Episode Fifteen

Is your team overworked?

Oct 17, 2018
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Show Notes

In this episode of Workflow, Brian and Tom talk about signs that your team is overworked and how to prevent it.

00:38   What’s happening Brian and Tom (football and babies)
02:41    Inspiration behind this episode: 5 signs your team is overworked
04:01    The first sign: People are working nights, early mornings and weekends
09:35   The second sign: People are missing family commitments for the job 
13:58    The third sign: People seem more emotional
16:27    The fourth sign: Quality decreases
19:07    The fifth sign: Voluntary turnover increases
23:16    Tips for taking action!

Useful Links

Halt and Catch Fire on Netflix
Anthony Bourdain - Kitchen Confidential
5 Signs Your Team is Overworked - Entrepreneur.com
Harvard Business Review: The Research Is Clear: Long Hours Backfire for People and for Companies
Time, Quality, Cost – you can have any two

Full Transcription

Tom: 00:00 This is Workflow. Episode 15.

Tom: 00:14 Workflow is the podcast that helps teams figure out the best way to work, collaborate, and get stuff done. Brought to you by Rindle.

Tom: 00:28 Hey everyone. I'm Tom.

Brian: 00:30 And I'm Brian.

Tom: 00:30 And we're the cofounders of Rindle, and this is our podcast, Workflow. Today we're talking about how to identify if your team is overworked.

Brian: 00:38 Cool. Well before we hop into the topic, what's going on with you, Tom?

Tom: 00:42 Disappointed in the loss for the Giants last night. It's just been a bad week for Giants football. Bad year for Giants football.

Brian: 00:52 Bad week, yeah, because it was Sunday and Thursday.

Tom: 00:55 Yeah. I don't know what we're going to do, but that's a depressing way to go to bed.

Brian: 01:02 Yeah. I pretty much wanted to turn it off myself, but ...

Tom: 01:06 How about you?

Brian: 01:08 I'm officially back to work after taking a week with the new baby arriving. So adjusting back into the workflow pretty quickly actually. It almost felt like I didn't have the week off. But I'm just adjusting with the new family addition. Having a third is interesting and you gotta kind of readjust everything you're doing, so just figuring all that out slowly as I go.

Tom: 01:37 Yeah. I can only imagine. I think two might be enough.

Brian: 01:42 But knock on wood, number three has been a very good baby thus far. So-

Tom: 01:49 Awesome.

Brian: 01:49 Yeah. So I mean, I think if it was the other way around, it'd be much more of a nightmare. Our other two kids actually were a little tougher to handle in the beginning for various reasons, but this guy seems to be just ... only cries when he wants to eat and that's pretty much it. Otherwise, he just hangs out, which is awesome.

Tom: 02:06 That's awesome. Well, you're only a couple weeks in. We'll check in after another month and see if you're in the same boat.

Brian: 02:12 Yeah. I just keep on knocking on wood all day long. Every time I say that, I'm like, "Knock on wood, knock on wood." We'll see how tomorrow is compared to today.

Tom: 02:20 Before we get started, if you have any questions, topics, or team scenarios that you want us to tear down, you can give us a call at 860-577-2293 or email us at workflow@rindle.com.

Brian: 02:33 Also, leave a review. That helps us reach more people, gives us feedback, and keeps us rolling on creating episodes every week.

Tom: 02:41 Great. So on to the main topic, which is ... Is your team overworked?

Brian: 02:47 Yeah. I thought this was a great topic because I stumbled upon an article, which we'll reference for this topic ... But our own personal experience, Tom, at our previous agency life and various companies we worked at, I know that this has always been a topic we discussed, just about teams, individuals, people being overworked, chaos, that kind of thing. And I thought it just related well and I stumbled upon this article on entrepreneur.com called, "Five Signs That You're Overworking Your Employees."

Brian: 03:19 So the perspective of the article is definitely from more of a founder or a management perspective, per se, but the same principles really apply to team members, coworkers, things like that. So I thought it was cool. They basically summarize ... Like hey, every employee and situation is different and it's really tough to tell if you're actually overworking your employees, but they're basically outlining the five signs to help you identify it, because ever situation's different, every company's different, every employee's different, so ... really found it interesting.

Tom: 03:50 All right. Cool. So we're going to hop into each of the five things that the article outlines and discuss each one from our views and our experiences.

