83% of US workers suffer from work-related stress according to the American Institute of Stress. This is an alarming statistic, but not surprising given the current political and economic climate we are living in. What is surprising, is that the main cause of stress (46%) is attributed to workload. Why is workload causing the overwhelming majority of stress in the workplace? Lets look at the causes, effects, and how to fix this broken cog. Oh and if that didn’t get your attention, US businesses lose up to $300 billion yearly as a result of workplace stress.
Cause #1 The Dangling Carrot
The Problem – Management appealing to your ambition by creating departmental competition for the proverbial advancement opportunity. This leads to employees feeling that they have to take on more work in order to be in the running for the highly coveted future role. Taking advantage of your employees aspiration will eventually catch up to you in the form of indifference, underperformance and ultimately churn.
The Solution – Managers must give a clear, concise, realistic path forward. Recurring 1 on 1’s where results are reviewed and constructive coaching is given will lead to transparent communication in regards to advancement opportunities. Leadership is predicated on relationships with direct reports, therefore management should notice the increased workload and remove it if taken on voluntarily. If management is knowingly exploiting ambition, they are causing irreparable damage and need to change course, or exit stage left.
Cause #2 Survival
The Problem – This represents a fear of losing your job or the admiration of your employer. You believe that working extra hours and taking on additional projects are the best way to make sure your company never lets you go. So, what if it comes at the expense of your relationships and sanity, at least you’ll have your job, right? If you never say no, or you are perceived as the MVP, your job should be secure right? The issue is rooted in the fear of the unknown and will never be resolved unless clear communication and expectations are regularly shared. It stems from a uniform lack of systematic structure and a poor culture.
The Solution – The first question to ask yourself is whether or not this feeling is being driven by something occurring at your company e.g. layoffs, budget cuts, new management. Or, alternatively, if everything is status quo for the most part, but you feel nervous all the time anyhow.
If it’s the former, you’re right to step your game up at work. However, time outside of the office is also important, because you’re going to want to update your resume and reach out to your network in case your job isn’t as secure as you’d hope. If the threat is simply a cutthroat or uber competitive workplace culture, perhaps you’d be happier at a company where the culture aligns with your values.
But what if you’re in the second category? There’s no imminent threat, but you constantly feel nervous . First, accept that some level of preparing for anything to happen is a good thing, because it motivates you to keep your eyes open and your skills fresh. But then, remember that continuing to fear that no one will think you’re good enough unless you work 80 hours a week is probably adding a lot of stress to your life, and not leaving you very much time for friends, family, and sleep.
So, try this experiment: Next week, do your best to wrap up an hour earlier each day. Spend that hour exercising, calling a friend, or doing something just for you. After the week is over, see if you still have your job, status, and feeling of self worth. I’ll bet you do—and that you were a lot more pleasant to work with to boot.
Cause #3 Personal Gain
The Problem – This motivation centers on money. You have your eye on the financial prize, and if working insane hours is what it takes to pad your bank account, you’re in. You don’t have time to spend time with your friends or family, shop, or exercise; but hey, you can afford all of the above. This manifests into internal stress that comes out eventually, and has devastating effects. Relationships and personal growth are sacrificed leading to your entire self worth being centered on your net worth.
The Solution – There is nothing wrong with being money motivated, but working around the clock just for financial gain can lead to burnout. To increase your salary without increasing your workload, there are two things you can do. The first is to ask for a raise—not a promotion with more responsibility, but a raise. Put together some talking points on why you deserve one based on your skills, your experience, your recent accomplishments, and the competitive marketplace. You might get shut down, but if you don’t, then you will have increased your personal gain without adding more hours to your workday.
The second thing you can do is get really specific about what your financial goals are. Maybe you’re saving up for your wedding, to move to a bigger place, or to go on a trip. Those goal lines can get you through the months of working overtime or doing your side gig all weekend. Just remember that when you meet your goal, you’re allowed to pull back.
Alternatively, if it’s just to have money, take a moment and examine not just what’s coming in, but what’s going out. Yes, you’ve heard this advice before, but that’s because it works. Packing lunch versus buying lunch, eating in instead of out, examining how much you spend on clothes, gifts, gym memberships—whatever it is, see where cutting down on expenses can translate to you being able to work less.
Cause #4 Omission
The Problem – Often times, the small details or the fine print is left out of the interview and/or onboarding process. Not setting the proper expectations from the onset could lead to the perception of unbearable workload, or a realistic depiction of it. Employers state lack of budget or headcount as the cause, but regardless of the excuse, this practice is unjustifiable.
The Solution – Employers fear that being completely honest will cause desired candidates to choose other options, or current employees to seek other opportunities. They fail to realize that being transparent has the potential to reflect short term pain and long term gain, however, failing to share pertinent details with your applicants or employees will do just the opposite. Be candid – if you are short staffed and need someone to pick up the slack temporarily, use an honest approach. Let your applicant know the workload expectations from the onset. This is much better as either this person decides to reject your employment offer, or they eventually resign after becoming jaded and frustrated. That person will no doubt leave a scathing review causing your reputation to take a hit, making it impossible to land your ideal prospects going forward.
Business owners and managers – don’t overwork your staff, it will cost you in the long run. Frequently communicate with your team and be clear and concise with expectations.
Employees – Don’t take on increased workload at the expense of relationships, health or sanity. Be honest with your manager if you are feeling insecure, seek a promotion, or need time off. If your company culture is not aligned with your values – don’t settle.
Focus on results, not the workload itself. Many of us—CEOs included — tend to focus on the amount of work we have, as if the number of nights we spend at the office is indicative of our success. Guess what? It’s not. So instead, prioritize your individual responsibilities in accordance with your short-term and long-term goals. This will help you determine what you actually need to do today in order to achieve your most urgent goals. If you have a new product you’re launching next month, for example, ensuring that launch is successful is likely your most important goal. You should make sure that everything you do furthers your progress in achieving that end. To help you make such determinations, use metrics and data. Then eliminate, delegate, or ignore processes and tasks that won’t contribute to your growth.
And remember, small adjustments lead to major impacts.