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Stop Normalizing Overwhelm at Work

overwhelm Jan 12, 2022

If people have too much work to do -- then, doing what they love with people they enjoy isn’t enough to retain them, even if you try to pay more money. Eventually they will start looking for something that doesn’t overwhelm. 

Today’s work culture values “getting stuff done” and “making things happen.” That pressure can increase in nonprofit or ministry-based organizations where the mission matters to you at a personal level. Often leaders feel compelled to overcommit to what can get done. Then, they start asking their people to do a lot, too. Maybe too much. Because it matters so much. 

Overwhelm is a real issue for many leaders. You might be working with fewer staff, but the demands of the work are still the same or increasing. You might even be hearing from your team that they are overwhelmed and are clueless on how to do the work  differently. 

Acknowledge that it exists and it’s not the way things should be

“That’s just the way it is around here.” Too often we think it or even say this when things are overwhelming and we say it over and over and over again. We’ve become accustomed to the constant “crisis” that comes from being too busy. Working under pressure becomes a way of doing things that starts to become woven into a work culture, even if this happens unintentionally.

Changing the culture starts with acknowledging that it has become a crisis culture and it shouldn’t be that way. Fulfilling your mission shouldn’t be frantic. When your team comes to you feeling overwhelmed, your starting conversation can be to acknowledge it rather than excuse it. Then, you can move on to conversations that can shift the culture into a more sustainable pace.

Brainstorm together solutions to customize an approach that works

There will always be more to do than we have time and resources to do. We succumb to the pressure to do more and it knocks us off mission leading us down the path of overwhelm. 

Finding solutions to the overwhelm often requires multiple conversations and tangible action steps that can lead away from the black hole of overwhelm. To avoid getting pulled in, start with brainstorming conversations to work together on creative ways to do things differently. Then, set up regular “check-in” conversations to make sure you don’t get pulled in by the black hole of overwhelm. Let’s get your brainstorming started with a few ideas: 

Set expectations for “how we do it here”

Once you brainstorm new ways of doing things and experiment with a few to see what works, implement some ways to sustain a healthy pace versus the crisis culture. That involves writing it into policies, modeling behavior starting at the “top”, and being clear on your “why” – the values that drive the culture you are trying to create. Put in place new rhythms for the way you “do it here” that promote a healthy pace. For example,

Jesus stayed on mission because he had rhythms of rest, a laser-focused purpose, and a dependence on His Father’s lead. He makes us capable of the same rhythms!

What’s Next

I know you’re probably asking the question, “What if there really is just too much to do? What if we can’t dial it back?” Well, then stay tuned in for the next series of blogs. We will get practical on how to 

  • Think about the way you work
  • Find possibilities for prioritizing
  • Taking advantage of slow seasons
  • Talking about overwhelm with others 
  • Addressing the impact of remote work

Join me in this journey of finding solutions that are not simply a band-aid where we end up back in the same place of overwhelm. What we all really need are some sustainable ways to stay on top of the overwhelm – we manage it instead of it managing us.

And tune into the new podcast, Lead Your Leaders: Get the Team You’ve Always Wanted, launched yesterday on January 11th. Check it out on your favorite podcast platform: Apple, Google, Spotify. And if overwhelm is a reality for you then check out Episode 3: When the Workload Is Too Much.

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