Brian: 03:58 Cool, Tom. What's the first sign on the list?

Tom: 04:01 The first sign is that people are working nights, early mornings and weekends.

Brian: 04:07 We never do that.

Tom: 04:10 That's an interesting thing to say that we never do that. We're obviously founders of a startup now, so we actually do that all the time. I think that that is par for the course, especially early on in a startup's life. I think the founders especially are going to be doing those things. I think what would be more concerning is if our employees were also doing it all the time.

Brian: 04:39 Yeah. And I think the article goes into kind of talking about employees, like paying attention to when your employees are working, if you have an office space or if you're using Slack like us ... paying attention to actually when people are doing stuff. Like are they working nights and weekends? But I think you're right, as far as we're concerned, definitely it's par for course, but we don't necessarily expect our employees to do that.

Brian: 05:02 But the article also talks about, which I totally agree with ... There's a difference between a marathon and a sprint. I think the issue really, and historically, has been for me, especially in the agency world, is that it always felt like a marathon. It was never-ending. You talk about nights and weekends. It was always just the next fire to put out, the next deadline that was ridiculous. Whatever the scenario was, it just never stopped. So I definitely related that to the marathon.

Brian: 05:34 And then the sprint side, though, makes sense. Sometimes you have to put in the extra time, like we do, right? And sometimes we ask our team members to chip in and be like, "Hey, we're working on this feature, we have to test it, we need you to put in a couple nights."

Tom: 05:49 Sure.

Brian: 05:50 But that should be a sprint, right? That should be the exception, not the norm. It's a temporary thing, you get it done and you move on and you go back to the norm of not working nights or weekends.

Tom: 05:59 Yeah. I think that this is common throughout history of businesses. So we both like that show, Halt and Catch Fire. On that show, you can see them when they're about to wrap up a project, they're sleeping in the office and doing whatever they can just to get the project wrapped up and done. This was like the era kind of right around the dawn of the internet, so this was back in the day. That's what they were doing. But they weren't doing that every single day, they were doing that right before the launch of the product. That's understandable. Again, if you're doing that every weekend in an agency type life, you burn out, right?

Brian: 06:45 Yeah. That show, Halt and Catch Fire, by the way, it's AMC if anybody's interested. But it is awesome.

Brian: 06:52 But yeah, the article itself talks about the sprint being like tax season for accountants, that's more of a general kind of example. But accountants do kind of minimal things, there's no fires really until January hits and they're getting ready and going through to April and then it's like chaos. So yeah, I think that's a perfect example and that's just par for the course, kind of like being a founder, you just know that's going to happen, you get through it and you move on. But imagine if that was like all year long. And that's the agency world for us.

Tom: 07:23 Yeah. No, exactly.

Brian: 07:24 It was just literally all that and if there's no end in sight and there's long hours and ... in general, the article talks about reexamining work assignments and staffing. I think that probably relates to a lot of agency challenges ... at least that we faced was, it always felt like there was never enough staff. We were always trying to bend ourselves and do an extra project here, an extra project there, because we just didn't have enough people, because people are money and hours and all that stuff and expenses. And always trying to cram work on people's plates. So, it's just a constant problem. I think our agency example is our world, but I'm sure this is happening in other types of companies. I think we at Rindle do a fairly good job of controlling that. I think we definitely fall into the sprint nature, but I'm sure there's some other types of companies that ... like it's constantly pushing and having staffing issues and all these things going on.

Tom: 08:21 Sure. Yeah. I think another example ... My first job was in IT and I was an in-house programmer, but we also had to deal with server issues. So one time in the middle of the night, service went down. We had to go into the office. Just was what it was. That only happened once. I had the job for a year, that only happened one time, and it was kind of like, "Eh, this stinks." But again, that's like a one-time thing and that's part of just having a job and working in this sort of industry that's always going and always on call.

Brian: 08:59 I think the reality is that if you have a situation of a marathon, regardless of the business or what you're working on or type of work you're doing, I think the issue is that people will eventually burn out for various reasons. They're overworked, they're frustrated, emotions get out of whack, all kinds of things happen when you don't have kind of a break from the constant chaos. So it's just a huge risk as far as overworking employees, having unhappy employees, and all that kind of stuff.

