Although workplace overload may not be a disease, there’s no doubt it is a malady – a condition or situation that’s problematic and requires a remedy. Early detection and treatment are essential for healthy employees and organizations.
In a recent survey on overload and overwhelm in the workplace I asked respondents to describe the trigger points that signal a problem with overload.
Here, fresh from the survey, are the top 20 overload indicators.
- Emotional volatility. People become increasingly crabby, cranky, sarcastic, resentful, cynical, critical and anxious. Those who are normally good-natured and easy going seem quick to anger or tears — very much on edge.
- Physical breakdown. Common examples here include colds, flu, migraines, muscle tension, pain and fatigue.
- Impossible expectations. Mismatches between the tasks on tap and the time and resources available. Conflicting timelines and unrealistic deadlines are part of the package.
- Sleep disturbances. This takes many forms from a simple inability to relax to distressing dreams, insomnia, oversleeping, or difficulty crawling out of bed in the morning.
- Family Consequences. Watch for repeatedly missing out on family activities, strained partner relationships, children acting out, and spending a lot of personal time stewing about work.
- Mental confusion. This can range from disorganization to forgetfulness, to an inability to think clearly, and a general lack of focus and productivity.
- Meltdowns. These are situations in which someone snaps — makes disrespectful comments, explodes, or loses their temper — often in a response that is way out of proportion to the precipitating request or experience.
- Dreading work. This begins with having nothing positive to say about the job and escalates to wanting to leave or actively looking for a new job.
- Concerned feedback from others. Whether it is family members, friends, colleagues, or a family physician, someone notes that you look awful, act badly, or appear to be putting health and relationships at risk.
- Serious business consequences. This ranges from declining quality of work to poor decisions or mistakes in customer service. It may include more serious consequences like safety infractions, missed business opportunities, or ethical missteps.
- Overload becomes chronic. Most people can tolerate or accommodate temporary periods of high demand. However, the situation becomes problematic when it has gone on for so long that there appears to be no end or resolution in sight.
- Lack of respect. This includes feeling unappreciated, doing extra work that goes unrecognized, or feeling unfairly treated.
- Fun disappears. There’s no time for fun at work or at home. Recreation starts to feel like more work, and vacations seem impossible.
- Stress behaviors in colleagues. While people may not recognize symptoms in themselves, they notice stress symptoms in others or take note of colleagues burning out, leaving the workplace, or making plans to leave.
- Excessive overtime. Work hours repeatedly extend into the evenings and consume large parts of the weekend.
- Visible backlog of work. This is the tangible, obvious fallout of overload: desks piled high with files, crammed appointment calendars, and clogged up e-mail folders.
- Feeling numb and disconnected. People just don’t care anymore. It ceases to matter what they do, what they look like, or what they eat. They withdraw from people and simply want to be left alone.
- Feeling out of control. This is likened to a roller coaster ride with someone else in charge and no opportunity to influence speed or distance. Just hanging on for dear life.
- Making unhealthy lifestyle choices. Despite knowing better, people make poor food choices, bypass exercise, and postpone or skip important medical appointments.
- Any or all of the above. Often times there are multiple symptoms of overload in individuals and work teams. Not everyone presents in the same way.
If you hope to make a dent on life’s overload, you need to get a grip on the early warning signals — both your own and those you are likely to see in colleagues, friends and family.
The earlier you can catch the problem and work to resolve it, the less likely things will be to devolve to a state of crash and burn.
Early detection and treatment are good for both individuals and the organizations they serve — and it keeps collateral damage to a minimum.
Keep your eyes open, speak up, and follow up. Don’t let overload become the “new normal”.
© Patricia Katz, MCE CHRP, is a Canadian speaker and author who helps the overloaded and overwhelmed to get things done and have a life, too. Sign up for Pat’s free weekly e-zine, Pause, and learn more about easing your load at www.pauseworks.com. Contact Pat for programs and publications at firstname.lastname@example.org or 877-728-5289.