IT leadership: How to prevent overwork and employee burnout

Are you or your team members suffering from overwork-related burnout? Here’s how to recognize it – and how to alleviate the problem
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For IT professionals, the rapid pace of the tech industry and its constant demand for innovation can cause high levels of stress and long working hours, or “overwork.” According to StategicCHRO, “Overworking means having such a high workload that you feel you’re constantly under pressure, and work spills over into your non-work time.” Overwork also can have damaging effects including lack of sleep, poor decision-making, high anxiety, and burnout.

When employees feel pressure to always be available to meet tight deadlines, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to disconnect and take time off to recharge. This is especially true for employees who work from home, where the line between work and home life often blurs. According to the Society of Human Resource Management, six out of 10 employees say they are burned out from overwork.

Overwork and neglecting self-care can lead to physical and mental distress, which can increase the risk of conditions such as depression, heart disease, and high blood pressure. That’s why it’s important for employers to encourage employees to get enough rest and to use their vacation days for recharging. Employees should also be informed of all resources available to support their mental and physical well-being.

[ Also read Workplace culture: 4 key priorities for 2023. ]

It’s essential for leaders to recognize the signs of overwork and burnout. Here are seven common symptoms:

  • Sleep problems
  • Physical complaints
  • Lack of work-life balance
  • Lack of life satisfaction
  • Poor stress management
  • Low work engagement
  • Poor emotional control

How to address overwork and alleviate burnout

Employer support is a necessary safeguard against overwork burnout. Stress, sleep disorders, and burnout were 10 times higher among employees who felt unsupported by their employer, according to a study by meQuilibrium. Make your teams aware of all available emotional well-being and behavioral health support resources. Data-based assessments can help safely and accurately predict at-risk employees to ensure that they are directed to the appropriate resources.

Ideally, companies should provide psychological safety so that each employee is willing and able to advocate for his or her own personal mental and physical well-being. Employees should feel that they can speak freely with their supervisor regarding overworking and its impact on their emotional and physical health.

Fortunately, managers and leaders today are increasingly aware of the toll that overworking can take on their employees. Many are finding creative solutions such as schedule flexibility and virtual/hybrid work models.

Here are some ways to prevent overwork:

Promote a healthy work-life balance. This includes setting clear expectations around working hours and encouraging employees to take time off when needed.

Implement policies that prioritize mental health and wellness, such as offering counseling services and wellness programs.

Highlight all available company resources that support both mental and physical well-being.

Practice physical, mental, and emotional resilience, and encourage your team members to do so as well. According to a meQuilibrium study, people with high levels of resilience are 60 percent less likely to suffer burnout, are 31 percent more engaged, and have 50 percent less stress-related productivity loss.

Overwork and burnout can have a significant impact on the health and well-being of employees, wreaking havoc on their health, happiness, job performance, and relationships at work and at home. You can reduce overwork and improve your employees’ job satisfaction and productivity by promoting healthy practices, providing support services, and encouraging resilience in today’s challenging work environment.

[ Ready to level up your communication skills? Get advice from IT leaders. Download our Ebook: 10 resources to make you a better communicator. ]

Adam Perlman, MD, MPH, FACP, Chief Medical Officer and Co-Founder of meQuilibrium, where he advises on the physical manifestations of stress and anxiety and how to address those symptoms.