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Episode 3: When the Workload is Too Much

podcast Jan 11, 2022

"How can I help my team when everything is so overwhelming? I want to be encouraging so they don't leave but I don't want to give them false hope that it will get better when it's been this way for a while."

There is something about the last two years that has made the “load” we carry a little heavier. More work, more stress with less staff is a story on repeat. And, we might be facing the situation for a while yet to come. 

So, how can you offer encouragement without giving false hope?? That is the question. You don’t want your people to leave or burnout or be stressed. So, I hear ya! It’s time to look at this a different way. 

Lens of Clarity 

One lens we could use is the lens of clarifying what overwhelm is for our people. You hear people say that they are overwhelmed and each of them might mean something different when they say it. 

If you listened to episode 1, then you know that I’m an advocate for questions to help people create clarity for themselves. That might not work in your situation. When I’ve been in those moments of overwhelm and someone asks me a question I’m too overwhelmed to find an answer. 

You might try offering some ideas of what might be contributing to overwhelm and see what resonates with their reality.

  • Work-related overwhelm says there is not enough time in the day to get things done. The to-do list is too long. It’s impossible to prioritize. I’m pulled in too many directions. 
  • Confidence-related overwhelm is more internal than external. Not feeling supported or able to get help or maybe a little “imposture syndrome” has set in.
  • Mission-related overwhelm says that if you slow down the mission is compromised. Doing less means that someone isn’t going to get what they need. 

What other contributors to overwhelm come to mind for you? It’s great to get your own list together and see what resonates with them. The conversation might reveal some simple fixes that might help lighten the load or lift some of the tension >> 

Lens of Empathy 

Stepping back and pausing to acknowledge that it’s hard. And that it’s real. Living from urgency to urgency isn’t the way it should be – even though that’s what it might be right now.

When the conversation about overwhelm comes up, people might breeze past it because they’ve gotten used to it. It’s easy to miss the signs that people are getting tired, frustrated, discouraged. You get used to living in “crisis” and it is hard to break that cycle.

What if instead of dismissing it AND before starting to solve it, you acknowledged it? Let people feel it. Talk about what makes it hard. How it feels to be overwhelmed in this moment.

And, I might suggest for your consideration that empathizing and acknowledging is DOING something about overwhelm. 

Lens of Action 

But, there is that lens on taking action. It's the one that we normally look through FIRST. We want to solve it, manage it, stop it >> any action that is going to help us overcome it.

If you’re really in that place where it’s been this way for a while and it doesn’t seem like it will change, then you might be better off starting with one of the other lenses so you don’t put a bandaid on a bigger problem. 

But I know, taking action is the real reason you asked the question.

Many years ago I worked a job where I was in charge of risk management. It was silly because I was clueless about it. I don’t even think that way. I usually dive in and figure it out as I go. Not a great risk management approach. Who was crazy enough to put me in charge of that?

Well, I learned enough to probably be even more dangerous. The idea with risk management is to think through all the potential risks and then either assume the risk and just deal with it, or mitigate it by doing something differently so it’s not so risky or eliminate the risk which is simply not doing the risky thing.

I think being overwhelmed is kind of risky business. When people are overwhelmed for a long period of time they hit burnout >> then, they are more likely to quit, more likely to experience health-related problems, buckle under stress with anger or depression …. NONE of which will help you build the team you’ve always wanted.

If you are going to assume the risk and just keep doing what you are doing knowing that it’s risky because your mission needs it to happen then your “action” lens is to:

  • Tell everyone what you are doing and why 
  • Add in a high dose of empathy 
  •  Hire more people and assume the financial risk to get the work done

If you want to mitigate the risk and reduce your chances of experiencing all those nasty side effects of overwhelm, your “action” lens might be: 

  • Make sure people use their PTO
  • Increase PTO if the overwhelming season is getting long
  • Plan brain breaks and body breaks in the middle of the day
  • Make small shifts based on how each person describes their own overwhelm

If it’s really bad and you and your team have been overwhelmed for a while, it’s time for an intervention – you probably need to eliminate some of the risk:

  • Sort through all the things and decide what not to do
  • Prioritize everything and then draw a line – focus above the line 

I hope the conversation stirs up more questions for you and I hope you ask away!! You can submit your questions HERE! Let’s dig into those real-life, feet-on-the-ground kinds of questions!

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