Workload, the most talked about stressor, the least understood

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When people talk about being stressed at work, many times their thoughts move towards workload. “I’ve got far too many emails to read” “I’ve got too much work to do, I cannot cope”. Being by far, the most well known and perhaps prevalent stressor out there, it can be focused on to the point of ignoring all of the others. But the reality is, they are, in many cases, linked.

The six key documented and discussed stressors are, change, control, workload, role, support and relationships.

Often times, when discussing workload stress, many advisors may say things like, “encourage good time management. Ensure your staff have a good work-life balance. And have a to do list.” While these phrases may help with those who have poor planning, poor judgement over what’s important in life and poor management of their own work, it doesn’t do much for those who do. In fact, most people understand the importance of their family over work. Most people use, in some form, a list and most people sort their tasks into priorities. So, where are we going wrong? What more can we do as leaders to help our teams?

Have we considered that these people may just have too much to do? Once we understand that, we can get on with applying some real fixes.

Id like to illustrate this point with a metaphor. Many people understand manual handling can cause injury. If your business was moving 100 boxes a day from one place to another and you did not have the option of a van to drive them or even a trolley to move them, would you accept that and ask your staff to go to the gym to get stronger to complete the task? Of course not.

Why would we ask a person to move a hundred small boxes instead of giving them a trolley? Or, better still, if they didn’t need to be moved at all but could fly through the space on a conveyor? Workload in terms of stress, is hugely misunderstood, we are still stuck in the past, moving each (mental) box by hand, and not employing better methods.

Like any manual handling task, when thinking about workload, the first thing to do is to look at the task itself. What are we trying to do? The next question is to ask, how is this being done now? Like a manual handling task, understanding what needs to be done – i.e. move 100 boxes from a to b, then, understanding what is being done now – and applying root cause analysis to come to the underlying issues behind the workload, might just help more than resilience alone.

In short, thinking about how we approach the problem of workload with a different mindset can help us to identify better tools to help resolve them.

But this is only one small piece of the puzzle, all the other stressors count too…