Tom: 09:28 Yeah, when the marathon becomes the norm, that's when I think there's a major problem.

Brian: 09:35 So the second sign is ... People are missing family commitments for the job. The article goes into things like general unhappiness in the workplace, so if people are missing family commitments and other things, it's just going to be an unhappy situation. They're going to be kind of unhappy at work. They reference in the article a consultant, I guess the author of the article had this actual situation happen ... but there's a consultant who cried in his hotel room during a business trip because he missed his kid's first tee-ball game. So they're basically saying because of that, he moved to a more flexible job within the year. He was a talented guy, he was a great performer, but he just couldn't deal with that job. That job was very demanding, traveling all the time, was missing out on all of his family life.

Tom: 10:27 Yeah. That sounds awful. I can basically say I don't think I've ever missed a family commitment because of my job. Especially since having kids. Well, when you're single, I don't think it's necessarily as big of a deal. Obviously, you don't want to be missing holidays or whatever, but ... It becomes a huge deal once you have kids. You really don't want to be missing family commitments.

Brian: 10:59 Yeah. I think when you're young, you're generally ambitious and you want to prove yourself-

Brian: 11:00 When you're young, you're generally ambitious and you want to prove yourself and you're generally willing to go the extra mile so you might not even realize you're being overworked because you're just like, yeah, "I'm just going to kill it and be a rock star and prove myself and work myself up the ladder or whatever your goals are." But when you do have kids though, everything changes because instead of the job being your priority necessarily your top priority, you now have your kids which typically fall into that top priority slot. So if your job is competing directly with your kid immediately it's probably going to be tough. I have one other example from when I was a chef actually, and I was a chef early on in my career actually before I got into IT and software and stuff.

Brian: 11:48 But one of the reasons why I left cheffing was because I realized that while I was working 55, 60 hours a week on a normal basis, sometimes 80, which is crazy. But you're also working all the holidays that my family was ... They were getting together and having fun and I was always working on holidays because being in a restaurant business, that's just what happens, right? Restaurants are open, hotels are open and you need to be there and they're typically a busy time for you. So I was just missing out on everything and I was pretty young and I was like, "I just, I can't see myself 10, 15 years from now missing out on all this stuff, especially when I have my own family and I just couldn't see it." So I literally switched to the IT stuff and kind of dropped everything and headed in that direction, which was crazy at the time. But that's one of the things that Kind of drove me to a career change early on.

Tom: 12:41 Yeah. I'm a big Anthony Bourdain fan and I think in his book Kitchen Confidential, he actually says that chefs tend to hang out with other chefs because they work such odd hours. Right. So I guess you kind of experienced that firsthand, right? You're working late nights, you're working odd hours. Basically, working all the time and yeah, that's going to be-

Brian: 13:06 It definitely is true. I mean my social time was always maybe like 10, 11:00 at night and because it was so late, we'd all just go out to a local restaurant or a bar or something that was open and, and we'd hang out with each other because everybody else was kind of early in the middle of their night. Right. Or even windy down their night, some of the people.

Brian: 13:27 So we just hung out with each other. It's kind of just what's happens and also the odd hours too. Because I used to start work at 2:00 PM and work til 10 or 11, so it's just, that's not the normal shift. Everybody else's at work while I'm sleeping and I'm at work when they're hanging out.

Tom: 13:44 And then you'd have brunch on Sunday. So you'd been in at like 7:00 AM and really, there you go.

Brian: 13:48 Well, I used to, at one point I was working 5:00 AM, I was opening the kitchen and had to be there at 5:00 AM, which I'm not a morning person, so that wasn't pleasant.

Tom: 13:58 All right? So the third sign people seem more emotional. These sign's sort of trickle down, right? If you're overworked, if you're constantly doing the marathon, if you're, missing family stuff you're going to be more emotional.

Brian: 14:15 Yeah. And the article goes into things like, obviously, a lot of the overworking causes things like sleep disruption and family difficulties because now there's tension and drama because you're missing stuff or whatever it might be. Ultimately, that all creates more drama in the workplace. And they also said another sign is that if you, if formerly rational people that, you're kind of used to being generally calm, not so emotional, overall rational, then all of a sudden they seem more on edge. That's a really quick sign to be like, "Wow, something's going on." It could be overworked, it could be something else, but something's changed because just emotion is just coming out differently.

