Signs your team is overworked and how managers can fix it

There is a fine line between healthy pressure that stimulates productivity and the kind that can lead to burnout, says Sheri Hughes 

Signs your team is overworked and how managers can fix it

The nature of modern working life involves some degree of pressure. This is especially true since the outbreak of the pandemic, as many employees are facing unprecedented challenges to the way they operate day to day. For those who have now found themselves working from home, many are working longer hours than the more traditional 9am-5pm, with often blurred personal and professional surroundings. 

However, managers need to keep a watch out for certain red flags that are not compatible with modern working life. This is because it can be hard to distinguish between the kind of healthy pressure conducive to increased productivity, and the kind which, if left ungoverned, can lead to collective burnout. 

Employees who experience burnout are more likely to leave the business, and the business then must expend resources to find new recruits and train them. Here are three important warning signs of an overworked team:

  • Negativity on team calls and emails 
    Negativity on team calls or over emails is often a tell-tale and early sign of an overly pressurised or overworked team. Colleagues often need an outlet to vent frustration but, when negativity becomes a daily occurrence, it is time for managers to act. 

    Employees can become negative in their mindset when they feel tasks are becoming harder to complete on time and to the standard expected of them. It is a response mechanism to a heavy workload and the feeling of being overstretched.

  • Drop in productivity 
    Another sign to look out for is a noticeable and sustained drop in productivity. Expecting consistent excellence from any employee is unfair, but when performance drops markedly for an extended period, and by the usually reliable performers, it is cause for concern. 

    This may translate to simple mistakes such as sloppy reporting, diary mismanagement and missed deadlines. But it can also mean a breakdown of communications among colleagues, where important information is not passed on, leading to uncompleted tasks or projects. 

  • Increased sickness levels 
    If bosses start noticing an increase in sickness levels across the board, it may be a sign that the whole team is feeling the pressure. Bosses need to act before this happens as absenteeism can lead to employees handing in their notice if the situation isn’t managed effectively. Increased sick days is sometimes used as drastic action taken by employees when they can’t face the pressures of their daily tasks any longer. 

    To combat this, bosses need to first establish a clear mental health framework which enables employees to feel supported. Creating an open, approachable environment whereby staff feel they can raise any issues in a way that can best see them resolved is important. 

How can managers help?

Managers are often the first person that a pressurised employee will approach and their ability to respond appropriately is key. However, a manager’s role goes beyond providing support to an employee who is in need, as they can also help to avoid harmful situations.

Lead by example and help employees to set boundaries. Establishing designated periods of the day where employees working from home can take a break from their screens is hugely important. We all know the mental health benefits of taking a walk, but bosses can go a step further. For example, scheduling regular online fitness or yoga classes for the team can both help to improve team bonding and allow members to reap the mental health benefits of exercise. 

Managers should aim to be champions of wellness and not just leave it to HR departments. Recent studies have revealed the damaging effect lockdown has had on our sense of togetherness and has increased loneliness immeasurably. Organising virtual group games like bingo or quizzes gives employees a chance to socialise with colleagues they haven’t seen much of for nearly a year. Replicating the office buzz is impossible, but successful managers find ways of promoting a positive company culture through sociable activity away from the daily work routine. 

Finally, bosses need to reassure their employees that they’re aware of their stress levels and are actively seeking to reduce it in the workplace. This will not only improve their lives but will also help to create loyal team members who enjoy their jobs. 

Sheri Hughes is UK D&I director at Michael Page