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5 Ways to Combat Feeling Overwhelmed

Updated: Mar 28

During recent discussions with clients and former colleagues, the topic of feeling overwhelmed has frequently emerged. It seems that everyone is feeling the pressure of trying to put 10 pounds of work into an 8-pound bag. It makes sense that so many people are experiencing this shared challenge. Economic uncertainty is driving many employers to pressure employees to be more productive. Recent layoffs have reduced staffing levels, but expectations around what companies want to accomplish have not changed. Focus on controlling payroll expenses has also caused employers to be slow to hire more employees despite business growth shifting back to pre-covid levels. Efficiency is the name of the game. Consulting companies like McKinsey advocate for businesses to pay more attention to profit per employee. This results in managers asking employees to do more without being paid more.

This may feel like a new problem, but it has existed for decades. Business leaders have always looked for ways to boost productivity. In the past, the focus had been on the return on invested capital (RIOC) or return on assets (ROA). This was previously the primary focus because many manufacturing and agricultural businesses require a lot of money or assets to generate income. As the U.S. economy has shifted to being more focused on the service industry, labor has increased in importance. For many companies, labor is the most significant variable expense. It also tends to be the biggest point of differentiation as the vision of leaders, managers' effectiveness, and employees' creativity determine the profitability of most service-based companies.

Technology has expanded employee capabilities and caused disruptions in the way people work. Communication tools like Slack allow people to communicate faster. Google and Microsoft have made it easier for employees in remote locations to collaborate on shared documents. The growth of Zoom and other video platforms has enabled remote work. The modern white-collar worker is experiencing a shift in expectations like those experienced by blue-collar workers during the 1970s. Companies have two choices as technology is created that can simplify and even replace work that employees have previously done. They can assign employees new tasks or reduce the number of employees they have on the payroll. Both disrupt employees. Shift in tasks require employees to pick up new skills and be stretched in new ways that can challenge their bandwidth. Eliminating roles tends to create a similar but slightly different problem. It is difficult for managers to understand the potential benefits of implementing new technology and the potential impact of eliminating particular roles. They develop a hypothesis based on the best information they have at the time, take action and observe the effect.

In many cases, they cut too many employees or do not provide enough support and guidance to help employees navigate the new work structure. This is a big reason why organizational restructurings take so long to bear fruit. Few restructurings are executed perfectly on day 1, and many course corrections are necessary to ensure the right people are doing the right things in the right way. In both situations, employees are stretched to do new and different things, creating a sense of being overwhelmed.

Five tips for overcoming the feeling of being overwhelmed?

  1. Embrace change

  2. Align on expectations

  3. Consult peers

  4. Develop a methodology for prioritizing

  5. Going beyond Urgent and Important

Are your feeling overwhelmed at work?

  • Yes

  • No

  • Occasionally

Embrace change