An overworked team member is a liability you can’t afford. You’ve invested time and money into assembling the best and the brightest, people who can work together and collectively have the skills and experience to tackle the job and get it done right.
Why would you risk all that for a short-term gain?
But even if you’re doing everything in your power to balance your team’s workload and not overburden anyone on your team, people can hit a wall. They might be pushing themselves too hard or you might have inadvertently over-tasked them. To prevent this, schedule their workload intelligently. There are great online workload management tools that can help you balance your team’s work schedules and prevent the dreaded team burnout. Remember it’s your job to monitor your team and identify the telltale signs that they’re working too hard before it becomes a problem for them and the business.
What to Look For
It’s important to be aware of your team’s emotions and when they might be on the edge of a breakdown. Once they’ve gone over that point it’s hard to repair the damage. Therefore, part of being a team leader is being a team psychologist. Don’t worry, you don’t need a masters degree, just a willingness to watch for these danger signs.
- Habitual Lateness: If someone is constantly late or missing work, this could be an early warning that your team member is unhappy at work and avoiding the job like the plague. The problem might be a conflict with another team member or the first stage of burnout. Whether you need to step in depends on if this tardiness is disrupting workflow, impacting the rest of the team or causing issues with clients.
- Overworking: It might sound obvious, but if someone is working more than the standard 40 hours a week, then there could be trouble brewing. They may just want the overtime, or maybe the work demands an extra-push, but when overworking becomes chronic it’s a red flag. Overextending oneself without breaks is going to have a detrimental effect on the person, the team and the entire business. You need to intervene, find out what their motivation is and then help them achieve that without burning themselves out.
- Unused Vacation Days: Another telltale sign of an overworked team member is when they are not using their vacation time. Depending on your organization, employees are allotted a couple weeks a year. There is no reason why their job should keep a team so busy that they are not able to take at least one break over the course of a year. If you notice vacation days accruing, then it’s time to take a closer look.
- Increasing Turnover: If you’re unable to retain talent, then there’s something wrong. If one or two team members move on, that’s normal, but when you can’t hold onto people that means you’re likely overworking them and creating a stressful environment. Without continuity of team members, you’ll never have a cohesive unit that can work collaboratively to solve problems, which means work will only become more stressful. It’s a vicious cycle. Talk to the team, get their feedback, show them you care and then do something about it. Options include increasing vacation time, personal days or their compensation package.
- Client Dissatisfaction: If you’re getting complaints from your client, customers or stakeholders, that could indicate a stressful environment that is impacting the quality of the work being done by your team. Keep the lines of communication open to learn what’s working and what isn’t working, and then go back to your charter to make sure it’s not a systemic problem. Don’t forget it could be caused the client or stakeholder, so set realistic expectations with them, too.
- Attitude Change: When you notice a team member goes through a major personality change, like going from happy go-lucky to dark and confrontational, it’s time to take a closer look at them and the situation. There can be many reasons for their behavior change, of course, but if you can discover the impetus then you might be able to address sources of frustration by giving them a different task, some free time or even a financial incentive.
- Poor Productivity: If your team had been working at a certain level and suddenly you notice that the quality of their work has dipped below that line, that’s a problem. It might not point to team stress, but if when you consider it and the culprit is overburdening of tasks or lack of engagement with the job or team, that’s stress rising its head. It might be time to switch things up, so the team retains interest.
Sometimes Stress Is Part of the Work Description
But you should adapt these warning signs to fit the context of your organization. For example, your perspective will be different if you’re working in a tech startup environment, where the culture rejects the traditional nine-to-five workday and rewards the highly motivated workaholic-type.
Some companies operate on a never-ending state of crisis, where everything is always urgent. What do you do in such high-stress environments. Well, one thing you can do is advise your team members to be cognizant of their own stressors. According to the American Psychological Association, it helps to journal for a couple weeks to identify situations that create stress.
How to Help an Overworked Team
Once you’ve identified that your team is overworked, then what? Well, there are many things you can do to alleviate their stress and keep them happy and healthy in the workplace.
The key, of course, is finding the right balance between a productive team and one that is burnt out. One thing to do is cut down on the distractions. Stanford researchers have shown that multitasking might impair your cognitive control. And a survey from CareerBuilder backs that up, noting how smartphones are negatively impacting work productivity.
The first thing you can do is show your appreciation for the work your team is doing. Gather the team and get them their input on what you expect from them. Once everyone agrees, you can focus on the key actions and ignore the distractions.
With that purpose in place, you need to consider each task and ask yourself if it is a good fit for the team. Then, if you all agree it is, schedule uninterrupted time in which that task can be accomplished. Implement a quiet time each morning for a few hours in which emails and other distractions are disregarded to stay on task.
Along those lines, set limits on emails. Don’t expect your team members to be on call 24/7. Set an example by personally making a clear divide between work time and free time. There will meetings to attend, of course, but make sure they’re run efficiently, with an agenda to keep them on target.
One way to make sure you don’t overwork your team is by giving them the tools they need to more effectively do their jobs. ProjectManager.com is a project management software that is cloud-based, providing real-time data and a collaborative platform that fosters teamwork. See how it can make your team less stressful by taking this free 30-day trial.