overworked from Vinet_ on flickr

There are few managers out there today who are not coping with this issue.  Many of us are working on departments that are expected to be more productive with a lower headcount.  However, when your staff begins to complain that they’re overworked, you have received a dangerous signal that they are burning out and may look elsewhere when the market improves.

Stop the Fire Hose

A good first step in managing your team’s workload is to sit down with each employee individually and list the tasks they should be completing on a daily basis.  Note who is authorized to delegate work to them, and the type of assignments they should be prepared to accept both from you and your fellow managers.   If there are assignments coming in to the employee that you don’t feel they should be working on, take it up with the other manager so that the employee is not caught in the middle.

Help Them Prioritize

In the event that the employee is overwhelmed with tasks that are in their jurisdiction, help them prioritize the ones that are most important and backburner the others.  Encourage the employee to be open and honest with you about whether or not your expectations and timelines are reasonable.  Make sure they have the tools necessary to do their jobs well, and that you try to clear obstacles from their path.  If the job itself is causing burnout, switch things up as much as you can, and support your staff taking on new and varied responsibilities.

Encourage Work/Life Balance

It helps to reassure your staff that work will always be there, and that they should devote energy to their lives outside of work.  As long as they are getting results, don’t balk if they leave early to hit the gym or take a class.  Don’t forget to model work/life balance as much as you can, because if your employees see that you devote adequate time to your personal life, they will be more likely to follow suit.

Provide Appropriate R&R (Rewards and Recognition)

When your staff is worked to the bone, your first instinct might be to pay them more to keep them going.  In the absence of a formal raise, which may only be given at a certain time of year, you look to the bonus.  Surprisingly, though, most organizational psychologists will tell you that money is not a top employee motivator and that you should make an effort to customize rewards and recognition to the individual.  This might take the form of a comp day or a dinner out on the company, or even just a thoughtful e-mail.

 Celebrate Achievement

Your reports may be the type to appreciate organization-wide recognition, so consider making use of your company’s “employee of the month” program or annual award ceremony.  If an employee successfully finishes a project, put an announcement on the Intranet site or in the e-newsletter, and plan an impromptu celebration.  Also, build in opportunities to acknowledge everyone on the team by writing down the dates of your employees’ birthdays and work anniversaries and taking time out of the business day to observe them.

Finally, it can never hurt to stop by your employee’s office every so often and reiterate your thanks for how hard they’ve worked during a hectic time.  By showing that you care about them and vocalizing your appreciation, they will likely continue to perform well and stay loyal to you when the tide turns.

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