Five signs your employees are overwhelmed

Tony Featherstone

Are you one of the working wounded: a burnt out, stressed out, fatigued employee who ran out of personal petrol years ago but somehow gets through each day?

Perhaps your job sucks. Or you suck at it. Or maybe, just maybe, you work for an overwhelmed organisation that is unwittingly sapping its employees’ energy – an organisation so bogged down in process and procedure that its momentum has stalled.

The concept of the overwhelmed employee is gaining traction in management literature. Deloitte’s 2015 Global Human Capital Trends report nominated the simplification of work as one of its top 10 management trends. Increasing organisation complexity, information overload and a 24/7 stressful work environment were overwhelming employees and crushing productivity.

Is it any surprise that employees feel overwhelmed? Deloitte says more than 100 billion emails are exchanged daily, of which only 14 per cent are critical. The average employee spends more than a quarter of his or her workday reading and checking emails and some people check their mobile phones more than 150 times a day.

Here are five signs of an overwhelmed employee.

Their silence is deafening

Healthy employees are engaged. They participate, speak up and fight for a share of “voice” within their teams. They respectfully challenge ideas and compete to get the best outcomes for the firm and themselves. In contrast, overwhelmed employees become noticeably disengaged and quiet. Now in survival mode, they go into their shell.

Overwhelmed employees struggle to look beyond the negatives.

They stop celebrating the small wins

A healthy employee who loves their job gets a buzz out of even small victories at work. Every bit of good news adds to their career momentum and work satisfaction snowballs. Overwhelmed employees struggle to look beyond the negatives. They internalise, even obsess, about shortcomings with their company, clients or customers. Sadly, they can now only taste the sour rather than the sweet at work.

Data deteriorates

The overwhelmed employee starts taking more sick days than usual. Their performance management scores deteriorate and they provide lower ratings on company-wide staff engagement surveys. Perversely, they take fewer holidays because they are anxious about their jobs and worried about work piling up in their absence.

Miscommunication and mistakes

Over time, overwhelmed employees struggle to think and communicate clearly at work. Poor communication with colleagues, intentional or not, creates friction. They start to make uncharacteristic mistakes or rookie errors, and become noticeably harder to work with because their professional life is a mess.

They can’t break the cycle

Perhaps the key sign of a truly overwhelmed employee is a reluctance or inability to fix things. They work harder to keep up, rather than smarter. They delegate less, believing it will add to their workload rather than solve it and that nobody else could do their job. They stop training others or themselves. Or they become too anxious to talk to the boss about the issues, and lack the energy to stand back, review and change their situation.

The result: A hardworking employee runs faster and faster on the corporate treadmill to keep up, but keeps edging backwards, before inevitably crashing and becoming part of the working wounded.

Tony Featherstone

Tony Featherstone is a former managing editor of BRW and Shares magazines.

Image: Alex, Flickr Creative Commons license

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