Your workload plays a big role in your overall health and happiness at work. When you’re overworked, you’re more susceptible to stress, anxiety, and burnout. In fact, an increase in work demands is the second most common reason for employees’ general decline in well-being.
What leads to workload struggles?
Understanding what causes unmanageable workloads is key to correcting them. There are countless factors that can contribute to workload issues. On an individual level, you might struggle with your workload if you have poor time management skills, or if you don’t know enough about your responsibilities or role.
However, most workload issues come down to organizational problems, like the following:
- Managers assigning too much work
- Distracting, interruption-heavy work environment
- Lack of accommodations or support for neurodiverse workers
- Limited workplace flexibility for employees
- Not enough company resources to spread out the workload
- Poor communication between leaders and employees
- Not offering employees enough training
- Not giving employees tools to manage their work volume and mental health
How managers and supervisors can improve workload management
As a manager or supervisor, you have the power to shape employee workloads—for better or worse—through your workload management abilities. When you excel at workload management, not only does your team or department become more efficient and motivated, employees also become more competent and resilient.
Keep in mind that workload management is both a skill and a process. Effective workload management is about matching employees with the tasks they’re most qualified and excited to do, distributing work and assigning shifts fairly, accurately measuring individual employee performances, and continually making adjustments to ensure employees are productive but not overloaded.
Here are six steps to better workload management.
1. Understand your workflows
One in three managers say they’re not always aware of how much work their team has, but to assign work fairly, you need to understand their average workflow. Knowing the workflow inside and out means you can break it down into smaller chunks, prioritize tasks efficiently, pay closer attention to individual employee efforts, and identify problems more easily.
First, take the time to review your company’s workflows by observing a project or asking to shadow an employee. If you oversee a group of front-end software engineers, for example, you should be able to list every step involved in shipping code. If you manage a retail store, you need to know how long the merchandising process takes, what inventory entails, and who’s in charge of restocking items.
Next, review your annual, quarterly, and monthly goals with your leadership team. When you know what your department or team needs to accomplish throughout the year, you can plan the average work week more clearly.
2. Find out your team’s goals, skills, and individual needs
Before you assign work, it’s helpful to have a deeper understanding of your team’s strengths and priorities. Carve out time to sit down with each person one on one to get on the same page and gather the following information:
- Goals: What are your employees’ individual goals? Some employees might be working toward a promotion, for example, while others might just be trying to reach the minimum sales quota.
- Skills: What are your employees’ collective and individual strengths, weaknesses, and skills?
- Needs: What are your employees’ individual needs on the job? Some people need more training, more flexibility at work, or more emotional support from their managers. What are your employees’ workload capacities?
Find more helpful workload survey questions in How to Help Employees Maintain Work-Life Balance.
3. Assign work effectively
Once you know what your employees need as individuals and what you’re working toward as a group, you can assign jobs and tasks accordingly. Assigning work properly often takes trial and error, but here are a few general guidelines to keep in mind:
- Prioritize work according to importance and urgency.
- Try to distribute the load evenly, taking into account what each individual employee’s daily and weekly workloads look like.
- Aim to give employees work that aligns with their skills or helps them grow.
4. Evaluate your workload management
It’s crucial to measure your team’s output and satisfaction levels to gauge whether or not your workload management style is effective. Work on gathering a mix of quantitative and qualitative data.
Depending on your company and department, quantitative data can include sales numbers, rates of productivity, customer satisfaction scores, or number of leads converted (just to name a few). For qualitative data, consider surveying your employees to find out their general workplace satisfaction scores, their attitude toward their workloads, and their stress levels.
5. Provide the right tools
A key part of workload management is supplying employees with the tools they need to succeed in the workplace. That includes job-specific training, as well as handy workplace tools like employee guidebooks and tech devices.
It’s also smart to offer tools and assistance designed to bolster employees’ overall well-being. Think: time management training so they can learn techniques for maximizing their efficiency, or access to Calm’s mental wellness platform so they can take mindful breaks at work.
6. Check in on your team
Good workload management requires regularly checking in on your employees. In addition to scheduling team meetings on a weekly basis, schedule regular one-on-one meetings to ask how employees are feeling, offer constructive feedback, and review employee goals and benchmarks.
How to manage your own workload to support your mental health
Organizational changes lay the foundation for more reasonable workloads, but as an employee you still have to work on managing your day-to-day duties and projects. Here are three tips to reduce your stress while maintaining your productivity:
1. Track your work
Managing your workload comes down to understanding how much time you spend on each job. If you don’t already have a system for tracking your work, make a list of your daily tasks and duties in a spreadsheet, then record the time commitment for each one at the end of the day.
Reviewing your spreadsheet at the end of the week or month will give you a better idea of where exactly your time goes—and where your workload might need some editing.
2. Master time management
Getting your work done more efficiently means you can stress less and accomplish more. Here are a few ways to practice better time management:
- Keep a to-do list: Rank your items by priority and commit to completing a certain number of items a day.
- Try time blocking or batch work: Instead of bouncing between different types of work all day—which can scatter your focus—dedicate certain chunks of time to specific work. You may want to answer all your emails at noon, for example, or schedule calls and meetings for the last couple of hours of the day. Time blocking can help you find good spots for getting into your “flow state” at work.
- Minimize distractions: Find ways to cut down on potential distractions, so you can stay on track. You may need to turn your phone on silent, close unnecessary computer tabs, or tell your coworkers you're unavailable during certain times of the day.
3. Ask for adjustments
Challenging yourself at work is essential to growth, but it’s also important to know your limits. Agreeing to take on too much can lead to burnout. That’s why when your manager assigns you work, it’s crucial to be honest about your capacity to do it well—and to do it on time. Before you say yes to an opportunity, you may need to request support from a coworker or suggest an alternate timeline.
If you’re struggling with your workload, don’t hesitate to ask for help or accommodations. Depending on your situation, you may need to talk to your manager about shifting some of your priorities, or reach out to your HR director for advice with stress management.