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