hours in a week, they get paid an increased rate for the overage. For some employees, overtime is a chance to increase income. They get some extra hours now and then.

Overwork is something else entirely.

It’s when employees work too hard for too long without reprieve.The work burden never lets up, there’s not enough break or rest time to break the work cycle, and it can be compounded with emotional manipulation in some situations.

Employee burnout is what happens at the end of the overwork chain. After being overworked for too long, employees struggle to perform simple tasks, be productive, and even end up with physical or emotional disabilities. 

When you consider that 77% of people experience some form of burnout at their job, with 23% experiencing it often, it’s obvious that overwork is a serious problem. The healthcare industry—a high-stress, high-demand job severely impacted by the current labor shortage—spends billions dealing with burnout. 

Clearly, overworked employees are a serious issue, not something to shrug off. We’ll help you learn to spot the signs of overwork and understand the consequences of letting it go unchecked, while providing some steps to take to keep this problem from decimating your team. 

Signs of overworked employees

There are some telling signs that indicate your staff might be feeling overworked. There are many signals, and on their own, they might seem unrelated or as their own problem to be solved. But taken together, you have a good indicator that overwork is a problem.

Here are 5 of the most common signs: 

#1: Poor work performance

Poor employee performance isn’t just about reduced output, though that’s part of it. It’s also about disengaged employees who don’t seem to have the energy to care enough to do great work.

Poor performance in an employee can stem from a lot of things, but you have to be aware that it sometimes is a sign of being overworked. Before you focus on the poor performance as a problem to be solved, consider also that, along with the other signs, it might be a serious symptom of a larger problem.

#2: Employee absenteeism

You’ll see more employees calling in sick, or showing up late.

Some will have legitimate claims, experiencing headaches, nausea, and other side effects from stress and weariness. Others will simply be looking for an excuse to avoid the workplace and sleep in or get some rest.

#3: Increased emotion

When you’re overworked, you’re tired. You’ve used up your energy “bank account” and aren’t able to control your emotions as well with the energy you have left.

That means you’ll see anger, frustration, and conflict increase. Employees may be blatantly combative towards you, or with others. Or, you may notice some employees avoiding you, whether out of frustration, or trying to avoid getting more work dumped on them. A lack of team unity and cohesion becomes common.

You might even hear employees joking that they live at the job, or that they never get vacations. Those aren’t jokes. They’re trying to tell you they need a break.

#4: Negative customer feedback

Customer feedback may roll in, describing staff and service in unpleasant terms. They may refer to your staff as grumpy, unfriendly, tired, or disinterested.

Like poor employee performance, it’s easy to see this as the singular problem instead of realizing it’s a symptom that’s part of a larger picture. If you set on solving the employees’ “bad attitudes” without realizing it comes from overwork, you’ll exacerbate the issue.

#5: Low impact from labor shortage

If you know your staffing levels are low but you seem to be chugging along normally (at least, at first), watch out. You’re probably piling too much work and expectation on the employees you have, and they are overworked.

The hidden consequences of overworking employees

Overwork can sneak in so easily. When you consider that 55% of American workers don’t use all of their vacation time, and that 60% of them actually work on vacation, you can see how overwork is hard to keep tabs on.

Sometimes it’s happening when you think employees are getting a break. Sometimes you’re even thankful they work while on break because it helps you out. But there are real consequences to allowing it to continue.

Overwork doesn’t lead to more output, but less. Studies have shown that people who work 80 hours a week don’t produce more than those who only pretend to. More work, less return for it.

Working more also causes significant health problems and bad habits. Overworked employees may have depression, turn to alcohol, have reduced sleep and memory, have diminished reasoning capability over time, and can even have increased chances for heart disease and diabetes. They may become hypersensitive to loud sounds and bright lights which, depending on their job, might significantly affect their employment.

All of this leads to increased employee absenteeism, turnover, health insurance costs, and the hidden costs associated with lost productivity. Once this train starts moving, it pummels through your entire company. Employers and managers are going to feel the stress, too.