Tom: 14:56 We experienced some attention on our calls. But overall I've never really experienced this too much in the workplace where people are emotionally very, very different, because of being overworked. I don't think. I mean we have definitely both experienced, people acting a little bit emotional because of family difficulties for sure. But I'm not so sure I've ever experienced it because of people being overworked.

Brian: 15:25 Well, I think people see more emotional, like emotional can be many things. I mean I know sometimes when I'm overworked and stressed out, I tend to be more short, and there's definitely a difference in my tone, potentially a kind of a dismissive, right. Normally I'd be like, "Yeah, let's talk about it." Right? Or, and now kind of because I'm stressed out and I'm just whatever, feeling anger or whatever it might be, I'm feeling I'm kind of short and saying, "Yeah, okay," but just kind of dismiss it and move on.

Brian: 15:52 So I know I do that myself and obviously being a founder to we're kind of dealing with a lot of stressors throughout the day, morning night, et cetera. So it's tough to balance it, but I think it does come out and I think sometimes even in our own calls we'll have a moment of tension or a moment of some emotions and then the weekend happens and we get back together on Monday and somebody to come back and say, "Well, yeah, I thought about that over the weekend. It was kind of like weird that I was having some stress. My car broke down, whatever." And you kind of move on, you realize that. "Well, I was probably acting a little differently."

Brian: 16:27 Cool. So the fourth sign is quality decreases overall. The article talks about, they referenced a Harvard Business Review that states basically as employees work longer they progressively work more stupidly on tasks that are increasingly meaningless, which I could totally understand myself. We'll link that up in the shout out so you can check that out as well. And they also talk about the exact reason is why, as far as quality, why factory owners even back in the industrial age limited workdays to eight hours. They were testing different hours, longer shifts and all that stuff, but they found that eight hours was the perfect amount of time where they decreased errors and expensive mistakes and all those things, accidents where they had way more when it's 10, 12-hour shifts.

Brian: 17:19 I think even current studies, like this Harvard Business Review, talks about current things proving that same point even from back then in the factory days. So I thought that was interesting.

Tom: 17:29 What's the saying? Work Smarter, not harder?

Brian: 17:31 Yeah, exactly. That's my motto. The article talks about generally mistakes increasing at the workplace because if you're just tired, overworked, stress and all those things the focus is just isn't the same. I've seen it myself, I know when I'm tired. Actually, funny enough, last night I literally wrote an outline for an article and I went back and read it and I was missing three words in one sentence. It's like, "Okay, I think it's time for me to close my laptop and pick this up tomorrow." So you'll definitely see an increase in that, in mistakes.

Brian: 18:10 The other thing that I kind of thought about when I was reading an article was the general term of you can have it fast, cheap or have it high quality. You can't have all three. And that's always been a motto that especially in agency days kind of we always would talk about. And a lot of times, in our agency at least, that it was always fast, cheap and high quality, which is just a lot to ask.

Brian: 18:31 So I think about that where it's like you can't expect to overwork somebody every night, every week and over and over again and expect the work to get done in a timely manner and it to be high quality and then to work constantly. So it's the same kind of principle you just can't have the perfect storm. We're not robots. Right? So it's`` something is always going to give or break or whatever. It could be the emotional state of the employee. It could be they end up quit looking for another job, whatever it might be. Something will break if you push all of those things over the edge beyond reason.

Tom: 19:07 Sure. Which actually leads right into the fifth sign, which is voluntary turnover increases. So yeah, obviously, if you're pushing, pushing, pushing people eventually quit. People get burned out and one way or another end up leaving the company, I would say.

Brian: 19:24 Yeah, I think the article's really going into the sign being if you're seeing these higher levels of voluntary turnover, especially with your key talent, there's probably something going on. I know even from our agency days that agencies specifically are high turnover, which are it's just probably because of the chaos and everything we've been talking about. But it does have a high turnover rate and especially with talented people because if you know they have talent they can reduce and they're delivering value, and they're just being abused. They will look elsewhere.

Tom: 20:02 I know firsthand that basically is what happened to me. I got burned out. I was starting to get really tired of the constant pressure of delivering faster and faster and quality wasn't there and whatever else. And I looked for a job in a startup and I really wanted to get into a startup. So that's what I did, and honestly, switching to [inaudible 00:20:31] was awesome and I did not experience any of these things really in the startup other than there was a deadline and we had to rush, work a little later some nights to meet that deadline. But that's again, it's par for the course for any job you're going to some days put it more hours.

