Work Overload and Burnout

Work overload can lead to job burnout.

Work overload can lead to job burnout.

I recently reviewed the 6 mismatches between the job and the individual which can lead to burnout. The first of these, work overload, seems universal nowadays. Everyone seems to be expected to do ever more for less, usually in the face of cost cutting measures undertaken to maintain profit margins.

Downsizing, budget cuts, layoffs, reorganization efforts all usually result in three things – more work intensity, more demands on time, more job complexity. In short, people are required to do ever more with less and less. This can leave individuals exhausted emotionally, mentally and physically.

Business are in business to make money. You can not stay in business otherwise. When costs are rising ahead of profits and product prices are raised to what the market will bare then the only other way to maintain profits is to institute cost cutting measures.

Unless you are in business solo, employee salaries are the largest business expenditure you will have. If you are the owner of a business with shrinking profit margins then letting any superfluous employees go is the easiest and fastest first step back toward profitability. That is the employer’s perspective.

However, once you have removed any non-essential employees, further reductions is staffing will begin to impact the functions of all remaining employees. With fewer and fewer hands to do the work, work intensity and complexity must increase within ever smaller per task time frames. That is the employee’s perspective.

Eventually, a point is reached when the demands of the job out strip and out pace the ability of the individual to adequately perform the job. The employee suffers, the product or service suffers, the business suffers, and ultimately the customer suffers.

I hear patients talk about bosses who continue to pile work on their desks or ask them to take on and manage new responsibilities. Doctors are asked to see more and more patients. The employee, of course, feels obligated to try and do the extra work.

Employees are often loath or fearful to say to their manager or boss, “no more, I can’t possibly do all of this work”. Or, “I have all I can manage at this time” and refuse any requests to the contrary.

The managers or bosses, never hearing an emphatic protest, continue to ask the employees to bare ever more of the workload. Even when protests are made or complaints are lodged, many bosses may dismiss them with a statement like, “Oh, I’m sure you will manage”. Or, “This is just temporary until things improve.” Or worse, “If you can do the work I’m sure someone else can or will”.

Both bosses and employees will often buy into the hopeful notion of multitasking. I hear the word multitasking and I just laugh. Of all the silly notions to come down the pike in the last 20 years this has to be among the worst and most absurd.

Multitasking is a myth. The human brain can do one thing at a time very well or multiple functions at a time poorly. There is no such thing as multitasking if you have a requirement for excellence.

Business and manufacturing operations have become so complex multitasking has become an impossibility. If you ever doubt this have a conversation with someone touting the benefits of multitasking and ask if they would be in favor of having a surgeon multitask while performing a life-saving operation one of their family members or on themselves. No? Well, maybe they would love the concept of a multitasking airline pilot or air traffic controller.

But, with great and sometimes valiant efforts, the employee often does somehow manage the ever increasing workloads which only serves to reinforce the bosses notion that the employees can handle all the work they can dole out. This leaves the door open for future workload increases.

So begins a circular, downward spiral toward employee burnout and business failures. You know, it just doesn’t have to be this way. There is a way out of this work overload burnout trap.

Please, come back here for future posts as I continue this series on the job-employee mismatches leading to burnout and what to do about them. In the meantime, have you ever been asked to handle more work than your capacity to deliver? If so, what did you do about it?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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2 thoughts on “Work Overload and Burnout

  1. Isn’t this just so the case Clark. In the guise of increased productivity and efficiency, the human impact component has been greatly neglected.

    The fallout is that in the end, the results are NOT what was intended but instead burned out and unhappy employees who have reached the end of their rope.

    From working with many types of businesses over the years, I know there are different ways to address the goal of streamlining and saving money – while honoring the mental health and balance of employees. In the end, all will come out better for it!

    Deborah Tutnauer

    • You are so right. Taking some time, effort and resource to invest toward an engaged workforce is smart business indeed. The employees wins, the employer wins and, most importantly, the consumer wins. Thank you Deborah!