Unmanageable workload continues to be a major work-related stress risk. I refer to this chronic problem as ‘normalised work overload’ and whilst managing this is not on-trend yet, I propose it absolutely should be.

Workplace mental injury claims are skyrocketing – in Victoria from 2017 – 2019 mental injury claims rose by 20%… yes, pre-pandemic and in NSW between 2014 – 2015 and 2018 – 2019 mental injury claims rose by 53% compared to only 3.5% in physical injury claims.

I’m not suggesting that work overload is the sole cause of these claims. We know bullying and occupational violence and aggression are right up there too.

The problem is, while I’m telling you about claims data – that’s the endpoint. What this data does not show is the significant impact on your workplace before someone gets to the point of lodging a mental injury claim.

Loss of productivity, errors, disengagement, reactiveness, mood changes, toxicity, resentment, presenteeism, absenteeism, team impact, and customer impact.

Burning out your talent in the midst of a

workforce crisis isn’t the best move

On top of this existing chronic problem, we have experienced a pandemic and continue to be plagued by staff absences or resignations.

This is exacerbating the problem as what generally happens when a team member leaves is that workload gets re-distributed across remaining team members. Compounding the problem.

Workload re-distribution is not the answer to staff shortages.

In May 2022, Harvard Business Review (HBR) published an article titled 3 Strategies for Managing an Understaffed Team.

The article states that workload distribution is an untenable long-term solution and not the answer to staff shortages. So what is?

There are some helpful tips in the article one of which is to rationalise your projects. Those activities that are non BAU or not a priority.

I have blogged on this topic extensively (see links below). I also have a free downloadable excel template that helps you get clear on your priorities which you can get from the resources section of my website right now.

Workload management is also covered in depth in my book Transforming Norm and details a work utilisation assessment tool that will help you identify risks and develop intervention plans as needed (the latter a touted requirement under the proposed Vic OHS amendments).

We need to find new ways to manage these old problems

Alexandra Rowe, State Inspector of Operational Practice at Worksafe NSW gave some additional insights when I shared the HBR article to my LinkedIn feed. I share these with you below. I interviewed Alexandra for Transforming Norm and she has contributed greatly to the book. You can’t (or certainly shouldn’t) ignore a regulators suggestions.

There are lots of practical ways to address this yet leaders just keep on overloading workers.

Step 1 – stop and identify what the workload is and why it’s there.

Step 2 – assess the resources available to you & think beyond people. Think expertise, think IT, think outside the norm that you usually follow. Ask your workers what should be done differently.

Step 3 – can you eliminate the work? If no (and let’s face it everything’s a priority) then can it be done differently, is there an IT solution, does the team have the capability and skill set to even do the work? Can components be outsourced? And the list goes on.

Finally, step 4 – are you as a leader checking in on workers with a genuine outlook for their health and well being? Monitoring your processes is key to recognising the need for improvements.

The way we have always done things, no longer serves us. It’s time to transform the norm.

If you would like support managing work overload and other psychosocial hazards in your organisation reach out for a chat.

If you’d like 1:1 support to manage your own workload and organisational demands ask me about my Six Month Coaching programs.

Tan x

Useful Links & Resources

Download my workload utilisation tracking tool here
Blog: Enough Already
Blog: Are You Taking Your Duty Seriously
Blog: Avoiding Change Fatigue

Find out more information and/or purchase your ticket to our Workload Management Virtual Summit on Eventbrite here!

Tanya Heaney-Voogt

Director & Principal Consultant
MBA, ICFACC, MAHRI, Dip Mgt, Dip Coaching, Prosci® Certified Change Practitioner
E: tanya@tanyaheaneyvoogt.com

Recent Blogs

The Advantages of Playing to Your Strengths

It is a cliché to ‘Know your strengths’. We see it emblazoned across LinkedIn platforms, job advertisements, newsletters and other media. Leaders use it. Sports coaches scream, ‘Play to your strengths’, and we all smile and nod as though we know what they are talking...

Why is change so hard?

I received an email recently from someone I don’t know very well directing me to do something.  Not asking, but telling.  It was curt and commanding and it made me bristle.  It also made me dig my heals in and not want to do what I was being asked.  There were no...

Seven Ways to Model Safe & Effective Leadership

Are you a safe and effective leader? Safe and Effective Leaders have a dual focus on people and outcomes.  They understand that the two have a symbiotic relationship and the needs of both must be met. Safe and Effective Leaders step up to the plate to have those...

Why Having an ‘Open Door Policy’ Isn’t Always a Good Thing – Rafael’s Story

Rafael was the school principal of a large metropolitan primary school.    Every day Rafael would have a stream of students, parents, teachers and support staff entering his office for queries, guidance or to let off steam.   He prided himself on his “open door...

Wellbeing Washing; All Talk, No Action

I’m sure there’s a group of creatives in a room somewhere coming up with snappy phrases for modern workplace woes - quiet quitting, well-being washing etc etc... However we want to label it, this post below by Adam Morris speaks to the crux of the matter in that if we...

“My boss’s capacity for work is extraordinary. But she seems to think that’s normal and expects us all to function in the same way.” – Workload Management Tips

“My boss’s capacity for work is extraordinary.  But she seems to think that’s normal and expects us all to function in the same way.” It’s easy to fall into this trap as a leader, and I’ve certainly been guilty of this in my early leadership career, not realizing my...

“I’m struggling with my workload. What can I do?” – Workload Management Tips

I’m struggling with my workload. When I raised concerns with my manager they said “That’s just the job. We’re all busy.”  What can I do? There’s often a waterfall effect taking place in workplaces in regard to workload.  Chances are your manager is also struggling...

“I have a team member who keeps telling me they’re bored. What can I do?” – Workload Management Tips

“I have one team member who keeps telling me they’re bored.  They still have plenty on their plate and I don’t want to give them anything more as I’m worried I’ll overload them.  What can I do?” Our ideal state of work utilisation, generally speaking, is “active”....

Can you achieve high levels of ‘mastery’ in your role? Find out!

Can you achieve high levels of ‘mastery’ in your role? Find out! We've all heard phrases such as 'master your role' or 'I've mastered my job', but what does 'mastery' really mean and how is it linked to improved job satisfaction? Mastery is a component of good work...

Anticipatory Grief & Emotional Turmoil of Supporting Ageing Parents

Today, October 10th, is World Mental Health Day. According to the World Health Organisation this day is for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma.  In recognition of the spirit of this day and particularly in the remaining...