Brian: 20:52 And the article that talks about like talking about just talented people, right? Like key talents, like those are the people that normally are like ambitious and normally like eager to take on more work and will kind of go the extra mile without you haven't asked them and all that stuff. However, if those key people are kind of missing family obligations, they're not receiving promotions or raises, feel undervalued, all of those things they'll decide to move on because they know they can, Brian just like you did.

Brian: 21:18 I mean I had a very similar experience where I had to find another job in order to get the salary increase I deserved, right. I was pushing, there was not any reception kind of saying like, "Yeah, like, we're going to get you there," whatever. Just nobody was really pulling the trigger on it, so I ended up just going to get another job. They ended up countering me, which got me the salary that I wanted, which is a whole nother point of not to take counter offers because my recruiter told me when you accept the counter, usually you end up leaving in the next six months anyway, which actually happened. I had to do that to get what I thought I deserved, which is terrible, and if you value obviously value me, that countered me ...

Brian: 22:00 ... terrible and if you value, obviously, they valued me, that countered me and they gave me what I wanted. So why did it have to get to that point? Right. So obviously they were ignoring the signs of what was happening.

Tom: 22:12 Yeah. Well I think it's also, just to clarify there, it might have not really been about the money, but when you're overworked and you're running this marathon constantly, you kind of are, you feel undervalued and people, at least I instantly value with monetary gain, so more money might keep you in that game a little bit longer, but ultimately all the money in the world isn't going to keep you working 90 hour weeks, week after week.

Brian: 22:48 My reasoning for the salary increase wasn't because, "Oh well I'm being overworked and abused so I need more money." I really did feel undervalued. I wasn't being paid what I should be, whether overworked or not. But yeah, it's definitely a valid point because sometimes you're overworked and you're like, "Well I just need more. If I got more, I'd be happier because then I would feel like they're seeing that I'm doing all this work and they're willing to pay me more for it." Right. But you're saying, in the end, you're still overworked, you're still miserable, you have a little more money in your pocket.

Tom: 23:16 Yep. But ask people in the financial world how that is. I mean some people like it, but there's a lot of burnout in that world. So what are some tips for taking action?

Brian: 23:27 Yeah, I think just overall just, even with that last example I gave, I think paying attention to how your team members are acting is really important. Whether you're a manager or a coworker and communicating about potential issues. I think a lot of times even myself, you see things happening and you might even talk about it with somebody but nothing really happens and then that builds and builds and then you have an issue and that only when the issue occurs does the fire get put out or you go into emergency mode.

Brian: 23:54 I think with kind of overworking, especially you have to pay attention to what's going on, pay attention to if you're a manager, what you're assigning to people, what you're asking of them, and just be really super aware and overly over-communicated, if you will, just to make sure everybody's feeling good about what's going on.

Tom: 24:12 I think you also need to have good managers, right? So if you are being overworked as an employee, you need to be able to talk to your manager and try to get it resolved. Is it because the deadline is just ridiculous? Do we need to talk to the client? Is there wiggle room? This is something that if you have project managers or a product manager like that's their job to kind of make sure that the team feels comfortable with the deadline and you're not being pushed too hard over and over and over again.

Brian: 24:50 Yeah. I had this exact scenario basically happen to me where you basically have to not be afraid to communicate and raise your hand and talk to your boss or talk to your coworkers about whatever's going on. But I did this myself. I was truly being overworked, constant nights and weekends. And really the thing that got everybody's attention was when I said, "Hey, the quality of my work, I know the quality of my work is suffering severely," and that really got their attention. It wasn't so much that I was tired and overworked and working nights and weekends, but when they finally realized that well, ultimately what you think I'm good at is really like subpar at this point because it's just I'm stretched too thin.

Brian: 25:31 So you got to communicate it early and often with everything else, and make sure people hear you understand, and then I always like to do that anyway because then if I end up looking for another job or doing something different than at least I've done my due diligence and communicated how I feel right. You don't want to keep it bottled up and then expect it to solve itself. Right.