In the long-term, your reputation also suffers. Employee word-of-mouth will be that you’re a task-master, pushing for longer hours and poor work-life balance. This negative review impacts future hires, and may even reach the ears of customers who don’t want to support a business with that kind of work environment.

Let’s not forget that overworking employees may cause you to run afoul of labor laws, both at a federal, state, and local level. Different laws mandate restrictions on total hours, break time, and overtime.

What to do when your employees feel overworked

This seems like a huge problem that has to be solved, and it feels so complicated that it’s impossible to get a handle on. 

It’s not—you can handle this. There are a few basic steps managers can take to reverse the overwork trend.

Step #1: Insist on breaks and vacations

You offer breaks and vacations, but do your employees think they can take them?

They may fear repercussions from management if they use their breaks during busy days, sensing that the work culture frowns on anyone not “giving their all.”

As a leader, you have to model behavior that doesn’t feed into overwork. 

It’s popular for startups to offer “unlimited” vacation, but when employees see their managers and boss working nonstop, spending long hours at the office, they quickly understand what’s expected of them. High-performing employees—the ones you want to keep the most, and the ones most likely to overwork—won’t take vacation if you don’t.

Make them paid if you have to, in order to keep employees from skipping them out of concern over their finances.

Step #2: Bring on temp workers

If there’s too much work to do, bring on temp workers to lighten the load. Talk to your employees. Ask them where they could use some help, and find areas where temp workers would be viable.

Step #3: Respect employee work-life balance

Don’t insist your employees take their work home with them. Do the opposite, encouraging people to avoid responding to work emails or do anything work-related when they are at home, with their families, or have a day off. 

Give their mind and emotions a chance to recharge.

Step #4: Help employees who are burnt out

If the overwork problem has gone on long enough, you’re going to have to shift to helping employees with burnout first.

Make mental health a priority, and talk about it so it’s not a shameful thing. Incentivize breaks. Don’t be punitive towards negative behavior that comes from being burnt out, but empathize and work with employees to regain a healthy work experience.

Remember, burnout happens to people who are working too hard. They’re not lazy. You don’t want to lose them.

How to prevent overworking in the first place

The best solution to the overworking problem is to avoid letting it develop in the first place. There are a few ways to accomplish this.

Step #1: Establish a healthy work culture

Your work culture should be pointed towards mental, physical, and emotional health. Reward behavior that fits that. Too often, excessive working is rewarded or held up as desirable. 

Sincere and non-threatening communication with employees, both as a group and one-on-one, gives them a chance to voice concerns, request help, or indicate struggles. Don’t make this a rare occurrence; it’s hard to share something as personal as feeling overworked if you only talk to the boss once a year.

Not all employees realize what’s happening to them. When I Work helps you track overtime, and can alert you if an employee is working too much. You can also spot employees gaming shifts so they don’t work as much.

Step #2: Give employees power over their work schedule

One of the best things you can do is give employees a sense of control over their work schedule. A tool like When I Work lets you use flexible self scheduling to give employees input in choosing the shifts they want, and makes the process much easier for scheduling managers, too.

They can swap shifts with each other directly instead of going through managers. Cutting red tape and procedural fuss reduces the workload and lessens stress.

Start your free 14-day trial of When I Work! Click here to start scheduling your employees today.

Step #3: Be better at communicating

Communication between employees and managers requires a sense of safety. If employees need to tell managers they can’t handle any more work, or can’t make the deadlines, they need to feel safe doing so.

There also has to be clear communication that expectations are understood. Ambiguity creates stress, which only adds to the problem. If you don’t know what kind of work is expected, you waste time doing excess just to be sure your performance is acceptable.

Step #4: Hire more employees

This one is a no-brainer. If you have too much work for your employees, you need more employees. Whether you use temp workers, regular hires, part-time hires, or independent contractors, you have to find help.

Overwork is the road to burnout, and it’s how you lose your best employees. During a labor shortage, especially, the likelihood that it’s happening to your team is increased.

Remember one thing: your people are your most valuable resource. Protect them. Make business decisions based on what’s best for your people, or you’ll lose what matters most.