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Employees Are Feeling Overworked and Overlooked: How to Re-Engage Your Workforce

HR Leaders – Are You Really Listening to Your Employees?
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Overworked employee holding hands on head while sitting in front of computer laptop working from home

Overworked employee holding hands on head while sitting in front of computer laptop working from home

Since first posted in 2013, our blog titled Stop Being Overworked and Overlooked: Five Simple Strategies to Take Control Of Your Career, has generated significant traffic month after month, year after year. It has been one of the top five pages viewed on our website every month for over eight years as people around the country find the post by googling terms like “overworked”, “take control of your career”, or “overlooked at work.”

More importantly, traffic to this article has exploded over this past year because more people are actively searching for ideas, help, and support because they are feeling burned out, overworked, and overlooked at work.

That employees are more actively looking for guidance to address issues of feeling overworked and overlooked should be a wake-up call. Virtually everyone at every organization is unsettled based on what they have been through, are going through, or what they anticipate going through. Employees are struggling and they expect something different in terms of their relationship with work and their employer.

Given the events of 2020, there is a high level of burnout and stress even among workers who still appear to be high functioning. Many organizations are not taking advantage of pulse surveys to get a grasp on the depths of stress that their employees are experiencing. According to a recent Harris poll, 76% of employees in America are experiencing burnout, with 10% experiencing complete burnout.

A review of the Google Analytics for our post on being overworked and overlooked indicates that people who sought out this content represent professionals from across the country ranging in age from 18 to over 65. The demographic with the highest level of viewership was women aged 25-34; the second highest was men in this same age group.

While neither the gender nor the age of the most predominant audience is a surprise, it should create a call for action for organizations of all types, sizes, and industries.

Events of this past year had a disproportionate impact on women in general as they, more than men, struggled to balance increased caregiver responsibilities with the demands of work. This dynamic may have profound consequences for women, who, at least initially, are predicted to be more likely to remain remote workers than men. It also impacted young workers who are typically less tethered to an organization and more willing to explore alternative opportunities if they are not feeling supported.

As organizations move to adopt hybrid work environments, this solves some important issues related to the need for flexibility but can create a host of unintended issues that need to be acknowledged and addressed. For instance, those who remain remote might feel they are being overlooked for promotions whereas employees who return to the office might feel they are overworked compared to their remote team members.

The degree to which employees are feeling burnt out or underappreciated has a substantial impact on the success of an organization, and real efforts need to be made to make sure people have the support needed to work effectively in this new reality. This may include resourcing, supporting technology, guidance in triaging competing priorities, parameters to support work-life balance, mental health resources, etc. The issues people are struggling with are real and when there is not a supporting structure to address the needs, problems fester and frustration grows.

Determining how to retain, engage, and motivate employees in the midst of all this will be one of the most important business imperatives in the coming year. Organizations that do a better job addressing these issues will have a clearer path to success than those that ignore the issues.

CCI Consulting does a lot of work around employee engagement and we have extensive experience facilitating engagement surveys for a wide variety of organizations. From this work, we know that in general, employee engagement is the highest during the first year of employment and typically drops between years 2-5 before rebounding in subsequent years. Years 2-5 are therefore a critical retention period as those who feel less engaged are less likely to stay with the organization or perform at the level they are capable of. This engagement trough corresponds to the early career group aged 25-34 who are most active in seeking out information addressing the feeling of being overworked and overlooked. Ignoring the issue will lead to undesirable and unnecessary turnover.

Based on our extensive work on employee engagement, we know that the three biggest drivers of engagement across all industries and roles are:

  1. Meaningfulness – A sense that my work matters.
  2. Belonging – Having a sense of pride and affiliation with the organization.
  3. Growth – A feeling that there is an opportunity for me to grow and develop within the organization.

Attending to these needs will help engage and retain employees more than almost anything else a leader or organization can do. Optimizing these factors, along with fostering a culture that supports balanced work-life, also helps mitigate feelings of being overworked and overlooked.

As you contemplate what your organization’s “new normal” will be, recognize there will be a need for more flexible work arrangements than were offered in the past. Listen for issues and concerns about work-life balance and try to address what can be addressed. Err on the side of over communication when it comes to addressing issues around changes in the work environment or changes in how people are expected to get work done. Too often, firms “under-communicate” out of fear of how messages will be received, when research shows that conveying as much information as possible—being almost “overly transparent”—helps win trust.

Recognize that the return to the workplace will pose new challenges that need to be considered and addressed. There is no one right answer as every organization will approach it from a different set of workplace dynamics, culture, level of infrastructure, and business needs. Whatever the approach, the key is to acknowledge and address the issues that are causing people to feel overworked and overlooked. Those organizations that do will win the war of employee retention while those that do not will likely wrestle with a high degree of turnover.

Attend to your employees and make sure they are not feeling overworked and overlooked. The future is brighter if you choose to drive engagement over burnout.

Brian Clapp
CCI Consulting



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