How to Deal with the Stress of Work Overload

How to Deal with the Stress of Work Overload

Whether your work overload is self imposed or handed down to you, it can be a very serious issue for people at all levels.

With so many industries being affected by the economic climate over the last few years, many organisations have been forced to rationalise their workforce in order to ensure their survival or maintain their position in the market.

Even though headcounts have been frozen or even reduced, the workload has not. The philosophy of ‘doing more with less’ is the mantra of many organisations leading to more cases of overworking and even burn out.

Some stress in the workplace is good. Positive stress motivates you to continue working. Stress can be a motivater and provide incentive to get the job done. This “positive stress” is called “eustress” and some people enjoy it. Everyone needs a little bit of eustress in their life in order to continue to be happy, motivated, challenged and productive.

It is when stress is no longer tolerable and/or manageable that distress comes in which results in poor work performance, and even has a detrimental impact on health and life as a whole.

According to the CIPD; a recent report confirms that the UK is amongst one of the countries that work the longest hours. The findings published showed that the primary reason for working long hours was workload. A major review of the literature on the relationship between excessive hours and health by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) concluded that ‘there is some evidence that working long hours can lead to stress or mental ill-health, although this is somewhat equivocal. The way an individual thinks about their job and the amount of control they have over their job will mediate this relationship’.

Work overload often creeps up over time. Whether it comes from delegated tasks, additional responsibilities, new projects or feeling unable to say ‘no’; if you don’t have the structure it can be a daunting task trying to release yourself from it’s grip.

A life spent in constant labor is a life wasted, save a man be such a fool as to regard a fulsome obituary notice as ample reward. ~ George Jean Nathan

If you’re in a management position then it’s important that you delegate tasks which are appropriate to the skill level of the “delegatee”. It can often seem more time consuming to show people what needs to be done but if you can hand a certain amount of your work over, you’ll free up time to focus on tasks that are aligned with your expertise and authority.

When the pressure is coming from above, the more you communicate your current work obligations to your manager, the better understanding they’ll have of your schedule and abilities. If your director or team leader doesn’t have a realistic sense of what your workload involves on a daily basis, then they could just keep giving you work not realising you won’t be able to deliver.

Work overload can largely be avoided if you employ effective time management.

Prioritising your workload takes time in itself but is essential if you’re to gain a realistic grip of what you’re capable of handling on a day to day basis.

Understanding the difference between ‘urgent’ and ‘important’.

When you are feeling overloaded the temptation is to focus on the most urgent tasks. Urgent tasks demand action and are often popular with others. Being focused on urgent tasks gives us a feeling of achievement because we are constantly fire fighting and seeing the immediate results. Important matters that are not urgent require more initiative and more proactivity. They include activities such as prevention, planning and relationship building. They don’t jump out of us but if we create the space to accomplish them it gives us a greater sense of control in the long term.

We covered work life balance in a previous article. Neglecting your work/ life balance can make you less resilient to mental health challenges. Contructive activities outside of work stimulate different parts of your brain, and help you to maintain all-round mental wellbeing. They can improve your physical health and boost your energy levels, helping to reduce stress. Having balance helps ensure that you leave work on time and avoid the ‘long hours’ trap.

By being disciplined and structured in your approach the weight of your workload should start to lighten!