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How to help manage employee workload stress

How To Manage Employee Workload Stress

Downsizing businesses, fears of job security and a wobbly economy mean heavy workloads on staff have become accepted as normal.

Unfortunately, with employees taking on more responsibilities or working longer hours doesn’t always result in more productivity. Instead, it may result in overworked and unhappy members of staff which could end up negatively affecting the bottom line.

We recently went and spoke to employees to understand what really are the main cause of workplace stress, the perceived implications. From there, we have come up with some helpful tips how you can support reducing your employee's stress levels through workload management.

What is the main cause of workplace stress? Excessive workload!

Our report, Mental Health in the Workplace, found that more than four in ten employees have suffered from stress at some point during their career due to their workload. And unfortunately, the problem is only getting worse. Over half of the employees said that they felt that their job has become more stressful over the past five years.

From our research, the following were the main causes which have led to workplace stress and subsequently caused mental health issues at work.

  • Increased work load - 38.2%

  • Financial concerns - 17.9%

  • Workplace bullying - 9.5%

  • Hitting deadlines - 8.7%

  • Workplace culture - 7.3%

  • Job insecurity - 6.8%

  • Managing people - 4.2%

  • Managing clients or customers - 3.7%

  • Other - 3.7%


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Why are companies increasing staff workloads?

As an employer, it is easy to get caught chasing bottom line profits but this can cause staff feeling under pressure due to the amount of work that they are tasked with completing. It's no surprise that this pressure could not only lead to staff dissatisfaction but can also lead to increased absenteeism and employee churn. See what some of the employees that we interviewed had to say:

"The workload is the biggest source of stress; there are never enough staff and there is too much to do."

They try to get as much out of you as possible, for the least cost."

"This organisation does not reflect on what they can do to help people, they just want to deliver the business goals."

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What is the problem with an increased workload?

We are not robots and we all have a limit and when these limits are pushed upon, it can cause us to become overwhelmed with stress. This can result in some undesirable consequences:

1. Less productive

Just because an employee is pulling longer hours and trying to cram more tasks into their day doesn’t necessarily mean they will get more work accomplished. If they are overworked and tired their cognitive function will be impaired and the overall quality of work will reflect this.

2. Increased errors

If their increased workload includes juggling multiple responsibilities and toggling between projects, it’s inevitable that mistakes are more likely. Fractured focus makes it harder to pay close attention to details meaning errors - from minor typos to increased risk of a serious workplace accident – are far more likely resulting in extra time needing to be taken to check things through.

3. Poor work-life balance

Our report found that more than six in ten (61.3%) employees said achieving a good work-life balance is more difficult now than five years ago. It makes sense; it’s harder to focus on a fulfilling personal life if you’re too preoccupied with work. This is likely to result in poor morale and low job satisfaction, neither of which will result in a happy workplace.

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4. Risk of burn out

An employee might agree to a heavier workload and longer hours, but they’ll only be able to keep up an excessive schedule for so long. As it wears on them they are more likely to suffer from burnout. The best outcome from this is they need some time off to recover, but it could also result in them leaving the business and you having to hire and re-train a brand new employee.

5. Negative impact on health

High levels of stress can lead to actual health issues including headaches, sleep problems, anxiety, depression and alcohol abuse.

6. Higher levels of absence

Whether burned out, sick or utterly overwhelmed, a stressed employee will likely need more time off - over 11 million days are lost at work every year because of workplace stress.

How do you help to manage employee workloads?

Helping your employees manage stress is not just a kind thing to do but a legal obligation. Employers must ensure the health, safety and welfare of its employees and part of this includes undertaking risk assessments for work-related stress. Check out this information from the Health and Safety Executive for more information on how to conduct a risk assessment.

1. Understand the source of the stress

Our research found that some of the other top reasons for workplace stress included hitting deadlines (8.7%), managing people (4.2%) and managing clients (3.7%), all of which could be filed under the umbrella of ‘increased workload’. The point is: you can’t help your workforce if you don’t understand the specific source of their stress so you’ll need to speak with your workforce to find out their pain points.

An unmanageable workload could mean a million different things each requiring different support and action. For example, perhaps one employee cannot complete their workload because of the noisy open plan office. A solution to this could be providing a quiet space for deep work. Another issue might be too many clients for one employee to give their attention to. The solution here could be to redistribute clients more evenly among the workforce.

2. Ensure clear priorities

Another key issue when it comes to managing a full workload is being clear about what work is a priority. Employees are not always going to get everything done every single day, but if they at least know the priority jobs, then those will get done. One easy way to make sure everyone is on the same page is to introduce a short morning briefing. In larger companies this can be split into departmental meetings, but in a small business it could involve everyone. Set a timer for 10 minutes and each member of staff can share what they are working on. The manager will then have a clear overview and it can be tweaked if necessary.

3. Offer flexibility and be willing to adapt

Sometimes the best way that you can help your staff's workload is by being flexible around their needs. Working 9-5 everyday just isn't feasible for each employee as juggling work and home commitments can become impossible. Many companies now offer remote working, flexitime and working part time can offer your staff the flexibility they need to get the job done. This can lead to a much higher level of productivity and staff satisfaction.

4. Review your staff resource

If you have tried addressing the issues of workplace stress among your staff but are still facing a problem, it might be time to look at whether you have got the right size team for the job at hand. Engage with fellow leaders and identify whether the issue is localised to individual departments or whether it is company wide. Expanding your workforce can not only relieve some of the work load on your existing staff, but motivate the employees that the company is growing.

How much do you know about workplace stress? Take our quiz!



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