Avoiding overwork and burnout with your employees

Key points

  • Recognize the signs of overwork and burnout
  • Take steps to resolve the issue before it becomes a problem
  • Increase employee satisfaction while reducing turnover costs

It has been 3 years since my first post (When did Noah build the ark?) on this blog on June 6th, 2021.  In that time I’ve talked about several topics, shared ideas, completed a rebrand, and set up a LinkedIn Page for the blog.  There have been ups and downs, things out of my control, but overall I’m happy with the body of work, and I hope you dear reader enjoy it as well.

This month I want to touch on overwork.  I’ve talked about being overworked in the context of not planning ahead for team members being promoted (Planning for changes in the workforce) & (The importance of planning ahead) and how it can hurt your future power with employees (The only power is future power) and reduce your ability to manage.  But this month I want to talk about how consistently overworking a small group within a larger group can affect your organization.

An example

Let’s set the stage for an example.  Let’s say you have a department with 70 employees consisting of a department head, 2 managers, 6 team supervisors, and 61 hourly employees.  The department has 3 shifts, day shift (40 employees), swing shift (13 employees), and night shift (8 employees).  Each shift is split into two groups, one inbound orders and one outbound orders.

Each team’s responsibilities.

  • Day shift (40 employees) – Contacting customers to resolve order issues, answer customer emails, and occasionally assist delivery drivers when issues arise during deliveries.
  • Swing shift (13 employees) – Follow up on the day shift’s unresolved customer contacts, answer customer emails, occasionally assist delivery drivers in making end-of-day deliveries, and some light order processing.
  • Night shift (8 employees) – Order processing, email-based vendor support, assisting FTL drivers when vendors are not cooperating in releasing the products your organization has ordered.

In any organization, nothing happens until your orders are processed, so by extension, the team that does the order processing is the most important team.  But if you look at the amount of employees assigned to the task you only have 8 employees performing this task.  This shift is tasked with getting the process rolling to allow warehouses to ship orders, to resolve vendor and driver issues to get those products into the warehouses, and you only have 8 employees?  This shift should be the most well-staffed team of any shift, and yet they’re the smallest.

Scenario #1

Your organization receives a large amount of orders and the night shift is unable to process all of them during their shift.  You offer overtime to get the orders processed.  Let’s say this is a common occurrence, if this is the case you shouldn’t just say overtime is the cost of doing business, you need to look at how to eliminate the need for overtime.  It’s time to evaluate not only your staffing numbers and consider adding more staff to the night shift, but how is this constant pressure and overwork affecting your employees.

Consistent pressure and overwork can affect people’s health, both physical and mental, and lead to costly medical issues and absences.  It can also increase the turnover rate as employees decide they are sick of the constant pressure and leave.  This results in costly overtime when there is an absence, and even more costly onboarding and training plus the cost of overtime to cover the work not being completed during the onboarding and training process.

Scenario #2

Night shift is unable to complete their work so overtime is offered and now they are in the office with the day shift.  While the night shift is working, members of the day shift are standing around talking about this and that because they are so overstaffed they can take their time completing their work.

What does this say to the night shift employees?  It says whether you mean it or not, that you value the day shift more than you value the night shift or swing shift.  It means the disgruntalment amongst the night shift will grow and they talk about how the day shift has so much time to stand around talking.  It will mean members of the night shift will feel underappreciated and begin to look for opportunities to leave, which will cost you in overtime, onboarding, and training.

Signs you may be overworking employees

  • A higher turnover rate amongst a shift or group.
  • Employees consistently applying for positions outside of the shift or group.
  • Consistent disgruntalment within a shift or group.
  • Higher than normal call-offs amongst a shift or group.
  • Higher rate of illness amongst a shift or group.
  • Consistent use of overtime amongst a shift or group.

Steps to resolve an overwork issue

  • Add more employees to the shift or group.
  • Spread the workload across other shifts that have a larger staffing number.
  • Implement new technologies to reduce the workload on the shift or group.


Employee overwork and burnout are serious issues.  Not only does it affect the employee’s physical and mental health, but it becomes costly to your organization when you have to cover absences with overtime and routinely pay for onboarding and training.  The key to resolving this issue and preventing these negative outcomes is to recognize the signs early and be proactive in resolving them before they become a costly issue.

And for the love of god don’t think a pizza party or company-branded tchotchke will make an employee happy and loyal.  These things are seen today as cheaping out by the employer and are considered by most as more of a slap in the face because you’d rather cheap out than give them what they need to perform the work you expect them to perform.  Most employees would rather you bite the bullet and invest in long-term betterment and improvement, than pander to them with unhelpful token gestures.

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