How to Detect and Manage Overworked Employees

Andrew Buck's avatar Andrew Buck December 13, 2022

A business’ most valuable resource is their employees. Yet many companies have severely overworked employees, which means this resource is in danger.

Overworked employees quickly become burned out employees. When someone gets to this point, there ends up being serious consequences for their own well being, as well as the health and productivity of the business.

In this article we’re going to share with you everything you need to know to combat overwork in your business. Including how to tell if an employee is overworked, the dangers of overworking employees, and what to do about it once you notice there’s an issue.

Learn More: everything you need to know about Employee Burnout as a business owner or team leader.

How Common is Overwork?

Workaholic or “hustle” culture is prevalent all over the world today (particularly in the US).

According to Inc and Go’s study, Outlooks on Overworking, 71% of full-time employees were found to overwork at least one day per week. 48% of employees overwork two or more times per week, while 19% experience overwork almost every day of the week.


While this is just a small snippet of 1000 respondents, and not necessarily a view of the entire workforce, it does give an idea as to the scope of the problem.

What is Overwork Exactly?

We need to define “overwork”. There are a number of characteristics that make someone qualify as “overworked”.

It can mean excessive work hours, such as someone consistently working overtime or working on their day off. But there are many other situations where someone can be overworked.

The study we looked at above from Inc and Go also examined certain characteristics of overwork, and their frequency.

These include:

Any of these situations can cause someone to feel as if they are overworked. For example, one employee may work overtime multiple days per week, an also come in on their day off.

A different employee may feel overworked due to intense pressure, high expectations and high demands from their boss. The symptoms may be the same for both employees, even though the second is working fewer hours.

It’s important to realize that not all cases of overwork look the same. This will make it easier to spot issues and deal with them effectively.

The Consequences of Overworked Employees

Overwork can lead to a lot of negative consequences for the employee, as well as the business.

It increases stress, and with that, the risk of burning out. This is often followed by physical and/or mental health issues, declining mood, poor performance at work, and job satisfaction bottoming out.

Long-term, it can result in an increase in turnover, from employees burning out and leaving the job. It also creates a negative workplace culture, which makes future cases of burnout more likely.

The personal health consequences of overwork are particularly frightening. The WHO found that employees who work 55 or more hours per week (compared to those who work 35-40 hours per week) have a 35% higher risk of stroke, and a 17% higher risk of death by heart disease.

They estimated that over 745,000 people die per year as a result of overwork.

It’s a problem that affects everyone. From the person who is overworked, to managers who deal with decreased productivity and absenteeism from their overworked employees, to the business, which has higher operating costs due to increased turnover and lower productivity.

Overwork is closely related to a condition known as “presenteeism”, where people work through illness, injury or other conditions (including burnout), and their productivity suffers as a result.

Presenteeism is estimated to cost US businesses a total of $150 billion per year.

The consequences of overwork, while ranging in severity, are all much greater than the benefit you get from squeezing a few more hours out of someone each working day.

Read More: a full guide to Presenteeism, one of the biggest problems for today’s workforce.

How to Tell if an Employee is Overworked

The first step to battling overwork is recognizing it. Here are some signs of overworked employees, which tell you it may be time to step in.


Overwork often leads to an increase in absences from work. This can be due to stress-induced illness, or issues with mental health and motivation that causes the employee to take more sick days or fail to show up to work.

If an employee generally has a clean attendance record, then suddenly develops a habit of absenteeism, it’s a big red flag for overwork or burnout. Poor punctuality and lateness are similar warning signs to look out for.

Poor work performance

Like a sudden increase in absenteeism, a sudden decrease in performance and/or productivity indicates an overworked employee.

We only have a certain capacity to perform, until that output starts to fall off. This drop-off in performance may be due to fatigue, or mental health symptoms of having worked too hard for too long.

Decreased engagement

You might notice an employee becoming disinterested or disengaged from work. They may turn up every day, and produce at their normal rate, yet show decreased care for the result of their work or the success of the company.

The employee might be less engaged with their co-workers, and become more isolated and less social at work.

This is one of the more dangerous signs of overwork, as it’s easy to miss if there’s no big drop-off in performance or an increase in absenteeism. This means it’s left unchecked for longer, often lasting until the employee suddenly quits.

Change in attitude and increased emotionality

Another thing to look out for is changes in the employee’s attitude.

Someone who used to be energetic and outgoing at work may become quiet and sullen. They may not get along as well with other team members in the office.

