Workplace stress and unhappiness can affect businesses of any size. When employees are experiencing burnout, just about every aspect of work can be harmed – from general productivity to retention rates. But often enough, business leaders don’t recognize overloaded workers until they resign in search of a healthier work-life balance.
Here are 10 warning signs of overworked employees, along with strategies to improve worker well-being before it’s too late.
1. Heightened Emotional Displays
Every individual has a finite amount of energy they can give before becoming overwhelmed, with each having a different limit and recovery period. When an employee outwardly expresses frustration or anger – especially if that employee is generally quiet – try to focus on their needs without chastising them for being unprofessional. Listen carefully to their frustrations, as they can give valuable insight into pressures they and other staff are experiencing. Such information can be used to inform positive changes to the business’s culture, like offering more breaks, delegating tasks more effectively, and creating a safe space for employees to openly express concerns and ideas.
2. Lack of Team Mentality
Collaboration among team members can birth innovative strategies and more effective solutions, but it requires a degree of comfort and trust. If infighting is evident, or staff are working alone on projects better suited for a group, feelings of isolation can rise. This lack of team mentality can then lead to work overload.
To prevent burnout, business leaders should emphasize the importance of sharing responsibilities while still encouraging employees to think for themselves. For example, encourage groupwork on a project but let employees focus on the portion of the task that’s best suited to their skills. This can help create a healthier office environment where everyone is working together and contributing their strengths, rather than being pitted against each other.
3. Habitual Lateness
Employee tardiness can increase workplace stress by disrupting workflows, adding pressure to other employees, and causing problems with clients. But employees arriving late can point to a larger issue than a lack of punctuality. For example, burnt out workers that dread going into the office might have a hard time getting up in the morning. Or there could be a shift in the employee’s personal life, such as a change in childcare needs, that makes their current schedule more difficult to manage and can contribute to exhaustion.
If your team’s high quality work is not acknowledged, employees may feel that their efforts – and the stresses that came with it – were for nothing.
According to Future Forum’s fall 2022 pulse survey of 10,766 full-time global workers, 94% of respondents said they wanted schedule flexibility, and workers with more flexible schedules reported 29% higher productivity and a 53% greater ability to focus. By having more options to set a schedule that works for them, employees can feel empowered and valued by their employers and bring their full focus and attention to work every day – at the agreed upon time.
4. Limited Time for Personal Life
A healthy work-life balance gives employees ample time to rest and live fulfilling lives outside of work. If staff are struggling to maintain focus during the workday, it may be a sign they’re overworked and don’t have the time to manage personal issues, attend appointments, or recharge with non-work activities. In fact, 80% of respondents to the 2022 Future Forum survey said they wanted access to flexible working locations – and those with location flexibility report 4% higher productivity rates than fully in-office workers.
To help workers better balance their personal lives with their careers, reduce commutes, and increase employee engagement, many businesses have shifted to remote or hybrid work models. Policies that emphasize work-life balance, like flex hours and on-site childcare, are also becoming more common, and can ensure every employee is able to maintain a happy and healthy life while maintaining high work standards.
5. More Employees Calling In Sick
Employees used to nonstop work and stress may not realize how badly they need a break – until their health forces them to take one. According to the National Library of Medicine, people can become used to the chronic stress they feel at work. If not dealt with, it can lead to comparably “minor” issues such as headaches and forgetfulness, to more severe health troubles like high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, diabetes, and skin issues. If employees are calling in sick more than usual, it could be a sign that they’re burnt out and their health is suffering.
Similarly, if employees unexpectedly start taking frequent personal days, it may be a sign they’re overloaded and desperately need time to recharge. Managers can help reduce this stress by offering time off, encouraging breaks away from desks, and creating outdoor spaces to decompress and move around during the day.
6. High Employee Turnover
Workers experiencing high burnout are 25% less likely to feel satisfied with their job and over three times more likely to look for new employment, according to the 1,200 employers and 2,001 U.S. employees surveyed in the 2022-2023 Aflac WorkForces Report. This is a problem, as businesses with high employee turnover often suffer from a lack of institutional knowledge and higher training costs. And if managers can’t identify and ease the pressure on overloaded workers, they are more likely to find their departments understaffed, compounding the problem by putting more pressure on remaining workers.
