Downsizing businesses, fears of job security and a wobbly economy mean heavy workloads have become accepted as normal. Unfortunately, taking on more responsibilities or working longer hours doesn’t always result in more productivity. Instead, it may result in overworked and unhappy employees which could end up negatively affecting the bottom line.

Main cause of workplace stress = increased workload

More than four in ten (42.4%) employees have suffered from stress, according to our Mental Health in the Workplace Report. Worse yet, over half of those surveyed (55.3%) said their job has become more stressful in the last five years.  The main reason for this stress? Increased workload (38.2%).

The problem with an increased workload

We are not robots and we all have a limit and when these limits are pushed upon, it can cause us to become overwhelmed with stress. This can result in some undesirable consequences:

  1. Less productive

Just because an employee is pulling longer hours and trying to cram more tasks into their day doesn’t necessarily mean they will get more work accomplished. If they are overworked and tired their cognitive function will be impaired and the overall quality of work will reflect this.

  1. Increased errors

If their increased workload includes juggling multiple responsibilities and toggling between projects, it’s inevitable that mistakes are more likely. Fractured focus makes it harder to pay close attention to details meaning errors – from minor typos to increased risk of a serious workplace accident – are far more likely resulting in extra time needing to be taken to check things through.

  1. Poor work-life balance

Our report found that more than six in ten (61.3%) employees said achieving a good work-life balance is more difficult now than five years ago. It makes sense; it’s harder to focus on a fulfilling personal life if you’re too preoccupied with work. This is likely to result in poor morale and low job satisfaction, neither of which will result in a happy workplace.

  1. Risk of burn out

An employee might agree to a heavier workload and longer hours, but they’ll only be able to keep up an excessive schedule for so long. As it wears on them they are more likely to suffer from burnout. The best outcome from this is they need some time off to recover, but it could also result in them leaving the business and you having to hire and re-train a brand new employee. 

  1. Negative impact on health

High levels of stress can lead to actual health issues including headaches, sleep problems, anxiety, depression and alcohol abuse.

  1. Higher levels of absence

Whether burned out, sick or utterly overwhelmed, a stressed employee will likely need more time off – over 11 million days are lost at work every year because of workplace stress.

How to help manage workloads

Helping your employees manage stress is not just a kind thing to do but a legal obligation. Employers must ensure the health, safety and welfare of its employees and part of this includes undertaking risk assessments for work-related stress. Check out this information from the Health and Safety Executive for more information on how to conduct a risk assessment.

Understand the source of the stress

Our research found that some of the other top reasons for workplace stress included hitting deadlines (8.7%), managing people (4.2%) and managing clients (3.7%), all of which could be filed under the umbrella of ‘increased workload’. The point is: you can’t help your workforce if you don’t understand the specific source of their stress so you’ll need to speak with your workforce to find out their pain points.

An unmanageable workload could mean a million different things each requiring different support and action. For example, perhaps one employee cannot complete their workload because of the noisy open plan office. A solution to this could be providing a quiet space for deep work. Another issue might be too many clients for one employee to give their attention to. The solution here could be to redistribute clients more evenly among the workforce.

Ensure clear priorities

Another key issue when it comes to managing a full workload is being clear about what work is a priority. Employees are not always going to get everything done every single day, but if they at least know the priority jobs, then those will get done. One easy way to make sure everyone is on the same page is to introduce a short morning briefing. In larger companies this can be split into departmental meetings, but in a small business it could involve everyone. Set a timer for 10 minutes and each member of staff can share what they are working on. The manager will then have a clear overview and it can be tweaked if necessary.

If this issue persists it could be a sign that you need to expand your workforce to handle the larger workload.

An increased workload can negatively impact not only your workforce but also the quality of work at your company. It’s in everyone’s best interests to make sure workloads are manageable and stress levels don’t spiral out of control. How do you manage workloads at your place of work? We’d love to hear your ideas on LinkedIn or Twitter using #workloadmanagement


Benenden is a not-for-profit health and wellbeing organisation, offering award winning employee healthcare, an extensive range of onsite health assessments and a business health cash plan. 

To find out more about our products and how we could help your business, visit or call  0800 414 8179.

This content originally appeared on Benenden’s workplace hub where employers can find a range of related articles to help with their health and wellbeing strategy