Dr. Nicole Tschierske

Balancing Workload and Well-being: A Leader’s Guide

As a team leader, are you grappling with the challenges of managing a heavy workload, especially in these times of increased intensity? The world of work has seen a significant shift during the pandemic, with many facing heightened demands and expectations. But how much is too much, and should your team have to bear excessive workloads that can lead to stress, affect work-life balance, and undermine overall well-being?

Before addressing solutions, it’s crucial to grasp the adverse effects of a consistently high or excessive workload on our well-being, mental and physical health. Prolonged hours and unrealistic workloads deplete our resources, not only affecting our physical and mental energy but also encroaching on our personal time, including evenings and weekends.

Research by Nathan Bowling and Cristina Kirkendall underscores the toll on cognitive and emotional resources. When work monopolizes our energy, we have little left to invest in nurturing relationships, learning new skills, or pursuing personal passions. Consequently, feelings of frustration, anxiety, and even depression may arise, accompanied by potential physical health issues.

Moreover, the repercussions extend to the workplace, with declining job satisfaction, motivation, and performance. Excessive workloads may lead to employees isolating themselves from colleagues, struggling to meet their job requirements, and offering less in terms of contribution. In such scenarios, the negative impact on both personal and professional life becomes evident.

So, how can leaders and organizations address this pressing issue? The key lies in recognizing that workload perception and management are subjective and unique to each individual. By understanding how your team members perceive and handle their workloads, you can tailor your approach to task distribution and provide coaching to help them manage their responsibilities effectively.

Perceived workload is a deeply personal experience that transcends objective measures such as the number of hours worked in a week or the quantity of tasks completed. What may be a manageable workload for one employee can be a significant source of stress for another. Objective workload metrics can be controlled and influenced by leaders, but perceived workload cannot.

To gauge the impact of workload on your team members, a deeper conversation is essential. Ask them about the volume and difficulty of their work. Inquiring about the perceived workload is vital because it is shaped by factors like how demanding the tasks feel, the effort required to complete them, self-assessment of performance, and personal experiences.

This dialogue will shed light on the state and root causes of employee well-being and performance. It’s also worth considering the influence of motivational factors, such as personal preferences, perceived usefulness of tasks, anticipated difficulty, and the ability to focus and manage multitasking while working.

In essence, striking the right balance between workload and well-being requires a nuanced understanding of the individual experiences within your team. By initiating open and honest discussions about perceived workload and its various components, you can better support your team members and foster a healthier, more productive work environment.

(This article is based on a chapter in Better Work: A Leader’s Guide to Creating Happier, Healthier, and More Productive Workplaces.)

Further Reading

Better Work Basics​