To help boost employee retention and prevent workers from feeling overloaded, businesses can do market research to compare benefits and wage options and ensure that they are offering competitive compensation packages. Additional ways to entice workers to stay include increasing vacation and personal time, giving staff regular opportunities to review compensation with management, and giving employees more scheduling and location flexibility.
7. Long Work Hours and Working Weekends
Some managers may see employees working long hours and coming in on days off as a sign of ambition and dedication. These workers may find themselves giving up their nights, weekends, or the vacation time they’re entitled to just to clear their queue. But overworked employees are often less productive than a standard full-time worker. Worse, those extra shifts may contribute to a toxic workplace – and potentially break labor laws.
If workers can’t accomplish their tasks in a standard week, managers should examine internal processes to see how they can be adjusted, automated, or outsourced to decrease employee overload. Alternatively, bringing in more workers may be necessary to lighten the load and boost productivity.
8. Decreased Customer Satisfaction
Monitoring customer satisfaction entails more than simply checking for complaints. An increase in negative customer feedback regarding an employee, for example, may clearly indicate the worker is struggling. Overworked employees may be falling behind on routine customer check-ins or too busy to schedule appointments, pointing to a need to hire a larger staff or rework customer service workflows. Over time, these consequences can push customers to competitors who offer a better customer experience.
To prevent such problems, it’s important to openly set realistic expectations with staff. Though it’s good to set the bar high, expecting workers to attain unreasonable goals is a recipe for overload. Similarly, avoid over-promising results to customers – otherwise, employees may struggle to keep up with excessive demands.
9. No Time for the Team to Bond
Giving opportunities for staff to bond outside of work can build team spirit and improve collaboration, even if it may get a little expensive. Out-of-office trips – i.e., dinners, hikes, baseball games – can help employees relax, connect, and feel like valuable members of a team, not just cogs in a faceless machine. But be careful not to end up adding to burnout by pushing too many mandatory events. Even fun nights out can add stress to busy employees who already have a lot to manage.
10. No Celebration of Employee Excellence
Periods of overwork aren’t uncommon for any business, but can be especially so for rapidly growing companies. But it’s important to take time to acknowledge these exceptional periods. If your team’s high quality work is not acknowledged, employees may feel that their efforts – and the stresses that came with it – were for nothing. Public celebration of group achievements, on the other hand, can build morale and motivate staff. However, managers should take care to avoid personalized displays that can build resentment or create a culture that is more focused on competition than overall success.
In addition, it’s important to take time to recover from periods of overwork. Simply offering some extra time off – maybe an impromptu three day weekend for the whole staff – can go a long way toward preventing burnout. Going forward, it’s also important to monitor workloads to prevent recurring periods of excess work from becoming an ongoing issue.
Creating a Balanced Work Environment
A company culture that helps employees achieve a healthy work-life balance needs to be proactively implemented from the top down. Business leaders can prioritize employee well-being by showing their commitment to reduce burnout and investing in mental health initiatives. Why does this matter? Workers who were not burnt out felt 217% more supported by their organization, according to Infinite Potential’s 2023 State of Workplace Burnout survey of 2,065 global participants from entry-level to senior management/executive positions.
Managers, supervisors, and executives should lead by example and take steps themselves to destigmatize burnout among their staff and show that everyone in the organization is working together.
The Bottom Line
The signs of an overworked employee may not be obvious, especially if they’re still meeting deadlines and goals. But these workers might be putting their own health and non-work priorities aside to get the job done – and that’s a recipe for stress and workplace unhappiness. To prioritize employee well-being, leaders must take steps to identify and ease pressures that cause burnout before they become ingrained in company culture. Businesses can in turn experience higher productivity, lower turnover rates, and a happier and healthier workforce.
A version of this article was originally published on August 31, 2015.
Photo: Getty Images