Alternatively, someone who is usually quiet and diligent may display sudden outbursts, or an increase in emotion. This is a telltale sign that they’re at, or approaching, their breaking point.

What to Do About Overworked Employees

If the first step is recognizing the problem, what’s next? Here’s what to do after you’ve identified an overworked employee.

Get them to take a break

Almost all overworked employees can benefit from a little time away from work to refresh.

Ideally you should be proactive about this and encourage employees to take time off regularly, to prevent employee burnout and overwork before it becomes a problem.

This is why a lot of companies today have “mandatory vacation time” policies, which force staff to take a minimum number of days off each year. This gives all employees a time to dedicate to their personal life, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

If you get to the point where someone is overworked, you may want to move some things around to allow them to take a break, whether that’s just one or two days, or even a longer vacation of a week plus.

As well as allowing the employee to return refreshed, it gives you some time to properly diagnose the issue here.

Learn More: all you need to know about Mandatory Vacation Policies, and whether this is right for your business.

Figure out the “why”

You don’t want to just treat the symptoms – you need to figure out the root cause of the problem.

Inc and Go’s survey outlines the top ten reasons for overwork, which includes excessive expectations, deadlines, workload, and the need or desire to earn more money.

Top 10 reasons people work too much [Source]

If you figure this out, you can start to come up with a solution for the affected employee, and a plan to avoid issues coming up in the future.

This plan might be to tone down the pressure in your work environment, or increase pay so employees aren’t forced to work themselves to the bone to earn overtime pay.

Discuss it with the employee

You may be able to figure out the problem yourself. However, the best way to get information is direct from the source – the employee.

Sit down and have a talk with the employee, and get their point of view. Be sure to make it an open and welcoming environment, where the employee can feel free to express themselves honestly.

Encourage a candid conversation about their experiences, concerns, and any challenges they might be facing. In doing so, you can gain valuable insights that go beyond the surface, helping you understand the root of the issue. Additionally, consider utilizing psychometrics tests as an objective tool to complement your understanding of their strengths and areas for growth, fostering a more holistic approach to employee support and development.

Provide employee wellness benefits

Employee wellness benefits can go some way to lessening the effect of overwork in your workplace.

Vacation days are a wellness benefit – and a must for any business that cares about their employees.

Others include:

Even things like work social outings and professional development programs can help, by increasing feelings of togetherness or accomplishment among employees, fighting some of the mental drain that goes on with overwork.

Increase staff coverage

Often overwork comes when your team is stretched too thin. You might need to hire more staff to take pressure off those who are working too hard or too much.

Of course, most companies are hesitant to spend money on hiring new staff, if it can be avoided. But you need to think of the long-term costs. You might save money in the here and now by keeping a reduced roster. But long-term it’s going to result in absenteeism, high turnover and reduced productivity, all of which costs your business.

Increasing coverage does not always mean hiring more staff, though. It might mean cross-training more staff, so there are more people capable of filling in and taking the load off other employees.

Recognize wins and achievements

Finally, think about how you recognize good work in your business. Many cases of job burnout are not necessarily from the amount of work, but it’s the fact that someone works hard and long without any recognition.

Recognition can be as simple as a “thanks” or a “good job”. You can also recognize achievements, and share them with the team, such as when an employee pushes across a big project in time for their deadline, or closes a big account.

They don’t have to be big achievements, though. You can (and should) recognize even small wins – a good traffic day, a spike in sales, a well-executed project, or a nice comment from a customer.

At Flamingo, we share these in a Slack channel. Bringing attention to even minor wins helps increase employee morale, and show those who are working hard that their effort makes a difference.

Final Thoughts on the Problem of Overwork and Employee Burnout

Too many companies doom themselves due to short-term thinking. They think that they’re getting ahead by pushing their employees to deliver a ton of work, work long hours, or reach an unrealistic standard of productivity.

Unfortunately, this almost always ends up causing problems for everyone in the long-run. It leads to negative health consequences for employees, and large costs for the company, in terms of lost productivity, absenteeism, and employee turnover.

It’s always best to prevent overwork, before it becomes an issue. Do this by managing employees’ workload, providing enough paid time off, and actually encouraging employees to take their PTO.

If you do notice overworked employees, get them to take a break and refresh. Discuss the issue with them, create a plan to deal with it, and work on addressing the root cause, so you can move forward with a positive and productive working environment.

Andrew Buck's avatar

Andrew Buck

Andrew is the content manager at Flamingo. He has managed teams in multiple industries, for both physical and remote businesses, and has experience dealing with the ins and outs of HR and leave management on a daily basis.

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