Team Dynamics

Feeling Overwhelmed at Work? How to Deal with Burnout & Overwork

By Beth Osborne for RallyBright

April 7, 2020

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Professionals spend a considerable chunk of their time at work – typically much more than the 40-hour workweek. No matter what your job is, there’s a good chance you’re managing stress and pressure, which leads to being overwhelmed. Feeling overwhelmed at work at times is natural, but it’s not sustainable. It leads to burnout syndrome and overwork, and can make you feel like the walls are closing in on you.

But you can get a handle on feelings of extreme pressure, and every organization needs to be aware of how it impacts employees and what to do to help them balance stress.

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Stress Is a Natural Part of Life

Humans are built for stress; it’s in our DNA. But that doesn’t mean that stress doesn’t impact you both physically and mentally. It comes from all areas of our life, and it’s frequently caused by work. Stress at work is often not something employees feel that they can control, as it frequently comes from increased expectations. There has been much research on workplace stress, and the results are eye-opening.

The American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey reports that a majority of Americans cite work as a significant source of stress. Sources of workplace stress include:

  • Low salaries
  • Excessive workloads
  • Few opportunities for growth or advancement
  • Work that isn’t engaging or challenging

Being overwhelmed at work is a real threat to both public health and a company’s viability – the APA lists several serious health problems that can result from work-related stress. With this in mind, tackling stress should be a priority to keep your team engaged and productive. You may already have strategies in place to prevent burnout, but these may not do enough to address workers feeling overwhelmed, specifically.

There are specific actions individuals and companies can take to mitigate the impact of pressure and stress in the workplace.

What to Do When You Feel Overwhelmed at Work

Everyone has different coping mechanisms for the stresses of work. Being overwhelmed at work can present itself in different ways, depending on the scenario. In some cases, you may feel overly invigorated and motivated, which makes it harder to concentrate on actually executing. On the other hand, you may be on the opposite end with zero motivation, feeling hopeless about the quantity of work.

Either way, you’ll need a good toolkit to manage your feelings so that you can de-stress, feel better, and find better ways to work more effectively.

Break Up Projects Into Tasks

When you look at something from the macro level, it’s much more intimidating. Instead, organize the work into smaller tasks. This allows you to focus on each step without being paralyzed by the entirety of the project.

Ask for Help

This may seem obvious; however, many of us are afraid to ask for help. We think it makes us look weak or not competent. Everybody needs help sometimes, and if you are struggling, you need to reach out to your team and your boss. A little extra support can go a long way.

Talk It out With Peers

Most likely, at least some of your peers are feeling overwhelmed with work as well. Teams should be able to lean on one another and ask for advice. Get insights from your colleagues on how they handle their workload. It also may be helpful to ask, “These things are on my plate. How would you tackle them?” They may have some useful answers.

Rank Your Tasks From Easy to Complex

If your mind feels scattered, then it’s going to be harder to complete complex work. For all the tasks you must complete in a day or week, rank them from easiest to hardest. You’ll gain confidence as you finish the easier tasks, giving you a steady way to manage your workload.

How to Support Employees Who Are Overwhelmed

Sharing tips on how to manage overwhelmed employees is a good start, but leaders should also be able to identify when someone is drowning. They won’t always come to you and ask for help; in fact, they rarely will. So be proactive about assisting overwhelmed employees by:

  • Having weekly one-on-one meetings where you ask about stress, burnout, and overworking
  • Offering support for especially complicated and cumbersome projects
  • Encouraging workers to take breaks and a lunch hour to reset
  • Communicating honestly and transparently about the realities of work stress
  • Coming together for team-building activities that strengthen trust
  • Providing autonomy whenever possible, so that employees have the power to make decisions that can dissipate feelings of being overwhelmed
  • Leading with empathy

Overwhelmed at Work? Focus on Resilience

Everyone handles stress differently, but most don’t thrive when overwhelmed. When you feel overwhelmed but work in a place with a healthy culture and great leadership, you’ll certainly have an advantage. Keeping workplace stress in mind when working with your team and planning for the future can make your team members individually more resilient, and your team overall more productive and effective.

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