Brian: 25:50 One of my favorite terms of words of wisdom or whatever is tomorrow's another day and I think, I even learned this myself through managing other people that in your gut, you kind of want things done immediately and you want things done quickly, but you have to realize that just tomorrow's another day and we're going to go home, we're going to go have dinner and relax and come back and go back at it again.

Brian: 26:13 And you should be able to schedule your work, have resources properly allocated, all of these things that should happen. Right. And really those things should be sprints, like we talked about, not marathons and when at the end of the day comes you should be able to pack it up and pick it up the next day unless you're in that sprint mode.

Tom: 26:34 Yeah. Well, and, and also like there comes a point where it's just isn't worth pushing anymore because you aren't going to be doing good work and it's just going to take longer. You just got to recharge the engines and get back at it with a fresh head the next day.

Brian: 26:51 Yeah. And even, you know, even when we're doing our "sprints," right? And we might decide, "Hey, let's meet up tonight and do some work." We're not going right from the workday right into the evening, right? We're taking a break, we're eating dinner, we're spending some time with our families, right? And then we pick it back up for a couple hours, right? Or whatever we need to do. It's like in order to even do those two, three, four hours at night that break has to happen, right? You can't just go all the way through from your eight hour day now stretching it right through and expect the quality to be consistent and nobody to burn out, right? You need to have a fresh mind and be able to focus.

Tom: 27:29 Sure. So yeah, that's another reason why you should take your vacation time. To take time away from the office with a family, with friends and nowadays there're all these companies that are like, "Oh, unlimited vacation time or whatever," and they're finding that people are taking less vacation time because of that. But just you got to book your vacation time ahead of time and tell your manager, "Hey, I'm taking a vacation," and do it. Don't be afraid to do it. Everyone needs a break.

Brian: 28:00 Yeah, I mean that's like you have to do it. I think some people almost wear it like a badge of honor like, "Oh, I didn't take any vacation this year. I've been really working hard." That might be true but you may not be doing your best work because you didn't really have that release of having a week or two off for that year. Right? Or whatever, how many weeks you have and not recharging. Especially, when you have family that you're saying like, you need to have that time, and because sometimes we are going hard, right? And you do miss out on some stuff just because you have to. And that's why that time is even more important.

Brian: 28:36 So the last point is really just understanding that there will be times when you have to work extra but it shouldn't be the norm. I don't think anybody's saying, in that article or what we're even talking about today, is that like, "Hey, you shouldn't work ever work extra. You should work nine to five and have the stringent work ethic." It's really not the case. There are definitely going to be times in various industries and jobs that you're going to have to work extra, but it should really never be the norm or else you will get burned out. So if you're feeling that happening, communicate it. If you're a manager, make sure that doesn't become the norm and you'll be good.

Tom: 29:10 Yeah. And I think that's important that if you are a manager and you're seeing an employee fall into this, you want to stop that early, right? Initially, you might be like, "Oh, this is awesome. They're working so hard," but at the end of the day, you kind of want to hold them back to some extent. You don't want them burning out.

Brian: 29:29 A lot of times, people again wear it with the badge of honor, where it's like, "Oh, I can handle it, I can handle it." I'm like that. I did that, as a PM, I was supposed to have eight to 10 projects and I had 15. Right? And I was like, "Yeah, I can do 15." And then it became 17 and then I was suffering. So it's like, a lot of times people, as a manager, they won't come up to you and say, "I'm overworked." Right, which is what we're saying you should do. But sometimes they don't. As a manager, if you're aware of something, talk to them like, "What's going on? Are you overworked, do you have too much on your plate? Is there something going on personally," and help them as a manager, put that fire out, right, and help them solve that problem.

Brian: 30:07 However, maybe it needs to be a staffing hirer, right? Because something's changing in the business. Maybe they need a vacation, maybe they need some help from you temporarily, whatever it might be. Similar to a project manager role, right? A manager role, in general, is to help your team. Right? And help put out fires, help get things done.

Tom: 30:25 Well, I think that about wraps us up for the day. If you have a question for us, you can call into our voicemail number at 860-577-2293, or you can email it to us at workflowatrindle.com.

Tom: 30:38 Our theme music is an excerpt from Thunder Rock by Magic Studio, use under Creative Commons, subscribed to us on iTunes by searching for workflow and visit rindle.com/workflow-podcast for a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening and we'll see you next time.