Workload can have a major impact on your level of stress. Many of us experience varying levels of workload throughout the week, months, or years. Sometimes you have so much on your plate that you can’t possibly finish it all. Other times, you have a bunch of downtime to space out work into a relaxing pace. Either way, it’s nice to know what’s coming next in terms of how much work you’ll have. Today, we talk a bit about workload and how knowing what’s coming can impact wellness!
The Issue with High Workload
First, let’s talk about workload. Workload is the demand placed on employees that requires some level of effort to meet. High workload is when an employee has too many tasks to complete in a reasonable period of time.
Unfortunately, having a lot of work demands can lead to emotional stress and, even, some physical symptoms like increased blood pressure. Employees with too much on their plate are more likely to experience fatigue and have a greater need to recover at the end of the work day/week. You probably know exactly how this feels. It looks like those days where you don’t stop all day and yet still have so much left to do!
The Impact of Anticipating Workload
We know that things like good recovery tactics, taking breaks, and getting enough sleep can help you manage through a busy work period. In addition, a recent study looked at how anticipating future workload can impact your stress today. In other words, if you anticipate a change in the amount of work you have, you might feel better (or worse) right now.
Let’s break this down a bit. Let’s say you have a very big project that is going to take up an excessive amount of time. If you have a specific end-date and know when your work will decrease, you actually feel less stressed about the current busyness than if you didn’t have an end-date in sight. However, if you anticipate getting busier or know a huge project is starting in a couple of weeks, you actually will feel more stressed even if your workload is light right now. In other words, knowing you will have a higher workload leads to more stress while knowing your work will decrease leads to less stress.
What You Can Do
Overall, the research on workload is pretty straightforward and clear. A manageable amount of work is more ideal for a healthy, balanced work life. If you are able to not overfill your plate or, if you are a leader, ensure your team isn’t overworked, you will help keep stress and burnout down.
However, we know that isn’t always possible. As we mentioned, taking some self-care time during recovery can help when you have too much going on. Excitingly, this new research also brings in another simple trick – know when the high workload will end! As a leader, make sure to have clear deadlines and end-dates for projects or big work endeavors. Try to avoid assigning people to multiple consecutive big projects. Also, communicate timelines to your team and help them see the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’. (If you don’t have an end in sight, take some time to consider if you are actually understaffed instead of just facing a busy period of time. Make sure you address that problem first!)
While you can’t always set the deadlines as an employee, do your best to help yourself see when the busy period will end. Ask your manager or project lead for some clarity and expectations. Maybe schedule a vacation or something to look forward to help you push through a tough time. If you can help yourself see the end, you will be able to push through the high workload more effectively.
Also consider when you know a lot of work is coming your way. Try to mitigate the impending stress by figuring out when it will end and planning a treat for that time. Try to think longer term beyond the coming busy season. I like to think about tax season as a perfect example. Accountants know when tax season is coming and it’s a busy stressful time. But they also know when it will end. Instead of focusing on the coming stressful time, an accountant can think about the trip planned on April 16th!
In sum, try to keep your workload manageable but when that’s not possible, plan for the end of a busy work period. It’ll help keep your stress down and your wellness up!